Jahmal Jones of the Men’s basketball team during an exhibition game at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. Photo by Justine Chiu.
THIS IS OUR HOUSE NOW boldly proclaims the paint on an end-zone wall, just to the right of the basket on the brand new Coca-Cola Court at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. ‘OUR’ could be taken to mean the Ryerson Rams, who find themselves subjects of particular renown, having made the long awaited move to the house that Smythe built – the former Maple Leaf Gardens.
Yet, that would be altogether too narrow an interpretation of the simple phrase. Over the course of the four day grand opening festivities at the MAC, it became apparent that this venue represents a physical manifestation of a new commitment to unity on campus, and in the downtown community. This is very much Toronto’s house – a modern day cathedral of concrete and glass to celebrate the community and provide the most fluid of sports experiences for Ryerson athletics.
In virtually the same breath, one can watch the women’s basketball team close out a win, then trade the shining hardwood for the silky ice, and catch the opening draw of a women’s hockey matchup – as many visitors did on Sunday after an exhilarating free community skate. Perhaps the most satisfying part of the experience is that no OneCard is necessary to access most areas.
The MAC is the physical embodiment of a bold new face for Ryerson athletics in the city of Toronto – as if to announce to the city that there is a new team for its beleaguered fans to root for. The openness and fluidity with which visitors can move about the facility, to watch each of the Ryerson teams that will call this place home, is a pleasant departure from the increasingly fragmented world of high-caliber sports. It builds a sense of Ryerson athletics operating as a collective team, one where the athletes take it upon themselves to play for the spectators in the stands, and become ringleaders for the community.
In The Frenzy of Renown, an archetypal study of the history of fame, Leo Braudy writes that weathered spectators “look not for style so much as sincerity,” and he continued: “Here was fame unsullied by the alloy of history, language, or any mediation but the body’s own.” Until this past weekend, all of the pomp and circumstance of Ryerson’s newfound athletic resoundancy in Toronto has been about turning on the style, and laying on the history of the old Gardens building.
At two o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, the Ryerson women’s volleyball team took to the Coca-Cola Court against a Brock squad that heavily outplayed the lady Rams, but the result does not matter so much as the fact that, for the first time, it truly felt as though the Rams belonged in the building, as though they had made it their own.
From September 6th to the 9th, athletics took over at the Gardens, and the stories of its hallowed history, which had been written time and again over the course of the past year, suddenly became about the history being played out in real time by the athletes.
In a rather similar fashion to the women, the men’s volleyball team also took a lopsided pre-season loss, while both basketball squads won their exhibition games handily. The big games however, were undoubtedly those on the ice, where the women dropped their opener late to long-time rival University of Toronto, but the men were victorious in a Saturday night match which had all the pre-game pageantry of a college bowl game – right down to Eggy the Ram rappelling from the rafters to centre ice.
Being at those games, there was a palpable sense that the old-guard, those who had made the Gardens famous, had finally relinquished the keys to the Ryerson athletes who will be hoping to turn the historic palace of the blue and white into a remarkable home for the blue and gold – emphasis on the gold, here’s hoping there will be plenty of it in the coming years.