For U of T student athletes, playing for the Varsity Blues is a huge accomplishment. We spoke to two UTSC students, Jermaine Burrell and Alex Garceau, who also play on the Varsity Blues. Burrell is a social science student who, at one time, played on the Varsity Blues soccer team. Garceau, who is a fourth-year statistics major, currently plays on the Varsity Blues squash team. They both know the experience of having to commute downtown for games and practices, while at the same time understand the emotional and physical perils of playing the games they love.
The Underground (UG): How old were you when you started playing your sport? What is it about the sport that makes you want to play?
Jermaine Burrell (JB): I was around five or six when I started playing soccer. I like the competition, it is a full body kind of sport, it takes a lot of technical ability and I love the challenge.
Alex Garceau (AG): I started playing squash when I was 14 years old. I was in the beginning of grade eight when I started. Like any other sport, it is fun…We never stop improving so there is always something to work for.
UG: What has your experience been like playing for the Varsity Blues teams and how many years have you been a part of the Varsity Blues?
JB: It has been [a] rewarding and challenging experience but I definitely enjoyed it. Sometimes it was tough. Emotionally and physically it is tough. They really treat us like professional players. They expect a certain level of commitment and energy level. Their philosophy is ‘you practice how you play.’ It is [a] very demanding and draining experience but it is rewarding. It is worth it. I have been a part of the Varsity Blues for two years. Since then I have been playing for the UTSC intramurals.
AG: It’s been great. Squash is an individual sport. When we play against other schools, I am not just playing for myself, I am also playing for my teammates as well. It is kind of like a community, a bond. We (squash teammates) push ourselves to train harder, to play harder. It helps me stay motivated to train harder.
UG: How has your experience been like as a UTSC student commuting downtown or elsewhere for practice?
JB: It is a big time commitment. The coaches are pretty understandable when I tell them I’ll be a little late for practice due to a class I have at that time. They are accommodating. But overall, it is tough and a little stressful.
AG: The first year it was tough because I was not used to it. We have official practices four times a week…I purposely schedule my classes in the mornings and afternoons. The commute to downtown is usually a little over an hour. I have been doing it for three years now. I am used to it.
UG: Jermaine, since you have done both, what is the difference in playing for the Varsity Blues and the UTSC intramurals? How is that experience?
JB: Huge difference. The Varsity Blues treat us like professional players. On game days we go to the dressing room and our jerseys are all up on hangers. We have a new pair of socks and towels there as well. There is always water being provided. The environment, being a Varsity player down there people treat you differently, in a good way. It is not the same when it comes to the UTSC intramurals. Some do not even know that we have a soccer team here at UTSC. At Varsity games, there are usually a big crowd of spectators. Here, we do not have that same showing of spectators at the intramural games. But for both teams, it is like a family. I feel I spend more time with the Varsity because we travel more. It really becomes a family in that sense. For UTSC intramurals it is within U of T so there isn’t that much travel. It is all done locally. It is a different experience.
UG: Alex, in your opinion, do you find there is difficulty in balancing studies and playing for the Varsity Blues?
AG: In my first year there was some difficulty. But I learned to be more efficient. I learned to study on the bus and learned to manage my time properly. It is not a problem anymore.
UG: How do you think the UTSC intramural soccer team will do this season?
JB: We have been having a couple of tryouts recently. Lots of good talent and I believe we will be successful. From what I have seen, I am not worried at all. It should be a good year.
UG: After graduating, what will you miss about being a part of the Varsity Blues and playing for U of T teams?
JB: The people. I have played with these guys for several years. I am going to miss playing for [these] group of guys. Some of them, I play with on teams outside of the school as well.
AG: The teammates. I will always be able to play squash on my own or find a club or a court somewhere. But the team experience…we train hard together and motivate each other and off-court. They are my friends too. That is definitely the thing I will miss the most.
UG: What is your advice to UTSC students that want to try out for Varsity Blues teams?
JB: If you plan to tryout and commit to the journey, it is quite challenging. Be prepared to make a time commitment and to make a commitment to your studies as well because for the team it is very important that you are passing your courses. You have to pass to play. If you are very driven to play soccer or any other sport but you are not academically driven it will not be to your benefit. The coaches will not play you in the games until your grades are up. You really have to shine and make your presence known.
AG: First and foremost do not neglect your studies. When you fall behind it is very hard to catch up. If you decide to commit to trying out and you do make the team, do not start neglecting the team either. Learn to balance it well. It is your responsibility to get your work done and to go to practice because you are not only representing yourself but your teammates and the school too. Try to keep on top of things.
UG: In your opinion, why do you think there is less representation of UTSC students on the Varsity Blues?
JB: There is less population at UTSC which means less students to choose from. To be honest, it is about who you know than what you know.
AG: I definitely do not think it’s a lack of athletic ability. I know there are a lot of athletic students at this campus. But probably it’s because most tryouts and practices are downtown and it’s the commitment of commuting all the way downtown and back.