UBC Thunderbird Athletics is the most successful university program in Canada

UBC President Arvind Gupta starts men's basketball game with ceremonial jump ball

UBC President Arvind Gupta starts the UBC Thunderbirds men’s basketball game with ceremonial jump ball on Nov. 8. Photo credit: Rich Lam/UBC Athletics

That’s a sweeping statement, but an accurate one – and something that should make every UBC fan proud. Our Thunderbird teams have won a total of 91 Canadian Interuniversity Sport Championships – three in the last year alone – and that’s the best record of any university in the country. In the last academic year the Thunderbirds also won four conference titles, produced three CIS Players of the Year, and celebrated nine Coaches of the Year.

Beyond varsity, UBC Athletics also benefits the rest of the student body. At UBC Vancouver, more than 23,000 students participated in a program or intramural sport last year, and 29,000 students, alumni and other community members turned out to cheer at Thunderbird games. In Kelowna, the UBC Okanagan Heat has emerged as a competitive new UBC presence on the national scene, with remarkable successes as full members of CIS Canada West and tremendous engagement with the community.

Athletics are a rich part of UBC’s history and crucial to its future success. The annual UBC Millennium Breakfast in Vancouver and UBC Okanagan Athletics Scholarship Breakfast in Kelowna have raised $11 million to date, and created generous endowments in support of student-athletes on both campuses.

The graduation rates, the number of wins, the level of community spirit, the amount of support – all these are important markers of the program’s success, but my favourite marker is the 164 Academic All-Canadians produced on both campuses of UBC last year – student-athletes who achieve an academic standing of 80 per cent or better while playing on a varsity team.

This accomplishment illustrates what I value most about university athletics – people pursuing their passion with such gusto, and with such a degree of mentorship and support, that they can achieve otherwise unimaginable results.

When UBC champions take to the podium, they celebrate more than a win. They embody the quality of our programsand inspire their peers to work that much harder. They demonstrate that being accepted to UBC is the first step on a continual path to improvement.

UBC Athletics has been forging its own way along that path. Having conducted a major consultation and review in Vancouver in the past year, we are now in the process of implementing the recommendations.

To this end, I am committed to doing everything I can to support and promote UBC Athletics in Vancouver and in Kelowna. It will include helping to develop partnerships with the private sector, donors, and sports organizations. It will mean promoting innovation and ensuring access to the equipment, lab space, facilities and training that will support excellence.Throughout, the implementation process will be inclusive and responsive, leveraging lessons learned and affording all stakeholders a voice.

As we look to the future, it’s interesting to recall the best of our past, including the origin of the UBC Vancouver totem. In the Kwakwaka’wakw tradition, the Thunderbird is a creature so powerful that its wing beats cause the thunder and stir the wind. For UBC, it is also a symbol of reconciliation. The first Thunderbird pole – Victory through Honour – was presented to UBC by the Kwakwaka’wakw carver Ellen Neel and Chief William Scow at a homecoming game in 1948. Recognizing that UBC had been using the totem since 1934, the Kwakwaka’wakw reached out with the hand of friendship and presented the pole as a kind of blessing.

It is our ongoing challenge to do justice to that honour as we celebrate a century of tradition and firm the foundation for the next hundred years.