When thinking of Brock athletics and recreation, what comes to mind first? For administrators involved in that department and others around the campus, it’s one simple answer: students.
As students, when we think about our Athletic Department we think they are mainly focused on our varsity teams. We think everything that goes on in the offices is about improving the team, spending the money on new equipment and on new recruits. But in fact, their actual focus is creating a more student-focused department.
The decision to combine the Athletics and Recreation Departments came from a program review conducted in 2013. Brock’s Vice President of Finance and Administration, Brian Hutchings, decided that bringing the Athletic and Recreation departments together would be best for the student experience.
This decision then brought in Rob Cargnelli as the Director of Athletics and Recreation. Robert Hilson, who had a similar label from 2011-2014 moved to the Director of Business Development, and still plays a huge role with athletics and recreation.
Cargnelli, a Welland, Ontario native, is like many students here at Brock. He did his undergraduate studies at Brock University. When it comes to athletics, he would call himself a soccer and hockey guy, but he also played two years of rugby at New Mexico State University.
“Looking back now I think it’s a regret of mine not having at least tried to balance my academics with athletics,” said Cargnelli. His statement could relate with many students at Brock, who have had thoughts of trying out for varsity teams, but just have not done so. Cargnelli knows that athletics here at Brock are as important to the students as they are to the athletes.
Cargnelli still has interim under his title of Director of Athletics and Recreation. However, it was a move made by Brock to not put someone in such a public, senior and prominent role without a full review. Cargnelli, in his first year under the role, has done a lot to upgrade the athletic experience for students. He has had help from both Hutchings and Hilson, and everyone else involved around the school.
“I think it’s been a very successful year,” said Cargnelli. “The turf field is first and foremost, there’s the relationship with Nike and partnering with the Campus Store. Last year’s game day management really brought back a level of fan engagement that had not been seen in over 20 years.”
“The goal of this department going forward is that this becomes the best athletics and recreations department in Canada,” said Cargnelli. “We want to be a driving force of student wellness on campus and in Niagara. To do that we need to improve facilities.”
Along with Alumni Field, the Nike deal and teaming up with the Campus Store, the Athletics and Recreation Department took initiative to begin using the spin room again and they also reshaped the Brock gym to use the space available to its full advantage.
Cargnelli and Hilson both noted that they know the Brock gym has become much more crowded since the Student Life Fee referendum took effect in 2013, making The Zone free for all students. The department is trying to figure out ways to make The Zone more accessible and less crowded for students. For them, it’s about enhancing facility use around the campus.
“We knew there would be more interest, we didn’t expect there to be this much interest,” said Cargnelli. “Looking forward we need to think of ways to address The Zone and other facilities.”
The limited space around the campus makes it tough for the 38 varsity teams and clubs to find a proper area to practice and hold meetings.
“Brock dance is the largest single club on campus and they don’t have enough space,” said Hilson. A lot of Brock dance clubs use the Walker Complex foyer to practice, which is not an ideal practice space.
“We need to figure out a way to work with BUSU, work with the students to get these people who are so passionate about their activity, a home,” said Cargnelli. “We need to enhance facility space on this campus. We can become a leader in Niagara for athletic facilities.”
When Alumni Field opened Hutchings said, “This is students first. This field will be a general purpose field for all students at night.”
Hutchings wanted to make sure people knew that Alumni Field was not just about varsity teams having a new place to practice and play games, that it was for students to use whenever it was available. This is what the Athletic and Recreation Department hopes to do with multiple facilities around Brock. They want to do whatever they can to work with different groups like BUSU and Brock Health Services to boost student wellness.
“[Hilson] and I are extremely passionate about this,” said Cargnelli. “I’m waking up in the middle of the night thinking about stuff. He and I will be calling and texting at 10:30 p.m. We are living this stuff.”
The passion for athletics and recreation is alive and well at Brock. It is not only between Cargnelli and his department, students have all been a very active voice in a lot of what is going on around the school. From president of BUSU Kyle Rose, all the way down to the voice’s of single students, Cargenlli is listening and looking to improve student experience.
“My brain is totally split with making sure high performance is important, but also things like intramurals and competitive opportunities, and even beyond that; fitness programs and access to the zone,” said Cargnelli.
Brock University summer camps have also been growing at a rapid pace. The school started these camps to allow students in grades 3-8 around the Niagara region to stay active over the summer. According to the school website these camp “programs combine exciting discovery sessions that are taught in university labs and classrooms with adventurous recreation, designed to motivate campers to be active”.
Summer camps take the athletics and recreation around Brock much further than varsity sports, but into a focus of students and the Brock/Niagara community.
“It was interesting this year,” said Cargnelli about the summer camps. “We advertised less, but had a greater increase in turnout than the previous year. The customer service is really driving it and its word of mouth.”
Getting students and the community active seems to be a top goal for the Brock Athletic and Recreation Department. Another important goal to them is enhancing students game day experience when attending a varsity game. There’s a lot the department is working on for students to enhance spirit and pride around Brock University.