Two Kingston-bred athletes are members of the Canadian team at the 20th Commonwealth Games, which opened Wednesday in Glasgow.
Field hockey player Kate Gillis and wrestler Cleopas Ncube are among 265 athletes representing Canada at the Games, which will run through Aug. 3 with competition in 23 sports.
Gillis, who will turn 25 in Scotland, was Field Hockey Canada’s player of the year in 2013. The daughter of Mike Gillis, the former Kingston Canadian and Vancounver Canucks general manager, and Diane Gillis, a national team long jumper and one-time track coach at Queen’s University, Gillis was a two-time all-Canadian at University of British Columbia.
A graduate of Regiopolis Notre Dame, Gillis has played 103 international games. She was a member of the Canadian team that won the bronze medal at the 2013 Pan Am Cup tournament.
Ncube, 30, won his first national senior championship in 2006 but this will be his debut at a major international Games. Also a Regiopolis Notre Dame graduate, the reigning national champion in the 74-kilogram division now lives in Montreal.
He will contest his first match of the three-day wrestling tournament Tuesday, July 29.
Field hockey competition begins Thursday when Canada plays India on the first day of in a nine-team women’s tournament where New Zealand, England and Australia are the top-ranked teams, internationally.
There are two other Kingston connections on the Canadian team in Scotland: Athletics coach Dave Scott-Thomas is a former track and cross-country coach at Queen’s, and Paul Ragusa, a 1996 Olympian, grew up in Kingston on his way to a silver medal at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria.
A graduate of Holy Cross Secondary School, Ragusa coached Canadian athletes at the Olympics of 2008 and 2012. Now a coach with the Dinos Wrestling Club in Calgary, Ragusa has three of his athletes in Glasgow: Brittanee Laverdure, Jasmine Mian and Erica Wiebe. All are reigning national champions in their respective weight classes.
One of a series of stories of conversations with ex-cadets from Royal Military College, as they reflect on their time at the college, their sporting endeavours and what they’ve been up to since graduation.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
When he came to Royal Military College in the fall of 1979, Fred Kaustinen figured he’d play a little football, get a degree, put in his four-year commitment to the armed forces and go back to working in his father’s pipeline business.
Becoming a combat diver, specializing in underwater demolition, would have been an unlikely detour in the career path of a young man for whom aquatics wasn’t exactly a passion.
“I couldn’t swim worth crap,” Kaustinen said the other day on the phone from Toronto. “Thank god the wet suit floats.”
Sure enough, however, Kaustinen mastered the craft and became the senior army diver for three years, his expertise in demand all over the world. Not bad for a vocation to which the former Redmen quarterback — and the man who scored the last touchdown in RMC football history — came quite circuitously.
“I became a combat diver because I was the only officer that passed the medical in our unit,” Kaustinen said. “The CO said, ‘You’re going to go on this course and you aren’t going to fail.’”
It was an arduous process. First came a screening program, which each candidate did at his home regiment. Then people were selected to go to British Columbia, where every morning “the fittest guy in the West Coast Navy runs your ass off, and then you’ve got to get into your wet suit in under five minutes and jump in the ocean.”
“The work day hasn’t even started and you’ve got to swim a kilometre in these open seas, and everybody has to do it in under 20 minutes or nobody gets to wear gloves — and the ocean’s cold. It took us three weeks to get everybody to finish under that. The first week, I was one of the slowest, for sure, because I wasn’t used to the water at all.”
“It was great, though. Those soldiers, the corporals and sergeants, man, they were salt-of-the-earth, tough, tough guys.”
The trade made for some interesting duty. Kaustinen dove with a number of special forces around the world and did a couple of minefield-clearance tours, in Kuwait after the first Gulf War and in Cambodia in 1994.
“A lot of that diving, that’s a great way to get out of headquarters and back with the troops. How could a guy not love that?” he said, although “work in the minefields stresses the crap out of you.”
“You always wonder at the end of the day if everybody’s going to get the next day. It’s high casualty rate work. When we were in Kuwait, there six international soldiers killed every day from unexploded ordinance and mines. We didn’t lose anybody. We had one accident, but he was fine.
“In Cambodia, where I was embedded with the unit, I was mentoring the Cambodian guy to be a unit commander. They were losing 10 people a day in minefields. We didn’t lose any in our unit. Most of the casualties were not minefield-clearance people. They were people gathering firewood or trying to clear a field for planting. The Khmer Rouge were very adept at planting new minefields overnight.”
