By Christie Melhorn, January 17 2018 —
On Jan. 2, Jason Kerswill took over as athletic director of the University of Calgary Dinos. The role remained vacant for six months after his predecessor, Christine Stapleton, departed in June 2017. Kerswill carries an extensive athletic background as a previous student athlete at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and athletic manager at the Edge School for Athletes in Calgary, the University of Northern British Columbia and most recently at Seneca College in Toronto.
When I met Kerswill, he warmly greeted me in his Kinesiology A office where an impressively tidy desk and an unopened box draped with Dinos hoodies reflect his recent segway into the role. He says the transition came at an opportune time.
“It was a good time to arrive into the role when a lot of the planning for the 2017–18 season was done. Right now we’re looking at the Canada West playoffs and then preparing for next year,” he said. “Getting to know the staff and student athletes has been my priority these first couple of weeks.”
Coming from Senenca College which has 17 different sports programs, Kerswill wants to familiarize himself with the 14 sports played at U of C.
“Understanding the breadth of programming is really important — that’s something I’m learning [at the U of C]. I have a basketball background but I’ve got to learn the ins and outs of all of the sports played by our amazing student athletes,” Kerswill said. “The best way of doing that is going to games, practices and meeting them face-to-face — to be in their environment and ensure they understand I’m there to support them.”
Having been a student-athlete, Kerswill understands it can be both challenging and rewarding. He strongly values providing student athletes with a solid and in-depth support network.
“[The Dinos athletic department] know the challenges [student athletes] face. We always ask how we can make sure they’re excelling in the classroom and their sport,” he said. “It’s about having the maturity to know you can’t go out on a weekend night and budget around finishing a paper or project. Our coaches are well-versed in when exams and breaks take place to push or pull back in training. They understand that being a student comes first. We’ve got a wonderful academic support team who assist with class time missed for athletic purposes.”
As the new athletic director, he wants to further cultivate the Dinos relationship with the Kinesiology department to maximize student-athlete’s athletic and academic performance.
“I’m a big believer in nutritional education and an understanding of rest and recovery. We want [student athletes] to use days off to be ready to learn in class on Monday,” Kerswill said. “Athletics being housed within the faculty of Kinesiology is such an advantage because we have those resources right down the hall. It’s a matter of working together to provide robust support.”
Kerswill is also aware of how social media impacts the student-athlete experience.
“Social media challenges experienced by student athletes is overwhelming. It’s tough seeing how pro athletes are portrayed and wanting to be like them. Our end wants to provide relevant websites, social media accounts and other resources that positively supplements their training,” Kerswill said.
Taking a holistic approach to his role, Kerswill wants to emphasize mental health awareness in the athletic department.
“I have some family history with [mental health] so I believe in supporting athletes in that area. Our coaches need to be aware of student-athlete challenges and how they manifest in different ways,” Kerswill said. “We need to spot them and refer our athletes to the right resources on campus. From what I’ve seen, our coaches and athletes have strong, open communication. That trust is integral to our success.”
Kerswill also wants to further develop the Dinos influence within and beyond campus.
“Several of our teams are ranked in the country’s top 10 and I want people to see that. Our athletes want to play in front of full houses. We’d love more students at games supporting their peers,” Kerswill said. “It’s about engaging with high schools and clubs in the city and inviting them into our community.”
A great opportunity to see the Dinos in action is at the annual Crowchild Classic next Thursday, Jan. 25th. The Dinos take on the Mount Royal University Cougars in the Saddledome with the women starting at 4 p.m. and the men at 6:45 p.m. Students receive free admission on up to two tickets. Click here for more information.