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A history of Pedro and the Panda Game

Panda-monium took over the TD Place stadium Oct. 3 as the Carleton University Ravens faced off against the University of Ottawa (U of O) Gee-Gees in the annual Panda Game.

The first Panda Game was held in 1955 after Brian McNulty, a student at the U of O, decided something needed to be done to spice up the rivalry between the two teams.

McNulty came up with the idea of using a stuffed panda named Pedro as the Gee-Gees’ mascot, and enlisted the help of local jeweller Jack Snow to stage the first ever panda kidnapping.

In the years that followed, Pedro became the face of the game, with both schools fighting to be the one to take him home.
Pedro’s lengthy résumé includes a failed bid for president of the Carleton Students’ Council, being held hostage by the Queen’s University Panda Liberation Organization, and being transported to the game in an armoured Brinks truck.

The original Pedro retired in 1976 at the tender age of 24, and was replaced by a copper trophy.

Over the years, the game was the source of many pranks from students from both sides, which helped fuel the rivalry and, at times, threatened the continuation of the game.

At its peak, the Panda Game attracted more fans than any other regular season game in Canadian university football.

However, the latter years of the Panda Game were characterized more by the drunken antics of the fans, rather than the game itself.

Following the dissolution of Carleton’s football program at the end of the 1998 season, the Panda Game faded away as the Gee-Gees became Ottawa’s only university football team.

Fans of the rivalry would have to wait until 2013, when Carleton revived its football program.

The first Panda Game in the new era was held on Gee-Gees turf at Lees Stadium, in front of a sold-out crowd of 4,200 fans. The Gee-Gees won against the newly revived Ravens team 35-10.

“I think it’s important because it’s something that traditionally the entire city kind of gets involved in,” said Jen Elliott, the sports information and events officer at the U of O. “The entire city knows that it’s happening, and so it’s one of the times where university sport is really in the spotlight.”

In 2014, the game moved to the newly built TD Place stadium. A crowd of 12,500 fans saw the Ravens pull off a 33-31 win, after a last-second Hail Mary pass from quarterback Jesse Mills found its way into the hands of wide receiver Nate Behar.

Carleton’s athletic director Jennifer Brenning said playing at TD Place is helping the game grow.

“It just gives you that opportunity to be much bigger in terms of how many people can see the game and come out and celebrate,” Brenning said. “It puts the game on the map.”

“I think now with playing it at TD Place where it’s a beautiful, first class facility, it gets people off campus, it gets people interacting with a huge group of students from their campus, [which] doesn’t happen too often outside of … the orientation week,” Elliott said.

This year’s game attracted a crowd of 17,596 people, the largest attendance in Canadian Interuniversity Sport this season.

“It just brings out that pride in the two schools from the alumni, the faculty, staff and students. It’s about bragging rights,” Brenning said. “I think because we have these two schools in this community it really brings that school spirit out.”

For Sam Cox, a fourth-year Carleton public affairs and policy management student, the highlight of the game is cheering for the Ravens as a part of Red Zone.

“The best part about the game for me is the dramatic rivalry and how good the football is—the game is always back and forth right to the bitter end, making it a nail biter for all fans,” Cox said.

Ravens head coach Steve Sumarah said the Panda Game is unique due to the magnitude of the rivalry between the two schools.

“There’s other good rivalries obviously in this country, but just because of the sheer volume of people that come out from the community and from the two universities, I think it’s very unique,” Sumarah said. “I think the kids that have an opportunity to play in it have kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be a part of something like that.”

“What makes it such a special game is the amount of history behind it, the fact that the first game was played in 1955 and it still exists today on a massive level is unreal,” Cox said.

“I’d like to see it in the next couple of years be a sell-out,” Sumarah said. “I think it should be the game of the year in this country, and I think it’s well on its way to that.” 

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A Ravens football history of homecoming

Alumni and current students were invited to participate in a variety of events designed to promote school spirit during Carleton University’s third annual homecoming, which ran from Sept. 16-19.
Homecoming has been at Carleton since the late 1950s. However, it disappeared along with the football program after the team was cut following the 1998 season.

In the years that followed, Carleton didn’t have any kind of homecoming.

“That was the biggest disappointing thing in my first year, that we didn’t have a football team, so homecoming wasn’t even mentioned,” said Sam Cox, a fourth-year public affairs and policy management student. “They had nothing.”

