The Capilano Blues athletics program is a powerhouse, but a lot of that talent has been cut over the years

Christine Beyleveldt, Editor-in-Chief // Photos courtesy of Milt Williams

Capilano College hired its first Athletics Director, Neil Chester, in 1973. He was flabbergasted when the Dean of Student Services showed him a wooden cupboard stocked with six rubber balls. That was the athletics program. Undeterred by the lack of equipment, facilities, athletes and coaches, Chester named the team for the school’s brand colours – the Capilano Blues – and carved out a sporting empire at Capilano College during his 20 year tenure. The men played basketball, soccer and rugby. The women – who were called the Lady Blues – curled, played volleyball and badminton. 

The Blues Volleyball Team (1978-79)

45 years later, Athletics Director Milt Williams marvels at how far the Capilano Blues have come despite the obstacles. Capilano University is unique in BC for not having an athletics fee. According to Williams, the department reuses uniforms and tries to subsidize entrance fees, but over the years several teams have been cut, including curling, hockey, rugby, and more recently badminton and golf in 2011 and 2012 respectively. They were lost in the first round of the now infamous budget cuts after the College transitioned to a University. “In 2008 we became a university and we never got the funding from the government as promised so a few years later we felt the impact of that,” said Williams. The athletics program was left with just three sports – soccer, basketball and volleyball. 

Curling fell off the radar in 1982 when several members of the Canadian Collegiate Athletics Association (CCAA) stopped putting teams forward. “You have to have representation from each province and some of the provinces weren’t putting forward teams so the program for the universities went into decline,” said Williams. The sport was rebuilt, however BC didn’t have sufficient representation. Some of the sports have been reintroduced as clubs. “But that’s where it stops,” said Williams. A team needs to have a national championship to qualify for the CCAA, and sporting clubs can only advance to the provincial level.  

At CapU it’s also a challenge getting students into the athletics program now because it’s a commuter campus. “Every year students come and go.” And Chester faced the same obstacle when the program launched in the 1970s.  

CapU’s community isn’t the only thing affecting the athletics department. Before the Sportsplex was built in 1991, nearly 20 years after Chester started with six rubber balls, teams practiced at Mickey McDougall Recreation Centre and the rugby team at the Capilano Rugby Club. “It was pretty tough for those kids,” Williams remarked, since they’d be practicing at 3 am. Now teams also have use of the Lillooet field. But there wasn’t and still isn’t an ice rink on campus grounds, so the hockey and curling teams picked up ice time at Harry Jerome Recreation Centre.  

The former rugby team, which was cut from the roster of sporting teams at Capilano College in 1989, was a powerhouse. “In the 80s we were a formidable power, we won a lot of provincial championships,” Williams reflected. From 1974-79 alone they won five provincial titles. 

Previous Athletics Director Joe Iacobellis was very much a soccer guy in Williams’ words. Under his direction, the Blues won many national championships, and they’ve just received their rankings this year – the women’s soccer team ranks eighth in Canada and the men’s soccer team second overall. But Iacobellis also built up the volleyball, basketball, golf and badminton teams later in his career, and Williams, who considered Iacobellis his mentor, wants to see strength across the playing field.

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