By John Mather
Wiping snot off kids’ noses by day, wiping opponents off the court by night–this is a typical day for Matt Fugard.
A star middle on Ryerson’s men’s volleyball team and nominee for Athlete of the Year, Fugard is studying early childhood education (ECE), a nontraditional program for a man.
And at 6-foot-8–about as tall as three toddlers stacked on top of one another–Fugard is a particular anomaly in the progam. “(The kids) think it’s hilarious because they are, like, below my knee. And when they look up, they’re like, ‘Lift me up,'” he says.
The physically demanding children attend the Ryerson day-care, where Fugard works two days a week as part of his program. Fugard’s supervisor at the daycare, Sally Kotsopoulos, says his current placement with 2-to-4-year-olds will be beneficial if he becomes an elementary school teacher–Fugard’s “dream job.”
Kotsopolous is also happy to have a male figure in the day care, adding that Fugard is excellent with the children. “He gets right down on the floor with them, and that is what a good teacher is all about.”
Fugard says spending his days on the floor with the kids drains his energy, and often leaves him exhausted before games and practices. “There were days when I was like, ‘Oh my God, I am so sore.’ I had just done a nine-to-five placement job with kids going crazy…Then I would have two hours for a break; I’d have to eat, I’d have to refocus and start thinking about volleyball again … Going into that game you’re already done.”
Playing for a team comprised mainly of engineers, Fugard knows of few guys who could do what he does. But his teammates still like to make fun of him sometimes. “(Once), we wanted someone’s attention, and I was like, ‘Oh we’ll just turn off the lights.'” Laughing at himself, Fugard remembers one player saying, “Only an ECE instructor would think of that.”
Fugard says the teasing is all just for laughs and he often makes fun of his teammates as well. “Mal (Sampa, another Rams middle) always has these crazy facts like, ‘Well the velocity of the uh…’ and he will just go off on these crazy numbers,” he says, laughing again. “And I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, why don’t you go write that down. I want to see an equation for that.'”
His teammates’ jokes quickly turned to jealouly when they realized the gender ratio in the program is 175 women to four men. “At the beginning, when I first signed up and heard that ratio, I was like, ‘This is going to be the best year ever!’ And I had a huge grin on my face,” he remembers. The euphoria didn’t last long. “Being 20 and having a little more life experience, I really felt like an outsider. Man, all those young girls. I felt like they were almost afraid of me,” he says.
Fugard says he tried hard to get the girls in his program to see him as a classmate. “I had to make them think I was not only there to date them.” Fugard says since then he has been nothing but friends with his classmates. “I am like the big brother that protects them from all the engineers.” Men’s volleyball coach Mirek Porosa tried recruiting Fugard out of high school.
Despite the coach’s efforts, the young athlete decided on the University of British Columbia. “I am as skilled at volleyball as I am, and as strong as I am, because of UBC,” he says. After moving back to Ontario, high-school friend and current Ram Roger Marszalek re-introduced the possibility of playing for Ryerson, where Fugard could study ECE. Balancing schoolwork, the daycare, volleyball and a part-time job has been a challenge for Fugard.
But in the end, he says he knows where his priorities are. “For me, when the worlds collide, volleyball comes out on top…I love ECE and I love marks and doing well in school.
But for me I would love to be able to go pro at the end of it all.”