During those years, alumni were invited to participate in homecoming-type activities in May, said Mark Savenkoff, Carleton’s director of alumni and donor relations.

Flash forward to 2013, when Carleton hosted its first homecoming weekend in 15 years.

Since then, the event has continued to grow, with this year’s homecoming boasting close to 30 events spread out over four days.

Amongst a number of faculty events, the weekend also featured a golf tournament for women’s hockey alumni, as well as various dinners, networking receptions and lectures.

The highlight of the weekend was arguably the football game, which saw the Ravens pull off a close victory against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues.

“I think [homecoming is] a way to re-engage our alumni, most importantly,” said Steve Sumarah, head coach of the Ravens football team. “With a football game it always gives you an opportunity to get a lot of people together and share in old memories and all that, and that’s just good for your whole school environment.”

“I love school spirit. This is, like, what I live for,” said Cox, who is also a captain with Red Zone, a group of students who cheer for Carleton’s student athletes.

Cox added, that “it’s nice seeing all of the school community come back, seeing all the alumni come back and just good Carleton spirit.”

Mark Whitton, a Carleton graduate and former wide receiver with the football team, said being at homecoming reminded him of his first year at Carleton.

“I swear there were like three or four homecoming games and homecoming crowds that we had to face that year, so it was kind of neat to be on the other side of that and be part of such a raucous crowd,” Whitton said.

“What we like about [homecoming] is that it offers graduates a number of different opportunities to come back and to see what students are doing on campus, to reconnect with old classmates and to meet some of their old professors,” Savenkoff said.

According to Savenkoff, an expected 8,000 to 9,000 alumni returned to campus for homecoming this year.

“It’s important in that you get to celebrate your history and bring back the alumni to celebrate and be proud of their institution,” said Jennifer Brenning, Carleton’s athletic director. “Our current students can look at the alumni and see their success and what they could possibly do in their future, so it really is celebrating our history and our success and promoting our pride.”

Sumarah said there are a lot of similarities between the football program and homecoming, as both programs returned at the same time.

“I think there’s a lot of new traditions that are starting and I think that’s a good thing,” Sumarah said. “You know, every year it seems the homecoming weekend becomes bigger and bigger and I think it’s just going to continue to grow.”

According to Savenkoff, the response from the university community has been overwhelmingly positive, with attendance at homecoming events growing every year.

“I know it just ended but already we’re talking about what we can do for next year, so I think that’s a good sign,” Savenkoff said.

“This is our third year, so we’re really trying to build something and build some tradition,” Brenning said. “We’ve got off to a great start, we’ve had a number of events, we have full campus involvement, so I think this will really start to grow.” 

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Keith Harris renamed to MNP park

Carleton’s athletic stadium, formerly known as Keith Harris Stadium, has been renamed MNP Park.

The five-year naming rights agreement was arranged with MNP LLP, a large consulting and accounting firm in Canada.

“MNP is relatively new to Ottawa and we wanted to get involved in the community in a supportive way,” said Randy Mowat, senior vice-president of marketing for MNP, in a statement.

“Our sponsorship of the athletic stadium will ensure programs remain strong at Carleton,” he said.

Details of the agreement were not disclosed, but the sponsorship will support the football team long-term. Previously, the Ravens football team was funded primarily through alumni support.

“This is a positive partnership – one that capitalizes on Carleton’s visibility in the community and provides an important investment in the success of Carleton University athletics,” said Jennifer Brenning, Carleton’s athletic director, in a statement. “MNP’s support will help us ensure stability for our football program and a great experience for all of our student-athletes, fans and alumni.”

Despite renaming the stadium, Carleton will continue to recognize Keith Harris. The stadium was named in the former Athletic Director’s honour in 1998. Harris was director for 35 years. Highlights of his distinguished career include broadening sports programs and supervising construction of various athletic facilities on campus.

The Ravens football team will play their home opener on MNP park against Waterloo on Sept. 6.

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Rob Smart filling in as head coach

Rob Smart is taking over the head coach position of Carleton’s varsity men’s basketball team while his predecessor and uncle, Dave Smart, takes a leave of absence for the 2015-2016 season.

“Dave raised the bar for Ravens athletics and has led the way by developing highly successful student-athletes,” said Jennifer Brenning, director of Carleton Athletics, in a statement. “We are pleased to support Dave with his request and are encouraged that Rob has agreed to serve as interim coach, providing a smooth transition as the Ravens prepare for another successful season.”

