Moments prior to stepping onto the bus that would be taking them to Halifax, the faces of Brock University students showed excitement. Some, if not all, dreaded the lengthy trip ahead but refused to let it show. They knew they were getting an opportunity that is rare in the university landscape in Canada.
A bus ride from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario to the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia is about 18 hours, and that’s excluding the multiple stops made during the trip.
Twenty-eight Brock students paid $50 to take the bus to Halifax, with the university covering the rest of the cost. However, everyone was responsible to pay for their own accommodations (hotel and food) once arriving in Halifax.
What was unique before the trip even began, the bus the students would be travelling on wasn’t a regular coach bus. Instead it was the same one many student-athletes at Brock ride to and from road games. The Brock Sports department had the Brock Badger bus parked behind the university’s rowing centre for its students.
“It gets you in the right mindset and atmosphere,” said Steph Watson, one of the students on the bus. “It heightens up the experience. You’re excited to partake and you’re excited to go on the road with fellow Badgers.”
The students weren’t just heading to Halifax for five days to explore or get away from school. Each member on the bus has a role in representing Brock, as they continue to title themselves as “the best fans in Canada”.
The Brock men’s basketball team, who is participating in the U Sports Final 8 tournament had arrived in Halifax late Tuesday night and hit the court for practice early Wednesday morning.
Badgers forward Cassidy Ryan took to Twitter that same morning saying: “Looking out of my hotel window down on Halifax knowing the best fans in Canada are going to show up soon”.
The players know and appreciate the support they get from the university, but the fans are ready to show that support to the entire country.
Back in St. Catharines, there is plans to stream the Badgers opening game on Thursday versus the Calgary Dinos on the TV screens in Guernsey Market and Isaac’s Bar & Grill.
“I agree with the decision to stream the games on campus based upon the interest in Brock Sports,” said Tyler Harrison, one of the key Brock students in charge of planning events such as student bus trips to road games. “It’s very exciting to showcase that and provide the opportunity for students who weren’t able to make the trip.”
The students that stayed back can still get involved in the winning environment, as men’s hockey is hosting McGill on Saturday for the OUA Queen’s Cup. One student who didn’t go to Halifax said this about men’s hockey: “they deserve support too”.
And Brock is trying to expand its fandom from the basketball team to its other sports. Men’s hockey had 1,200 people in attendance for game two of the OUA West finals a weekend ago.
The fans in Halifax will have a viewing party of their own on Saturday to support the hockey team.
The bus ride to Halifax began around 9:30 a.m. (eastern time) on Wednesday. Around 1:00 p.m., there was a stop for lunch, followed by another two short breaks in Quebec. Due to a snowstorm warning in New Brunswick, there was no time for a lengthy break if the Badger fans wanted to make it in time for the 2:00 p.m. tip-off against the Dinos.
As the clock inched closer to midnight, the bus got quiet as some students began to twist and turn to find a comfortable position to fall asleep. Others used the opportunity to get homework done. Nonetheless, everyone eventually got some uncomfortable sleep at some point and by 8:30 a.m., fans were woken up to Halifax.
These bus trips aren’t anything uncommon for Brock, as fans made the trip two years ago to Laurier and Ryerson and last year sent a bus to Carleton for an OUA playoff game. They upped the anti by sending five buses to Ryerson earlier this season – and now they have outdone themselves again making the 18-plus hour trip.
People outside of the university will give all the credit to Brock Sports for creating such a great atmosphere for the students. However, if you speak to Robert Hilson, who is one of the administrators behind these trips and a former Athletic Director at Brock, he’ll tell you that the idea came from the students and he allows them to take the lead.
“It’s a testament to the work ethic [Robert Hilson] has through the last couple years to be involved within the process,” Harrison said. “Robert is definitely a leader within Brock Sports and the university.”
Harrison also gave credit to Mathieu Mantha and Mohamed Hassan, two other Brock students that helped plan the Halifax trip.
“We were very proactive with our plans. We started planning months ago,” Harrison explained about the process for such a lengthy trip. “The conversation started well in advance of the [men’s] team making it to Halifax. We considered [both] buses and flights for students to make it down to Halifax.”
“Then we were also proactive reaching out to the Brock University Students’ Union and the university itself to see if they could also assist in any way.”
Watson spoke about how she continues to have friends from other universities messaging her about why she is going to Halifax, as it is all over her social media.
“I say I’m going to cheer on Brock and they say its so cool. None of the other universities do that so Brock doing it is really cool,” said Watson.
As much as university is a place to gain an education and network, it is also a place to create new experiences. The experience in this case is a university being able to come together as one, to build a culture that Canadian university sport desperately needs.
“[We] have the most hyped fanbase. It’s clear cheering at the basketball games,” said Watson
If the basketball team can get to Saturday’s semi-final game, the fans will get some screen time on national TV via Rogers Sportsnet.
“The best fans in Canada speaks to Brock University and the whole experience,” said Harrison. “This is a great platform for us to showcase the university, as well as our fandom to other universities across Canada.”
The Badgers basketball program was mentioned on the Toronto Raptors broadcast on Tuesday night. People across Canada have taken notice of the programs growth over the last five years with the hiring of head coach Charles Kissi – the program makes its first trip to the nationals since 2008 when they last won it.
But universities across Ontario know the fans at Brock have started something special. Now all of Canada will not only see the growth of a university basketball program, but also see the atmosphere Brock students have created around it.
If there’s a time to grow the culture of university sport in Canada, it’s now with talent across the nation at an all-time high.
For the Brock students behind the planning, one of their many goals is to get other universities on board.
“It’s not necessarily important to seeing what Brock is doing,” explained Harrison. “It’s something we like to be at the forefront like this. We have seen the impact it can have on other universities. For example, Ryerson sending fans to the [OUA] semi-final game.”
“We aren’t done. This is something we can improve on and collaborate moving forward.”
One thing is for sure however, Brock has taken the self-proclaimed “best fans in Canada” to new heights and the nation is about to witness it.