Joy and Larry Pearson in U of G's McLaughlin Library. Joy sits in a chair next to a table. Larry stands behind her and leans on the table. Both wear Gryphon shirts
Joy and Larry Pearson in U of G’s McLaughlin Library

University of Guelph student-athletes will be further supported in their commitments to excel both in the classroom and in competition thanks to a new $500,000 gift.

The donation by long-time Gryphon supporters Larry and Joy Pearson will support the newly renamed Pearson Family Student-Athlete Mentor (SAM) program and will help develop a new student-athlete well-being program.

The Pearsons’ gift represents one of the most significant commitments to student-athlete well-being in Canadian university history, particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Scott McRoberts, director of the Department of Athletics.

Scott McRoberts standing in front of a wall with a white Gryphon logo. The image of his head and shoulders and he is wearing a red Gryphon shirt
Scott McRoberts

“We are profoundly grateful to Larry and Joy for their extraordinary generosity,” said McRoberts.

“This pandemic has affected our student-athletes in a challenging way, and we know we are only starting to see some of those effects. Through this donation, we will be able to enhance the mental health, nutritional and sports psychology needs of our student-athletes while also continuing to offer our tremendously successful student-athlete mentor program.”

The gift is the latest commitment from Gryphon Hall of Famer Larry Pearson and his wife, Joy.

Pearson played volleyball for the Gryphons in the early 1970s and coached the Gryphon men’s volleyball team to their only provincial title in 1978. He continued his involvement with the Gryphons throughout his business career before returning as an assistant coach in 2006.

“Joy and I are very pleased to be able to assist with the funding of the SAM program,” he said. “As an assistant men’s volleyball coach, I am so very impressed by the tremendous help and support this program provides to our student athletes as well as the student mentors that are developed from its existence. This is a program to be celebrated through its successes and one that is a privilege for us to be involved with.”

The SAM program was established in 2006 and runs in partnership with U of G’s McLaughlin Library. Under the program, which has supported the academic development of thousands of Gryphons, senior student-athletes serve as mentors to other student-athletes, including referring them to academic resources across campus.

The program has contributed significantly to incredible growth in academic performance among student-athletes, said McRoberts.

Jason Dodd, program coordinator at the library

Over the last ten years, the number of Gryphon academic All-Canadians and Ontario University Athletics honour roll recipients has increased by 78 per cent and now represents one in three student-athletes. Over the same period, the number of student-athletes on academic probation has decreased by 57 per cent, he added.

“SAM has been a great source of growth for both student-athletes and mentors,” said Jason Dodd, program coordinator at the library. “We have expanded in the last three years to match all incoming student-athletes with a mentor, teaching academic skills and connecting them with immediate resources.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, mentors met online each week with all first-year student-athletes to help create a personal connection. Mentors had nearly 3,000 meetings with 200 student-athletes.

Seema Abouchacra, a third-year member of the women’s rugby team and a SAM program mentor, said the program was crucial to incoming student-athletes this past year.

Seema Abouchacra, a third-year member of the women’s rugby team and a SAM program mentor

“The first-years didn’t really know where to go for certain support and we acted as an intermediate ground that established relationships with them and simply told them that they weren’t alone,” she said.

“We met weekly and helped alter their study strategies to best help them succeed in an online format that was foreign to them, while developing various strategies that would enable them to succeed at juggling the responsibilities of full-time student-athletes.”

Funding from the gift will also support the new student-athlete well-being program involving a wide array of campus collaborators, including the Department of Student Wellness. The program will enhance student-athlete access to the student support network and counselling services and to sports nutrition and sports psychology.

“Larry and I are very excited to be associated with the creation of the new student-athlete well-being program,” said Joy Pearson. “The health and well-being of our student-athletes has become such a significant factor in achieving both academic and athletic success, and we believe this program can provide the tools and support to do so.”

Individuals may support the new student-athlete well-being program by visiting the Alumni Affairs and Development page.