Dave Smart and Carleton alike have been emphatic that taking the upcoming season off for professional development affirms his commitment to the Ravens and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) basketball. Dave Smart is assistant coach with Canada’s men’s national team, and he and his wife have two young children. This summer, he coached the Canadian senior men’s national team to earn a silver medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games.

“By doing this, I’m making a commitment to be at Carleton as long as I coach,” Dave Smart told Yahoo! Sports Canada. “I’ll have a lot more family time. It’s the perfect time to do it . . . I’m hopefully going to be really busy next summer if we qualify for the Olympics.”

Rob Smart, long-time assistant coach, has served as interim coach in past exhibition games.

“Rob’s been unbelievable to me for so many years. I’m not sure if he wants to be a head coach for the long haul, but he’ll do a great job,” Dave Smart told Yahoo! Sports Canada.

The Ravens played their first game of the season Aug. 4, which they lost 63-59 to the Murray State Racers. The team will compete against Valparaiso Aug. 13 and play Baylor twice on Aug. 14.

While Dave Smart will not be coaching the Ravens in any official capacity, he said he plans to help the team as best he can.

“I’ll be around helping the guys,” Smart told Yahoo! Sports Canada. “Just not at the practices and games.”

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Top athletes celebrated at annual awards banquet

The feeling was one of togetherness and celebration at the Ravens annual Varsity Awards Banquet on March 19, as the teams reflected on the year and recognized their best athletes.

The annual event celebrates the end of the athletic year, and recognizes outstanding achievements by Carleton’s athletes that year. Awards include each team’s Most Valuable Player (MVP), as well as Top Male and Female Athletes, and graduating player awards. There are also alumni and memorial awards.

Jennifer Brenning, Ravens athletics co-ordinator, said the winning athletes have a unique combination of fortitude and humility.

“They are grounded, they’re humble, but they’ve got this desire to compete and be successful,” Brenning said. “In terms of the number of hours they put into practicing, and the time they put into their sport and their studies, it’s incredible. So not only do they have the talent, they also have that drive to be the best.”

Brenning said the choices of athletes were tough this year, as there were a lot of qualified recipients.

“We’ve had immensely talented athletes, and certainly the number nominated this year, especially on the male side, that were very deserving. It’s very challenging to select,” Brenning said.

Thomas Scrubb received Male Athlete of the Year, while Phil Scrubb received Outstanding Graduating Male Athlete.

Women’s basketball player Lindsay Shotbolt won the women’s basketball MVP award.

She said despite an up and down season, including an injury, the banquet was a huge success for her.

“It’s just a really fun atmosphere to celebrate the success and how hard not only the athletes work, but also everyone who supports the athletes,” she said.

Shotbolt said that the recognition belongs to her whole team.

“It is really nice and I’m so thankful to get the award, but at the same time, I honestly feel like you have to give credit to everyone that you work with and my entire team,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the girls on my team and the coaches and all the support that I get, there’s no way that I’d be able to be the player that I am or the player I’ll be able to be in the future.”

Kendra Murray, who competed on the women’s Nordic ski team, won Outstanding Graduating Female Athlete. She said the award came as a complete surprise.

“Carleton is a big school with a lot of outstanding student athletes, so I was pretty surprised and happy,” Murray said. “It’s nice to have a recognition of your athletic accomplishment at school.”

Brenning said the banquets, which have been going on for “at least 30 or 40 years,” provide a valuable opportunity to recognize the contributions of the athletes to the school.

“Win or lose they are working so hard both in the classroom and in their sport.” she said. “Representing the university as well as they do, they are wonderful ambassadors to the school.”

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Banquet celebrates basketball’s stellar success

Carleton athletics held a celebration for the Ravens basketball team celebrating their success in the past 15 years at Alumni Hall on March 23.

The event invited past Ravens alumni such as Wes Nicol and numerous fans, friends, and family to the team. It held refreshments and had speeches by a variety of people, including President Roseann Runte and Athletics Director Jennifer Brenning. The atmosphere in Alumni Hall was full of excitement as past and present Ravens and 50 supporters celebrated the team’s achievements.

“We are so fortunate to have such an incredible coach, Dave Smart. His statistics are staggering. His serious win record with 493 wins and 45 losses since 1999. This season, the team’s regular season record was 23 wins, two losses, with a 92 win percentage, finishing with two championship banners. We are witnessing history in the making,” Brenning said.

