Mount Allison University installed a new turf field in 2015, one of many improvements to the university's sports infrastructure thanks in large part to the efforts of athletics director Pierre Arsenault. (From left) soccer and hockey Mountie Emily vanDiepen; university president and vice-chancellor Dr. Robert Campbell; football Mountie Te Nguyen; campaign co-chair and Mount Allison graduate David Booth; and Arsenault get ready to turn the sod in preparation for the new field in this file photo.
©Mount Allison Athletics photo
SACKVILLE, N.B. – It seems much shorter a time but Pierre Arsenault has completed eight years as Mount Allison director of athletics and is currently beginning his ninth season at the helm.
During his tenure much has changed and a good deal of it resulted from the strategic plan for athletics, which was presented in 2010.
“We have attained almost all of our goals set out in that document,” Arsenault said during a recent discussion, “and now we are in the process of developing an upgraded plan.”
We have been able to carry out these improvements because of the amazing support from alumni, friends and the corporate sector
Mount allison athletics director Pierre Arsenault
The most outwardly obvious achievements have been the spending of nearly $3 million dollars on infrastructure. First came installation of the all-weather field – Alumni Field – followed by a fine set of bleachers stretching between the 25-yard lines and located on the south side of the field. During the same time a new and modern score clock was installed and more recently a new upgraded field PA system has been obtained and put in place. Also, the old weight room was upgraded with mostly new equipment so athletes may train on an equal footing with those in other universities.
“We have been able to carry out these improvements because of the amazing support from alumni, friends and the corporate sector,” he added.
But Arsenault has had the full support of president Robert Campbell, otherwise none of this would have been possible. Not only did the president co-chair fundraising for the field but was constantly personally setting the bar high.
This administrative leadership has come following generations of presidents “talking the talk but not walking the walk.” Actually, Ken Ozmon stepped to the plate during his brief time in office in spite of others offering moral support.
Don Wells had often said, “Mount Allison gets its biggest bang for its buck” from football, while Ian Newbould commented that “there’s no way in the world we could pay for this type of publicity” as he viewed the stands at the Skydome as his Mounties were playing Sir Wilfred Laurier in the Vanier Cup in 1991. And Guy MacLean regularly was quoted as saying that a successful program was particularly important in a small community like Sackville.
Arsenault says financial support came when the varsity teams showed they were ready to step forward and do the job. He notes that while football has received the lion’s share of the publicity it has been teams like women’s hockey, men’s and women’s basketball along with badminton, cross country running, volleyball and several others that have shown they are prepared to meet the challenge.
He proclaims that while most of the goals of the 2010 strategic plan have been met, the new plan will lay out more challenges in order for the athletic program to reach the next level.
This will mean a doubling of external financial help. Tiny Mount Allison is limited in the amount it can budget for athletics and so there must be a heavy reliance for assistance from the outside. There is no doubt the quality of play at Mount Allison has improved exponentially during the past few years but many of the teams still have some distance to go.
Looking at the team leadership Arsenault pointed out that of the nine varsity sports no fewer than six coaches have earned coach-of-the-year honours in the past five years. But he points out they are handicapped with the hockey program able to offer about 20 percent of funding for scholarship as their competitors with even less available for soccer and swimming.
Thus the vast majority of increased donations will be designated for athletic scholarships so more and better student-athletes may be recruited. Local recruiters often feel as though they are going out recruiting with one hand tied behind their back – it’s as simple as that.
It was back in the late l970s that then coach Doug Mitchell and The Voice – Steve Ridlington – created the Fifth Quarter Club. This was designed to assist the football team obtain equipment and supplies they would not otherwise afford. However, due to other restrictions it ended covering some honorariums and necessities, missing the original point. With the club now greatly expanded it continues to enhance the program while alumni like David Booth and many others hunt for dollars.
On another note, Arsenault points out that the football program alone is responsible for as many as 130 students attending Mount Allison, while the other varsity teams account for many more, which computes to roughly 12 percent of the population, providing a substantial contribution to the university budget.
He also has only tributes for the community of Sackville – a community that has rallied and thrown its support to the athletic program as well as the entire campus – culminating with the mayor proclaiming one day each years as Mountie Day.
With leadership like that shown by Arsenault and Campbell along with a good many alumni the programs have grown immensely and should new goals be attained, Mount Allison could shed what was long termed “second class cousins” status and assume its role at the head of the pack.
That is the goal – it is possible – and with support both locally and globally it will happen.