Photo By: Stephen Leithwood

When Brock announced the hiring of a new Athletic Director this past spring, it marked the first full-time Director of Brock Sports since Neil Lumsden stepped down in January  2019. Since Lumsden’s departure, Emily Allan has served as interim Athletic Director.

Krist has spent the past 25 years working in a number of roles in the University of Toronto’s athletic department; most recently she was the Manager of Intercollegiate Sport for the Varsity Blues before being named the seventh full-time Athletic Director in Brock’s history. 

Krist has been involved in sport for her entire life, as a student, athlete, and administrator. After graduating from U of T with a degree in Sociology, Krist went on to earn a Sport Administration diploma from Durham College (this was before the days of Brock SPMA, Krist jokingly pointed out) where she also played on the women’s varsity basketball team. She was then hired by then-AD Liz Hoffman at U of T where she spent the next two-and-a-half decades working with the largest varsity program in the country. 

So what precipitated the move to Niagara after spending so many years building the Varsity Blues’ program? Largely, Krist says, the pandemic.

“Truthfully, I think COVID-19 led me to Brock,” she said. “It was a time to reflect on my own professional career. I’ve had multiple positions within U of T over the last two decades and really when COVID-19 hit there was an opportunity to see what else I could do in the third part of my career. That really led to my ability to think, ‘Okay I can actually do a little bit more here.’” 

As for what made Brock in particular so appealing, Krist says the vast amount of programming (especially for a relatively small school) played a factor, as did the fact that she no longer has to commute to and from Toronto everyday. More so than that, however, was the great sense of community that can often get lost at bigger schools.

“It really is a Brock Badger family,” said Krist. “When I was appointed the position I had alumni across the country reaching out to me and that was really special. I already feel like I’ve had a virtual hug and I don’t know if I’d feel the same at a larger institution. That community was really important to me and is something that I want our student-athletes to also give back to because it is a special one.”

To bring it back full-circle, it was Krist’s high school basketball coach, Maureen Dugo, a Brock alum who also played on the women’s basketball team, that really kickstarted Krist’s venture into sport.

“If it wasn’t for her I probably wouldn’t be in sport,” said Krist. “She was the one who recruited me into basketball, I was 12 at the time, and she was able to convince my parents — who came from an Eastern European background, that weren’t really sure about women in sport back then — that basketball was an appropriate sport for me at that time and that’s how my career began.”

In addition to her decades of experience within U of T, Krist has also served on multiple OUA and U Sports committees, something she says has and will continue to serve her well in her new role here at Brock.

“I think it’s important for all leaders to take part in the organization in some capacity to ensure that we each understand what our differences are,” said Krist. “Being involved within the OUA gives you different perspectives — every school has different needs — and when you sit on the OUA sport advisory committee, or a technical committee, you’re working with other institutions who have different perspectives. That lends itself with another lens, in that you’re able to appreciate the differences and come to a solution that benefits sport across the province or across the country.” 

Krist joins Brock’s athletic department at a very unique time — after the pandemic nixed the entire 2020-21 OUA season, rosters have seen more overhaul than usual, coaches have come and gone, and programs have gone nearly two years since they last played a game. 

Change is nothing new for Canadian university sports, however. Each year, every program will have its seniors graduate, only for a new class of incoming freshmen to ostensibly replace them. Players often transfer schools, they’ll redshirt a year, it’s a revolving door of student-athletes. Krist says it’s leadership that allows individual programs to retain continuity in the midst of constant change. 

Look no further than what Mike Rao has done with the women’s basketball program since taking over in 2018; that team went from the third-worst in the province the year before his arrival, to winning the OUA championship and playing in the national title game just two years later.

“The culture is in the leadership,” said Krist. “Your student-athletes will change and your strengths and weaknesses will change, but if you have continuous leadership your culture will be the same. That’s how important it is to invest in our coaches, and, from an equity standpoint, making sure that there are more female coaches, more BIPOC coaches, that they’re diverse. I think those are all important as we develop leadership and when we do that, then culture itself is not dependent on the rotation of our athletes, but certainly in the program development over time.”

One additional pandemic-induced aspect these coaches will now have to navigate is that of what Krist calls the “double-cohort” of incoming student-athletes; that is all the second-year players whose rookie years were supposed to be last year, and all the first-year players who just started out here at Brock. To add yet another layer, there are also those who would have played their final seasons at Brock last year, but since they did not lose a year of eligibility during 2020-21, are back for another season.

“We’ve had lots of discussions with our coaches around the double-cohort and we recognize that there are some students who haven’t graduated and continue to come back,” said Krist. “We are doing it sport by sport, depending on the needs, and taking a look within each of those programs on how we can create a student-athlete experience that maximizes each program.”

As if playing time wasn’t already going to be tighter than usual, this year’s OUA schedule has been reduced by 25 per cent across all sports.

“The competition may not be as long as it was before, but our practice schedules and our intrasquad opportunities are still there, and that community and team-bonding is still there,” said Krist. “The student-athlete experience is what’s most important; that is what our primary focus is on.”

One of the biggest parts of the aforementioned student-athlete experience that COVID-19 has once again prevented this year are the big athletic events that play such a big part in the Badger community. The Steel Blade Classic, Hometown Baseball, and the Paint the Meridian Red basketball games are all annual events that are a staple in the Brock calendar. While capacity restrictions and other pandemic-related concerns have rendered those large-scale events impossible, Krist does say there is a chance for a similar event in the new year.

“We do hope that the Canada Summer Games facility will be available in the new year, and if that’s the case, then we will be able to showcase our men’s and women’s hockey teams in an inaugural game to our students,” said Krist. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed on the completion of that facility and if we’re able to have an inaugural game in January then that would be one of our premier events.”

As far as having fans in the stands for the indoor winter sports, Krist says they will be allowing Brock students, staff, and faculty members who have already uploaded their proof of vaccination documents into the stands. Ontario’s recently released vaccine passport will help determine whether or not other fans can be admitted as well. 

“For us right now, what’s important is that we create an atmosphere that is safe,” said Krist. “We’re anticipating that after Thanksgiving the province will hopefully have a uniform system for us…which will make it easier for us to see whether a visitor is vaccinated or not. We anticipate that the province’s vaccine passport will be available at the end of the month, and if that’s the case then we’ll be able to have visitors. We’ll still have capacity numbers, of course, but we’ll be able to accommodate visitors because that protocol will be in place.”

While it might not look quite back to normal just yet, it’s certainly an exciting time for athletics here at Brock. Fall sports are finally back in action, while winter sports are in the midst of training camp. Construction on the new Zone was completed in the last year, nearly tripling the square footage, making it a state-of-the-art training facility. The Canada Games Park is getting closer to completion every day and will offer up yet another top-tier athletic facility directly across the street from campus. 

Overseeing this all is Krist, whose experience as both an athlete and administrator is certain to help grow the Badger footprint amongst the provincial sporting landscape.

As Krist said, the culture is in the leadership.