Kaustinen’s military career arose after an ex-cadet saw him play football for Trafalgar high school in Oakville in the autumn of 1978. “I basically got a letter that said come play football.” The day his team won the championship, he was approached by a coach from RMC, who convinced him to come to Kingston. “That’s why I joined,” Kaustinen said. “Out of the blue, to play football at RMC.”
That summer, he was off to Chiliwack for officer training and before long, Kaustinen was wondering “what the heck I’d gotten myself into.”
“Some sergeant major is screaming at us, ‘Double up,’ ‘Dress up.’ To me, double up meant bend over and dress up meant straighten your tie.” Ten weeks later, Kaustinen was at football camp, about to embark on an undefeated season that culminated with what was known at the time as the Canadian small college championship.
Playing in Lennoxville, Que., RMC scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to defeat Champlain College 38-25. “That was just awesome,” Kaustinen said. “We had a fantastic team.”
Being a rookie that year, however, meant that four years later, a touchdown Kaustinen scored in a game against Sheridan in his home town would prove to be the last ever scored by an RMC football player.
“Following Lee Rogers’ block,” Kaustinen said. “It was a trap. I was playing running back that game, maybe around 10 yards. The blocking was just perfect. I went in untouched.”
News that the program would be discontinued had circulated that fall and became official in the spring of 1983. “It wasn’t overnight. We knew there was a move to get all of the varsity sports into university leagues,” said Kaustinen, who played rugby his final year at RMC and also was a member of the wrestling team.
“We knew it would be a struggle. Football is one of those games, there’s a ton of emotion with it. It was tough on all of the guys when that ended prior to graduation, but I got four good years out of it, and school. A lot of us went over to varsity rugby, anyway, so it wasn’t like sports ended.”
Kaustinen, who won the Tommy Smart Cup as the college’s outstanding athlete in 1983, studied in a program known as fuel engineering and management. A combat engineer who rose to the rank of major, he retired in 1999 and now works as a management consultant based in Toronto, specializing in risk management. His main client is the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards, which he serves as executive director.
“I assumed, somewhat falsely, maybe, that I’d be spending the last 20 years of a career riding a desk and I wanted to try something different.”
As a self-employed management consultant, Kaustinen pursued a number of different opportunities. His first was with Durham Region, which was looking for a governance advisor with a strategic planning background. That led him to working with police boards.
“Post-911 I had lots of counter-terrorism work,” he said. “Because I was an underwater demolition guy in the army, lots of people were looking for advice, mostly bridges and dams but then it morphed into critical infrastructure and transportation systems. I morphed that more into business continuity for all hazards risk.”
There’s a simple reason, Kaustinen said, why he chose a military career instead of returning to civilian life sooner: “I loved soldiering.”
“After graduation I got posted to Gagetown and got my first command at age 23. It was 65 guys and a bunch of armoured vehicles and it was great. Oh, god, it was fun.”
Kaustinen also saw domestic duty fighting forest fires and pre- and post-flood work, “because engineers have all the tools.”
“It was fun. We did all kinds of different things, and I owe it all to starting at RMC.”
He savours every minute of it.
“Time in the regiments was fantastic,” he said. “It was like living with a sports team, in terms of the challenges, the physical demands and the camaraderie. It was like being on a big football or rugby team. It was great.”
Kaustinen retired on Remembrance Day, in honour of the friends that he’d lost. He didn’t get around to attending a retirement dinner until 10 years later, but he recalls vividly what he said that night.
“I said when I was serving, all I could think about was all the cool stuff I was doing and all the cool places I was going to but I’ll tell you, 10 years later, what I really remember is not so much what we were doing, but the people I was doing it with.
“That is the highlight. It’s just like the sports things. It’s the guys I played with. I don’t remember the scores or the plays, but I can remember the smiling faces in the huddle, or at the beer-up after the rugby game.”
With a running game that couldn’t get out of its own tracks Saturday, the Kingston Grenadiers closed the regular Ontario Varsity Football League varsity season with a 17-13 defeat at the hands of the Metro Toronto Wildcats.
The Grenadiers, with just 56 yards rushing in 21 carries, got no more than nine yards in any attempt. Twice they were stuffed for no gain and four times the ball carrier was tackled behind the line of scrimmage for a loss.
