On game days, they have an intensity hard to match, but away from competition, Ryerson athletes have a much softer side.
Ryerson introduced the Rising Rams program, the first of its kind in Toronto.
Ryerson’s athletes go into elementary schools throughout Toronto to work with students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
For the first six weeks of the university semester, the athletes attend gym class with the students, where they teach sports, run drills and play games with the kids.
In the final six weeks the Rams lead a one-hour in-class session with the students and talk to them about topics such as leadership, conflict resolution, time management and goal setting.
“Rising Rams is an avenue that gives athletes a chance to discover a side of themselves that they didn’t know they had,” says fifth-year men’s soccer player Jacob O’Connor.
O’Connor leads by example as one of the most involved athletes in Rising Rams. Not only does he go into schools, he is also heavily involved in the coordination of the program.
“The first time I did (Rising Rams) was as a favour, and now it’s the most fun part of my week,” he says.
Community Relations Specialist at Ryerson’s athletics department, Shannon Cosgrove, says that this year’s program is special.
Initially, Rising Rams was run by a member of the athletics department. After a change in administration, the future of the program was up in the air. That’s when the athletes stepped up.
“There is a new spirit with the athletes this semester, they came to us,” Cosgrove says.
Since being taken over by the students, interest and enthusiasm in Rising Rams is at an all-time high. This year, this is the most student-athlete volunteers in the history of the program.
Luisa Cornacchia, a teacher at Holy Name Catholic elementary school, says that Rising Rams really resonates with her students.
“It’s very important. They tend to relate better to other students, rather than their teachers, so it seems more realistic for them,” she says.
Rising Rams reflects the culture that the athletics department has been striving for.
“It’s about community building, family and love,” says O’Connor, who has been part of the initiative since it began in 2010.
Rising Rams started as something that athletes had to do, but has developed into something they want to do.
“The program has been revived and has a new life,” Cosgrove says.
Now in its third year, Rising Rams is as stable as ever. As a staple of Ryerson athletics, the school aims to continue to provide positive role models for future generations.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 5, 2014.