“I grew up in Toronto, so until this year, I was an Argo fan. Now I’m a Ticats fan through and through.”
Brenda Whiteside might be speaking a bit tongue-in-cheek. It would take more than a single season to erase near-indelible Toronto blue and replace it with Hamilton black and gold.
But U of G’s associate vice-president (student affairs) says hosting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League (CFL) this year at Alumni Stadium was easier than expected, and the one-season partnership will continue to benefit the University beyond 2013.
As part of the “Ticat committee,” Whiteside took part in the planning for the CFL team to play its 2013 season in Guelph. Following demolition this year of Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, a new facility will open next year.
Traffic and neighbourhood relations, game scheduling and attendance were main issues around the planning table earlier this year for the University, the city, local police and bylaw officials, and the Tiger-Cats. Subcommittees looked after issues such as policing and security.
Aiming to head off traffic congestion in adjoining neighbourhoods, the group looked to assign as many parking spots as possible on campus on game days. They also met with neighbourhood groups to explain the plan and answer questions.
“We only received one complaint from a community member who had trouble getting to the golf course,” says Whiteside.
Game scheduling was a challenge. The group juggled Ticats games – exhibition and regular season – along with varsity football games and other campus activities, from the June open house to Labour Day move-in of first-year students.
“Because parking was so important, we had to ensure games were on days when the University didn’t need parking,” says Whiteside. Referring to the traditional Cats-Argos Labour Day classic, she says, “We couldn’t do anything on Labour Day weekend given the significant challenges of move-in and our own varsity game that weekend.”
The group also discussed seating capacity and evacuation plans with fire officials.
Space constraints around Alumni Stadium required the planning group to juggle temporary change rooms and food vendors.
The Tiger-Cats set aside a number of tickets for University members to buy, including discount tickets for students.
Whiteside says Guelph might borrow some ideas from the Ticats, such as locating food vendors outside of the stadium itself for Gryphon games.
The Gryphons have always played afternoons but ended up playing one game at night to accommodate an afternoon Ticat tilt. “It was kind of cool playing under the lights, so maybe we’ll have one or two night games.”
The Tiger-Cats gave the University $500,000 toward expansion of the W.F. Mitchell Athletic Centre. Whiteside says U of G will dedicate a “Ticat space” in the new building.
Temporary seating at the stadium will be removed by the end of November. Physical Resources plans to restore grass beneath the temporary bleachers.
Conifers lining a parking lot east of the stadium are supposed to be replaced, although Whiteside says the Ticat use of the lot has sparked some ideas for that space on game days. “It was cool how you could see the field from up there. Do we actually replace the trees or maybe strategically create another viewing space?”
Under the latter option, she adds, replacement trees would be planted elsewhere on campus.
Whiteside says her favourite game was the rain-drenched home opener in early July. “Initially it was miserable, but then I couldn’t help laughing. It just kept raining buckets and buckets.”
For the same reason, the same game was the worst for Prof. John Kissick, director of the School of Fine Arts and Music and regular Ticats season-ticket holder. “This season will be remembered as much for the weather as for the change of venues,” he says. “It certainly proved that Guelph fans are every bit as hearty as Hamilton fans.”
He attended all but one game. “It was a totally different experience being at Alumni Stadium — easy parking, plenty of room around the stadium, more pastoral setting. The only real downside was the distance the seats were from the field due to the track. They are directly next to the field at Ivor Wynne.”
What will be Whiteside’s enduring memory of this past season? “My souvenir is going to be the memory of how much the Ticats engaged with the community. You always think of a football club as all about football. They spent as much time talking about relations with the city.
“I think people are going to miss them,” she adds, “although I hear the Argos are looking for a field.”