With the defeat, Kingston sits in a three-team, third-place logjam at 5-3 in the Wettges Conference with Metro and the Toronto Thunder. Metro, which won its third game in a row, beat both of those other two teams; the Grenadiers, meanwhile, did not play Toronto, which closed its season Saturday with a 17-15 loss to the Cornwall Wildcats.
Ottawa Myers Riders completed an undefeated 8-0 season atop the conference standings while Cornwall ended the regular year second at 6-2.
Playing at Esther Shiner Stadium, the Grenadiers got their only touchdown from Jeremy Pendergast, on a pass from quarterback Dylan Fisher. Fisher finished the game with 21 completions from 44 attempts for 181 yards, the touchdown and one interception.
Pendergast was the favourite receiver with eight catches for 76 yards, while Harris McEachern caught seven balls for 56 yards. The big play also eluded the Grenadiers through the air, as the biggest gain was 19 yards and there were no gains of more than 15 yards after the first quarter.
Mike Bashall kicked field goals of 13 and 22 yards for Kingston.
Dylan Bell and Connor O’Neil each intercepted a pass for the Grenadiers, who finished the year having allowed just 115 points in eight games, fourth best in the entire league. After surrendering 51 points on opening day, Kingston allowed opponents to score just 64 points in the remaining seven contests.
The junior varsity Grenadiers ended their season by being beaten 41-29 by Metro, leaving both teams with year-end records of 3-5.
Brendan Steele completed 14 of 25 passes for the Grenadiers for 193 yards, with touchdown passes to Drew Holmes and Nikolas Daniele. Connor Allan rushed 19 times for 95 yards and a touchdown, while Daniele booted a 14-yard field goal for Kingston, which lost three of its last four games.
Kingston, Metro and the Pickering Dolphins finished in a three-way tie for fifth place in the final standings. The teams split the games among each other, with Kingston defeating Pickering by three points in June, and Pickering beating Metro by a point in Week 2.
Metro capped a 7-1 season with a 59-8 win over the bantam Grenadiers Saturday. The loss ends a four-game winning streak for Kingston, which finished the regular schedule with a 4-4 record, tied for fifth place with the Toronto Thunder.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
They’ll play the first professional football game in Ottawa since 2006 on Friday night, and in his first professional season, Scott Macdonell is pretty pleased with the idea that he’s going to be part of it.
“It’s starting to get a little crazy,” the former Queen’s Golden Gael said. “There’s a definite buzz around Ottawa, which is really cool.”
The Toronto Argonauts will be the opponents when the Ottawa RedBlacks play the first home game of their Canadian Football League season at the refurbished stadium at Lansdowne Park.
As he prepares for it, Macdonell says he has a sense of being part of a piece of impending football history.
“Every day since I’ve been here it’s kind of grown a little bit, and I’m starting to understand exactly what it is, but I think I’ll get the culture shock once we’re there and we see everyone going crazy.
“It’s starting to pick up and I’m hearing it’s going to be a pretty big crowd so I’m more than jacked up. I would have been ecstatic to be drafted anywhere but now that I’m in Ottawa and have the opportunity to be part of this inaugural season, I can’t really ask for too much more.”
Though there’s no escaping the backdrop, Macdonell said the players are not privy to anything that might be going on around the game.
“We’ve got to win a football game, right? So we can’t really be distracted by all that other stuff. We understand exactly how much this game means, but to us the attitude we’re taking is, yeah, it’s big, it means a lot to the city of Ottawa … but to us it’s the most important game because it’s the next one.”
A receiver, Macdonell has spent most of his time in the RedBlacks’ first two games on special teams.
“I can’t complain too much,” he said. “I’m on the active roster. I’ve got a good amount of time on specials. I’ve been playing well, I think. Obviously, I would have loved to have more playing time on offence, but I know how that works. I’ve got to bite the bullet and wait for my opportunity.”
Macdonell left Queen’s with a commerce degree in May, after a career-best 2013 university season of 30 receptions and 440 yards. A second-round selection in the May CFL draft, he caught a couple of balls in Ottawa’s first preseason game.
“I thought, ‘OK, I’ve got a pretty good chance,” he said, “but it was never, ‘Oh, I’ve made the team.’ It was always, ‘As long as I continue like this, doing what I’m doing right now’ (I’d be fine).”