Brenning said Smart has proved to be an irreplaceable asset to the Raven’s program, as his leadership has led the team to new heights over the years.

“You have to play smart. Not every team can play smart because they don’t have a coach named Smart,” Runte said.

Following Runte, Ravens forward Thomas Scrubb who won CIS defensive player of the year had a few words of reflection regarding the five years of support Carleton and its fans have offered him and his brother.

“I just want to thank all of you for coming out, during my five years we’ve had amazing support,” Scrubb said. “I’ve been to a lot of other schools and they haven’t followed basketball too much.”

Assistant coach Rob Smart was impressed by the normally quiet Scrubb being so talkative.

Rob Smart believed the success from the basketball team has spread throughout campus. Rob Smart had similar thoughts as Scrubb, as the whole team seems humbled by the praise they have received following the recent win.

“I think the key thing in terms of sport, it’s a lot of like-minded people, what we’re trying to pass on is skills that will help guys in the future. Things that will help them and from the professors that have supported a lot of the people who have helped with our program. We talk a lot about culture and the culture of our team exists in this university,” Smart said.

With three big graduating players, only time will tell if their will be another ceremony like this next year.

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OUA limits uniforms, training camp attendees for 2015 football season

The athletic directors at Ontario University Athletics (OUA) schools competing in football voted to limit the number of uniforms teams are allowed to have per season, as well as capping the number of student athletes who can attend training camp and be listed on the official roster.

Teams will now be limited to three uniforms and two helmets per season, and can only host a maximum of 110 student athletes at their annual August training camps.

Additionally, teams are now only allowed to list 90 student athletes on their official rosters.

The University of Guelph and the University of Western Ontario were the only two schools to vote against all three motions.

Of the 11 schools competing in OUA football, seven of them supported all three motions.

Carleton voted against limiting the number of uniforms to three, while supporting the remaining two motions.

“We believe that limiting the roster size can assist in the distribution of talent across the league, which in turn address the competitive parity issue identified, as well as save on costs such as training camp,” Carleton athletic director Jennifer Brenning said in an email.

“In terms of uniforms, we believe there should be institutional autonomy in spending operational budgets on jerseys and/or helmets.”

Currently, the Ravens’ football roster contains 85 players, meaning they would not be affected by the new ruling.

“We made the decision way back that the people we were going to bring to training camp would be the people that we’re going to carry through the year,” Ravens head coach Steve Sumarah said.

“I think that, unfortunately, some guys make decisions about schools and don’t actually look at rosters and realize ‘I’m not going to play there,’” Sumarah said.

“Coaches are now forced not to over-recruit, and that was the whole premise . . . to keep the numbers tighter so that people didn’t over-recruit.”

However, within the OUA, the Ravens are the team with the second-highest number of uniforms, with two helmet designs and four uniforms.

Guelph remains the front runner, with six helmet styles and six uniforms to chose from.

“At some point you just hope that it becomes an across-the-country type of situation, as opposed to just in the OUA, because it does adversely affect us,” Sumarah said. “It would be nice if everyone in the country did it, then it wouldn’t be so bad.”

In response to the rule change, sports columnist Morris Dalla Costa published an article in the London Free Press criticizing the OUA for its decision.

“It’s obvious the organization has decided that instead of encouraging all universities to attain excellence, they would seek through legislation to encourage all universities to settle for being average at best,” Dalla Costa wrote.

Dalla Costa further criticized the decision by saying it simply doesn’t make sense.

“They haven’t limited anything else, they haven’t limited the amount of money an alumni can give towards the building of a stadium, or they haven’t limited the amount of money a program can collect from their alumni,” Dalla Costa said in an interview with the Charlatan. “It just doesn’t make sense. There’s no progress in it.”

He also believes the OUA should spend more time building its own brand in order to attract football players.

“The bottom line is that if the product gets better, more people will want to play it, and more people will want to go to the school that improved their program,” Dalla Costa said.

“The OUA needs to keep their nose out of the individual schools’ business, they need to keep their nose out of how many uniforms Guelph has, how many players come to Western’s camp,” he said.

For Dalla Costa, it’s about attracting new talent.

“The OUA needs to build the OUA brand of football, they need to make it attractive so that money from sponsors comes into the OUA,” he said. “That’s what they need to do, instead of trying to regulate the good programs so that they all become mediocre.”

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