New man in town

August 30, 2017

The search for a new athletic director is over. John Bower, formerly the associate athletic director for the Concordia University in Montreal, began work Aug. 1. His hiring this July ended a three-month search for Linda Henderson’s replacement. Henderson had been the athletic director since 2008. Since his first day, his time has been mainly spent in meetings and becoming acquainted with his staff, not to mention moving from Quebec. The quicker
he acclimatizes to NAIT, the quicker he can start putting the gears in motion for the changes he wants to bring.

As part of his interview process, Bower laid out a five-year plan for the direction of Athletics with two goals in mind – he wants to double both student attendance and
paid attendance at the games but more important, he envisions integrating the Ooks within the school better than has been done in the past.

“My priority, No. 1, is to create linkages within NAIT to create greater student opportunities with the Ooks because that’s the greatest value we can have as we march forward in getting people out to the games … ”

When asked about the program moving forward, Bower says he has similar values as Karen Bennett, associate VP of Campus Life.

The focus now is turned toward “the holistic approach to sport and their student-athletes,” Bennett said.

“Our athletes are students first,” Bower says. “Bold, underscored, italicized, underlined, highlighted in yellow – followed by athletes. So that’s why we need to approach sport differently. It’s not about wins and losses, it’s about how do we support these athletes in their long-term goals on the field of competition or in the classroom or in starting
their professional lives.”

While the term “holistic approach to sport” may seem vague, Bower provides clarity to what that may mean in practice for the school. He envisions reaching out to different programs on campus (Radio and Television, Digital Media) tying the Ook brand together more than it currently is. This includes working with marketing and advertising students for promoting games and trades students as well.

“It may not happen,” he says. “But at least we’re looking at everything that we do to integrate and give those students the opportunity to put something on their resume to show potential employers and, at the same time, enhancing the student and student-athlete experience.”

Along with accountability, Bower explained that he likes how NAIT “plays within the rules” and finds ways to innovate and create solutions to their problems within that framework.

NAIT’s success, totalling 80 medals in the past decade, makes the Ooks an attractive program to become part of. With that in mind, there is no rebuild in Bower’s sights – far from it.

“I’m coming into a fully built house. Now we need to determine what colour to paint the living room – do we want a jacuzzi or an in-ground pool in the back and what type of tree do we want out front?”

His point is clear. It’s value added at this point for theprogram. His performance concerns are focussed on “getting to the next level.”

What is that next level? It would be competing with schools like Humber College on a consistent basis for national championships, NAIT’s biggest rival in the CCAA over the last two seasons in women’s basketball.

To the question of new athletic facilities, Bower says, through his experiences at Concordia trying to replace two turf fields, the difficulties are great.

“It needs to be – pretty much – a perfect storm for this to occur. Which means the administration views the need for greater athletic facilities, the students need to view it as an enhancement to the entire student body, so they have to get behind it as well. The corporate community needs to be ready to invest, the sport community in the province or region has to be ready to get behind it, and most importantly, the levels of government need to be involved. If you’re lacking any of those you are going to have a difficult time getting any type of enhancements for athletic facilities.”

Bower is most excited for when his teams hit the pitch, court and ice. He thinks of his grandfather, Hockey Hall of Famer Johnny Bower, who told him as a youngster: “Hard
work will get you to where you want to go.”

In a few weeks, that hard work begins for the Ooks in regular competition.

In other departmental news, Jordan Richey has been promoted as the new athletics manager. In addition to the departure of the athletic director, Gregg Meropoulis, who had been with NAIT for almost 40 years, retired at the end of the school year as athletics manager, leaving two major vacancies to fill over the summer. Athletics decided to look internally to fill the job, promoting Richey from sports information. Richey is a veteran at NAIT and for years was
the badminton coach.

Sam Nahrgang will now take over Richey’s old job as the go-to person for sports information while still maintaining his position as events and promotions co-ordinator. Recently graduated Sebastien Cava, who just finished playing for the men’s basketball team last season, has been hired on as the game day attendant.

– Michael Menzies, Senior Editor
Photo: NAIT Athletics