Macdonell recalled his welcome-to-the-CFL moment came the day after the RedBlacks’ second preseason game in Montreal — where he lined up against former Queen’s teammate Andrew Lue. The following morning, players were killing time in the residence at Carleton University where, one by one, they were called to a room to be told they were being released. Macdonell wasn’t one of them.
“I walked back to my room and I thought, ‘OK, I guess I should probably show up at this 1:30 meeting,’ and they said, ‘If you’re here, it’s a good thing.’ I thought, ‘Well, they haven’t told me I’m on the practice roster, so I guess I made it.’”
Playing in Ottawa holds mixed memories for Macdonell, who grew up in Montreal in the shadow of McGill University. He recalled the disappointment of losing at Frank Clair Stadium in 2011, his second year, but he also remembers it for being the place where he caught his first intercollegiate pass, a five-yard completion from Billy McPhee in the fourth quarter of a 19-6 defeat.
Most CFL clubs have already played three games, and they’ve all played at least once at home in the young season. That the RedBlacks have played only twice, both on the road, may one day prove to be beneficial, Macdonell said.
“It taught us that we can go into another ball park and compete,” he said, “and as on any road trip, you’re staying in close quarters, (eating) pre-game meals together, and those are opportunities to bond. As a young team that’s what you need: a chance to come together early.”
Though Ottawa has lost both of its games so far — by eight and 16 points to Winnipeg and Edmonton, two teams who are, so far, undefeated — Macdonell remains excited about the prospects for the season.
‘I think we’re going to surprise some people,” he said. “I would not be surprised if we were contending to win the east by the end of the year, based on what I’ve seen, based on the work ethic, based on the belief in the locker room.
“I understand about one game at a time and I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but we have some high aspirations and we’re going to shoot for the moon. I wasn’t as confident when I first showed up, just because of what expansion teams have done in the past, but the coaches did an unbelievable job the first day of getting rid of that unknown, saying, ‘Listen, we’re not going to say it anymore, this is the last time we’re going to talk about being an expansion team. Our goals are bigger than that.’
“We tried to forget about that whole new-team thing as soon as possible. We are 0-2 but we’ve been competing so I think it is working. For a new team, the last thing that’s going to come is the finish, learning to win and learning to close out games. As long as we stick to it and trust in the process it will all work out in the end.”
Kingston city council Tuesday night unanimously granted an exemption to its noise bylaw to Queen’s University, allowing ancillary sound from athletic events played at the school’s west campus sports fields.
The vote was 12-0.
The temporary exemption, running through 2015, allows intermittent noise from whistles and amplified sound for the national anthem and game announcements, as well as music during breaks in football games at Richardson Stadium, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., seven days a week.
Residents of neighbourhoods surrounding the stadium, where intercollegiate football games have been played for 43 years, had complained that since a new artificial turf field was built north of the stadium, near Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard, athletic activity — and the noise asociated with it — had increased substantially.
Queen’s amended is original request for an exemption until 11 p.m., and the university has pledged to conducted a noise-mitigation study.
Queen’s is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to replace the aging stadium with a new $35-million structure.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Claire Bramma thinks back to her fourth year at Royal Military College and ponders the question: Exactly why did she seek a spot on the college’s team for the military skills competition at Sandhurst.
“Craziness,” she said.
There was, of course, more to it for the woman who had just finished her fourth year as a varsity volleyball player and whose busy timetable still had such academic trifles as a thesis to finish.
“It was to test my body,” she said, “especially knowing that I was going into combat arms, making sure that I could improve my fitness. That was one reason. The other was to make the most of what the college had to offer. Sandhurst is a unique opportunity to represent the college internationally.”
The annual event, held each spring at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., requires teams of cadets from academies around the world to compete in such military-type events as assault boat navigation, rappelling, wall climbing and weapons handling. RMC finished 13th that year, Bramma recalled, in part because a team member collapsed in the final leg and had to be replaced. With the substitution, a significant points penalty is imposed.
“It was fun, definitely the most physically challenging thing I did while at the college,” said Bramma, who graduated from RMC in 2002 with a degree in civil engineering. “Certainly the recruit obstacle course is your first introduction to it but the Sandhurst team was especially challenging.”
