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Balancing act

A new award helps students strike a balance between academics, athletics and community involvement

by Krista Habermehl, MA'05 | November 24, 2014

The first recipient of the Phylis June Paterson Athletic Award will be announced during the 2015/2016 academic year.

If there’s one thing Barbara and Simon Smith know well, it’s the importance of balance – in life and on the beam.

The couple are former intercollegiate gymnasts who have made a significant donation to establish an award to help Western students achieve a fine balance between the competing priorities in their lives.

The Phylis June Paterson Athletic Award will support two $2,000 annual awards for a male and female undergraduate student. Recipients must be valued members of a Mustangs Varsity team but must also be involved in their community.

“Barb and I have always held the view that the combination of athletics and academics – and a little bit of volunteerism – really makes for a better, well-rounded student and somebody who is probably going to be more successful when they get into their career,” says Mr. Smith, a retired Imperial Oil executive. “This is because of the balance and the discipline required, as well as some of the skills they learn in school and as part of athletics. It’s an incredibly valuable thing.”

June Paterson (pictured above) encouraged her children to pursue postsecondary education and partake in athletics and community service. The Phylis June Paterson Althletic Award is named in her honour.

The award is named in honour of Barbara’s mother, June Paterson, who strongly encouraged her children and grandchildren to pursue postsecondary education, despite having never attended university herself. She was heavily involved in her community of Sarnia, Ont., as a volunteer for the Cancer Society and Meals on Wheels, and believed in the importance of balancing extra-curricular activities, such as volunteerism and athletics, with education.

“My mom was a builder; someone who supported others,” says Mrs. Smith, who holds a PhD in Education. “She was always in the background supporting me and encouraging me to experience all things in life. It wasn’t just a matter of getting good grades or doing well in sports, it was about all of those experiences combined. She was also very supportive of my dad and his athletics in the same respect.”

Mrs. Paterson was married to Western alumnus, G.G. (Gord) Paterson, BA’33, a tremendous athlete and member of the Sarnia Imperials football team during the 1930s. As part of the team, he was a two-time winner of the Grey Cup (’34 and ’36).

As a family, the Patersons have long-standing ties to Western, as Mrs. Smith’s brother and two of her nephews, including 1878 Societies member Scott Paterson, BA’85, are also Western alumni.

The Smiths hope this award will relieve some of the recipients’ financial burden so that they are better able to balance academics, athletics and volunteerism without having to squeeze a part-time job into the mix.

“It’s easy for students, when they get into university, to become very busy. There are many demands on their time and it’s easy to let the athletics slip and give them up. We want to encourage students not to do that,” says Mr. Smith. “We want students to continue to participate, to be active and to achieve balance. I think those students will be more balanced and better leaders. They’ll have better capabilities than, perhaps, if they had not been engaged in that way.”

According to Thérèse Quigley, director of Western’s Sports and Recreation Services, donor support for Athletic Financial Awards (AFA) play a crucial role in affording students the opportunity to pursue excellence in both athletics and academics.

“The impact of these awards is very significant in the life of a student-athlete. The rigour of academics and athletics today requires a focus and commitment that is very time consuming and costly,” says Quigley. “The AFA program at Western is dependent on the leadership and generosity of our donors and is critical to the ongoing development and success of our studentathletes.”

Western has been consistently recognized as one of the top universities in Canada in the number of scholar-athletes achieving Academic All-Canadian status. For two consecutive years, Western student-athletes have received one of eight Governor Generals Awards for athletic and academic excellence.

The first recipients of the Phylis June Paterson Athletic Award will be announced during the 2015/2016 academic year and it is the Smith's hope that the award will go to students who, like Mrs. Paterson, put other people before themselves and who have the potential to make a positive difference in the world.

This article appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of Impact Western
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