Photo C/O McMaster Athletics

By: Coby Zucker

Saturday’s Pride volleyball games went off without a hitch, in part due to the organizational skills of Shawn Small, a manager in the department of Athletics and Recreation. The event was designed to merge athletics with a celebration of the LGBTQA2S+ groups on campus and in the Hamilton area.

“It’s just a celebration of the community,” said Small. “And trying to bridge our department with the community on campus and outside in the Hamilton community. Again, it’s a celebration game and just opening up the doors, making sure that people know what we stand for, who we are and making an inclusive environment for everyone.”

Small is something of an industry veteran, having had the opportunity to work in a similar role within the professional sports scene. During his time with the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, he was able to help organize a similar event for the Toronto Raptors. Looking at what the pro teams were doing, as well as other universities, it was only a matter of time before the Pride event wound its way into Marauders athletics.

“The Toronto Blue Jays do a game,” said Small. “And Ryerson University, York University. So it’s something that’s pretty prevalent in the sports community. Pretty common. So we felt that it’s time that we make sure that we’re recognizing and celebrating our community as well.”

Small explained that beyond just a celebration of the LGBTQA2S+ community, the event also helps promote equity and inclusion within university athletics.  

“Generally, there’s a stigma around sports and the LGBT community,” said Small. “So we’re trying to break down those barriers and make sure people know that it’s an inclusive and equitable environment at the David Braley Athletic Centre and at the Athletics and Recreation Department.”

Though high-level athletics and the LGBTQA2S+ community have frequently been at odds, Small feels as though stigma within the Marauders community is mostly imposed from the outside and not by teammates.

“I mean, we’ve had some openly gay athletes and student-athletes on our teams,” Small said. “And there is this stigma of people outside the sports world. But when you’re in it, all the people on the teams that know these openly-gay athletes are already open arms, and there’s no stigma within the environment. But when you’re outside the environment, we feel like there is always a perceived stigma, but perception is not always reality.”

The game itself was an overwhelming success for the Marauders. Both the women and men’s volleyball teams easily handled the Nipissing University Lakers in three-set sweeps. While the women’s team has remained competitive in the Ontario University Athletics West division, the men’s team is in prime position to go for OUA gold once again.

Even still, the team’s dominance was not a large factor in the scheduling of the Pride event and was more of a happy coincidence.

“We don’t have many available dates with other things going on,” said Small. “So it landed on this date and we’re actually very excited again because the men’s volleyball team has been doing so well and it’s a strong draw — we always have a solid crowd. So it helps enhance what’s already a good event.”

This is not the first time Marauders sports have been fused with celebratory or awareness-spreading campaigns. Bell Let’s Talk Day, which promotes conversation around mental health, was marked by a sizable campaign led by student-athletes and punctuated by McMaster basketball games in support of the event. Chances are, the two events won’t be where the themed games end.

“We’re really trying to look at our calendar and schedule appropriately,” said Small. “Making sure that we have the opportunity to break down walls and invite different groups from all cultural, sexual orientation, gender or whatever it would be. So we try our best to make sure we spread the net wide and bring everyone together and to our building.”

After another successful social event in the Marauders community brought fans and athletes together through sports, the volleyball teams will build on this energy to boost them through the rest of the season.


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