Trent throws Peterborough university sports pioneer Paul Wilson an 80th birthday party
Founding president Thomas Symons selected a young Paul Wilson ahead of more acclaimed applicants to be Trent University's inaugural athletic director.
It's a decision he's never regretted.
The Trent athletics department celebrated Wilson's 80th birthday on Saturday with a reception at the Trent Athletics Centre gymnasium. Wilson retired in 2002 after 36 years as athletic director.
He had barely graduated from the University of Toronto when Symons hired him in 1966, two years into Trent's existence.
"I wanted a person who would not merely be a good devoted professional athlete type, but someone who would have fun with it and imbue it with fun," said Symons, now 90. "I was interested more in how many participated than how often they won. I'd heard about this guy who played rugger at the University of Toronto where I was then the dean of men and I thought this is who I want. People kept proposing distinguished coaches and professionals, but I wanted a guy who would really enjoy himself and convey that sense of fun and pleasure to anything which happens… He was utterly superb."
Wilson arrived in 1966 to a school that had no field, no gym or changerooms, one soccer ball, one rowing shell and one sailboat.
"Peterborough opened its doors and we rented everything," said Wilson.
With just 200 students at Trent at the time it wasn't easy to fill teams, Wilson said. He started with soccer and hockey teams, added rugby and rowing in following years. He oversaw major projects such as creating a playing field. In 1977, the athletics building opened with a pool, gymnasium, change facilities, offices and meeting rooms.
"We were starting from scratch," said Wilson. "It was a challenge. I was 27 at the time and only six or seven years older than the students, so we dug in together."
Bill Byrick and Deborah Bright-Brundle followed in Wilson's footsteps to build upon the foundation he started. With a modern building, stadium and expanded varsity program, Wilson says he's overwhelmed by what it's become.
"I'm so proud of how it's developed," he said. "Athletics does this. You get an incredible pride in a place. I'm so proud of Trent and being part of it. I'm so proud of Trent alumni and what they've accomplished throughout the world. So many of them were involved in some sort of athletics or recreation."
Wilson's greatest legacy lies in the impact he had on students.
Former varsity player and 1993 graduate Caleb Smith said he adopted Wilson's philosophy on sports.
"Paul Wilson made sport for all the philosophical foundation of Trent athletics," said Smith.
Jennifer Sipos, a 1991 graduate, was a counsellor at Trent's sports camp who says Wilson taught her leadership and allowed staff the room to grow.
"Paul was always interested and encouraging but he never interfered," said Sipos. "He trusted me and so many of us to try and to learn by doing. Having Paul's trust really gave me confidence that set me on a great course for my career."
Varsity athlete turned coach Julianna Stonehouse, a 1996 grad, said Paul and his wife, Gillian, made it a family atmosphere.
"They shared this warmth and openness and acceptance that is so incredibly unique in this world," said Stonehouse. 'The fact they found each other is pretty incredible."
Gillian Wilson was also recognized for her contributions to Trent. A panel depicting the couple was unveiled which will be added to a mural in the PSB Wilson Lounge at the Athletics Centre.
NOTES: The Tony Storey Alumni Service Award was presented to Karen Sisson during the Paul Wilson reception. Sisson has supported the alumni association in numerous capacities for more than 30 years.
Story by Mike Davies - Peterborough Examiner (email@example.com)
Photo: Clifford Skarstedt
For more information contact:
Alex Bridal, athlete development coordinator, Trent University Athletics, firstname.lastname@example.org or 705-748-1011 X6278