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Cambrian College - Varsity Athletics
Fountain Tire - Val CaronPaul Lefebvre - MP for Sudbury
Bob Piche: The man who lived and breathed Cambrian athletics
2020-07-21

As a student, Bob Piche would spend but one semester attending Cambrian College - yet that short nine month stint would significantly influence the direction of athletics at the institution for the next thirty years.

In the spring of 1976, then Director of Athletics Fred McLennan offered Piche a job, tackling a role as a "student technician", even though the born and raised Sudburian was just completing the final few months of his degree in Recreation from Canadore College.

"Fred operated under a different set of principles and rules," said Piche, with a laugh. "His whole philosophy, and some of it definitely rubbed off on me, was that it didn't matter what the skill level was, he was simply interested in providing opportunities for people to experience athletic competition at a variety of levels."

Truth be told, that wasn't dramatically dissimilar to the youthful surroundings that Piche enjoyed, the middle of three children in a family that scampered about the Martindale area in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

"We lived on a dead end street and we had the luxury of having access to a lot of playgrounds and that kind of thing," said the 67 year-old, who retired from Cambrian in 2010. "We would play baseball and football and a game we called "Steal the Rock", which in Sudbury, was obviously pretty easy to do."

"From day one, we were really active."

And while the love of sport was ever-present, throughout his elementary days at St Alphonse and on to Lockerby Composite, Piche would never imagine that that passion would form the basis of the bulk of his working life. "Early on, I was just playing sports for the enjoyment of it, never really thought that it might lead to what I was going to do later in life," he said.

"That's what your friends and everyone else was doing, so that's what you did."

Graduating from high-school, Piche stayed home for a year (at Cambrian), then trekked to North Bay for two before coming back, full circle. "The whole Cambrian thing kind of came right out of nowhere, to be honest with you," he said. Piche had immersed himself in the intramural programming of his hometown college as a student, showing a natural interest that would endear him to McLennan - and open the door to his career in athletics.

"He (McLennan) called me on a Monday, the interview was Wednesday, and I was offered the job on Thursday - but I still had to finish my last few months at Canadore."

For a while, the A.D. role at Cambrian, post-McLennan, was something of a revolving door. Don Waddell, Terry McKinty and Michel Barbeau all occupied it for a stretch, prior to Piche settling in circa 1988. "I had a really good opportunity to learn from different types of managers," said Piche. "It was really good for me."

"Terry (McKinty) was really good at balancing what we offered at the varsity level, and what we offered on the campus intramural programming for fun." Just as McLennan would see fit to allow athletes with an interest in less popular sports - be it archery, table tennis or skiing - to test themselves against their peers, regardless of their ability, a similar mindset from McKinty helped establish the modus operandi for Piche.

"Our funding model was based largely on an athletic fee that is charged to every student, so I felt it was incumbent that we tried to offer something for everybody," he said. "Whether that was on the varsity side, or it was intramurals, or even equipping the weight-room, we just wanted to encourage more people to come out and be active."

The irony, of course, is that from the outside looking in, for those who might follow Cambrian College at a distance, and not as students, the profile of the Golden Shield rests largely on the shoulders of varsity athletics. While Piche fully appreciated the more recreational side of sports, there are few who would don the collegiate crest with more pride than the man who saw his role as a 24/7 investment of his time.

"We always thought that we could compete, but we had to compete differently," Piche acknowledged, navigating the varsity programs through an initial phase of competition that involved only northern Ontario opponents, on through Division II status in virtually every sport, before finally going toe to toe with the likes of Humber, Fanshawe, Algonquin and Seneca.

"When we started getting invitations to some of the real quality tournaments in the OCAA, or when we hosted tournaments and the quality teams in the OCAA wanted to come up and compete, you kind of knew that you had arrived," he said. That would take some time.

"One of the things about the OCAA that was pretty constant was that every year, in some element of varsity sports, the format would change," noted Piche with a smile. "If you didn't like the format, you probably only had to live with it for a year or two."

"Initially, we tended to pay more attention to the local athletes, because it was difficult to try and attract athletes in from out of town," he conceded. "Once programs got more competitive, the attraction grew and student athletes weren't as concerned about our travel time, they were more concerned about the quality of the program."

Through it all, from 1988 to 2010, Piche would guide the group, making every attempt to engage the very clientele he would service. "Our athletic association has always been student run, obviously, but also very involved in the decision making process for our programs. We wanted the students involved in then delivering those decisions to other students."

As for the countless weekends spent on campus, the late nights at arenas, site of an intramural league that numbered 16 hockey teams at one point, Piche understood that it came with the job. "I would go to those late night intramural games, acting as the scorer, or referee, or just to be on hand," he said.

"I just felt that I had to really be involved in that. The people that I reported to when I first arrived at the college were so passionate about the job, they would go to such extremes to make things happen. And I was always really concerned about the image of the athletic department within the college."

"I didn't want people to think that we were only about varsity, catering to just a small group of athletes within the college."

It was a staunch belief that traced back to Bob Piche's days as a Cambrian student - even if those days lasted only for just one semester.

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