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StFX Athletics: Cultivating Success, Building Leaders, and Fostering a Culture of Care

The fall season of sports at StFX witnessed an exceptional feat as all of the university’s fall sports teams secured spots in the U Sports Top 10 rankings: an achievement only shared by the University of British Columbia. The StFX teams won five out of six Atlantic University Sport fall championships, narrowly missing a clean sweep. This remarkable performance underscores the commitment to excellence and the collective effort of the athletes and coaching staff.

StFX Veteran Leaders at the Leadership Acadmy Banquet along with Leo MacPherson, Dr. Angie Kolen and guest speaker Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (former Super Bowl Champion)
StFX Veteran Leaders at the Leadership Acadmy Banquet along with Leo MacPherson, Dr. Angie Kolen and guest speaker Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (former Super Bowl Champion)

Through winning and losing, what makes StFX Athletics stand out is its dedication to fostering leadership, community, and care. “STFX Athletics, much like the university, is about being Xaverian and very much about caring for one another,” says Leo MacPherson, Director of Athletics & Recreation at StFX. “We care about the work we do. We care about why we do it. We care about who we do it with and we also care about who we do it for. We see caring as a competitive advantage.”

The StFX Student-Athlete Leadership Academy

Central to the success of StFX Athletics is the innovative approach to leadership development through the STFX Student-Athlete Leadership Academy. Established in 2012, this academy offers a tailored curriculum aimed at systematically developing leaders among student-athletes. “I was serving as the President of U Sports at the time, and I really wanted a made-in-Canada solution to student-athlete leadership development, but nothing existed,” says MacPherson. “So I turned my attention to the U.S. where academies existed at universities such as Stanford, Michigan, North Carolina and Notre Dame.” MacPherson worked with Jeff Janssen of the Janssen Sports Leadership Center in North Carolina and was trained and certified to bring the first Leadership Academy of its kind to Canada. MacPherson continues to spearhead the academy alongside Dr. Angie Kolen, a professor in the StFX Human Kinetics Department and former recipient of the 3M Teaching Award, who work together to deliver leadership workshops to student-athletes. 

Dispelling the notion of “natural born leaders,” the academy emphasizes the importance of intentional leadership development. “By investing in our leaders, we give ourselves the best chance of creating a high-performance culture that drives high-performance behaviours that produce high-performance results,” says MacPherson. “Our slogan is “Leaders & Champions Built Here,” and we want our student-athletes to graduate as the most confident and prepared student-athletes in the country.”

Devaughn Blackwood in full football gear in front of a blurry outdoor background
Devaughn Blackwood of the X-Men Football team

Fourth-year wide receiver for the X-Men Football team, Devaughn Blackwood, credits the Athletics program and the Leadership Academy with majorly impacting his life. “I wasn’t a super outgoing or positive person before StFX,” admits Blackwood. “Being a part of the football team has given me a sense of confidence that I didn’t have in high school.” As for his involvement in the Leadership Academy, Blackwood credits the program with helping his academics and improving his organization and time management. “It taught me about being a positive influence,” he says. “How you have to believe in yourself before others will believe in you. That’s powerful.”

From Campus to Community

One of the most important roles of the StFX athletics program is bridging the gap between the university and the Antigonish community. “Athletics not only provide entertainment options for students, but they also bring community members onto campus to interact with students, faculty and staff,” says MacPherson. “When our teams go to conferences or national championships, our alumni rally around these events. It’s just a great opportunity to bring people together.” StFX athletes frequently engage in community outreach, volunteering with youth and youth sports in the Antigonish area. “I think it’s the little things we do every single day that matter,” says Blackwood.” “For example, we’ve had student-athletes volunteer on Halloween to help kids cross the roads. Those are the things that keep the relationship between StFX and Antigonish tight-knit.”

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