Bramma came to RMC from Whitby, Ont., in 1998 “with the intent on doing something different,” attracted to the college by its four pillars: academics, military, athletics and bilingualism. “The well rounded aspect and philosophy of the college was definitely a lure,” she explained. “When I was in high school I had a lot of different interests so it was nice to see a school that respected that well-rounded philosophy.”
Now a staff officer in the intelligence command headquarters in Ottawa, soon to be posted to the Canadian Forces College in Toronto for the Joint Command and Staff Program, Bramma “just got the bug to stay with the military.”
Her trade is as a combat engineer, doing such things as building bridges. “Then, of course, we blow them up afterwards.”
Academically, Bramma said, there was admittedly less opportunity in the civil engineering department at RMC to specialize than a student might find in a civilian university, but she relished a program that exposed her to many different disciplines.
“We did a general view of everything, so we got a little bit of the environmental side, the structural side, foundations, and also we got to do surveying and geomatics, and that really planted the seed for what I’m doing now in the geospatial intelligence business.”
Which, she explained, is a way of depicting data, information and intelligence on maps. She earned a masters of science in defence geographic information in the UK in 2006.
Now a major, Bramma’s career has taken her to Kabul as a troop commander in 2004 and a squadron commander in Valcartier. She was deployed to Haiti in 2010 for earthquake relief, an assignment she found particularly rewarding.
“Especially as engineers, because we bring equipment and resources that have a tangible and physical impact,” she said.
The group was charged with building transitional shelters for people in a displaced persons camp, who “were basically living under tarps in an open field.”
With the support of the Canadian International Development Agency, the Canadians prefabricated 105 of the things and built four of them in the 10 weeks they were there. None was more gratifying, Bramma said, than the first one, which was given to the family that had to vacate the space the engineers needed for a staging area. “We made sure we looked after our neighbours before doing projects around the city.”
Its capability for disaster assistance is something that is important for the Canadian Forces to have, Bramma said, both for strategic reasons and the on-the-ground effect.
“It makes Canada show its support for a particular area of the world, and at the same time it allows our soldiers to have a meaningful impact, even if sometimes only for the short term.”
While at RMC, Bramma won the Kelly Gawne Memorial Cup as the college’s outstanding female athlete three times, and she remains the only three-time winner of the award. A left-side power and later the middle blocker of the women’s volleyball team — and its captain starting in second year — she also dabbled in cross-country and ran a few races as a member of the varsity team.
The volleyball team made the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association playoffs two of her four years, but perhaps her best memory comes from beating Army at West Point in her rookie season as part of the annual exchange between the two schools most famously known for its hockey game.
“We had quite a large contingent for that weekend, and it was nice to have the support from your (fellow) cadets, because at that time the varsity program wasn’t that well advocated for home games,” Bramma said. “It was kind of ironic that one of our largest crowds was at West Point.
“Responding to the crowd support makes you play a little bit harder. Some people would call it a distraction but I saw it as a motivator. It was midway through the season, we were just trying to find our groove, and that West Point weekend really helped us to prepare for the second half of the season. It made our games much stronger.”
Bramma remains active in the sport. She played CISM from 1999 to 2011 and now continues to compete at the base and CF national level.
As with many ex-cadets, Bramma says perhaps the most important the lesson the college bestows is how to manage one’s time. The four pillars may make the RMC degree special, but they also make obtaining one the unique challenge she initially sought.
“To be able to do everything to the best possible,” she said, “you really had to manage your time properly.”
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Each time it happens, it becomes more puzzling for Kingston Grenadiers coach Bob Mullen.
“We have to find that gear sooner,” Mullen said, after his team snapped out of an early funk to pin a 41-7 Ontario Varsity Football League defeat on the visiting Oshawa Hawkeyes.
As is becoming strangely common, the Grenadiers started slowly, leading just 7-0 at halftime. “Sadly, it has been a little bit typical,” Mullen said.
No fooling. It was 6-3 well into the second quarter of a game against winless Markham in June that Kingston eventually won 71-10; later, against York-Simcoe, it was 7-0 at halftime of a game the Grenadiers ultimately won going away, 42-0.
As long as a game stays close, Mullen said, “you know you’re walking a tightrope. You can’t afford to make a mistake.”
Fortunately, by the time the Grenadiers made their only grievous error of the game Saturday — a 76-yard touchdown pass from Jack Hazlett to Tariq Matradeo in the game’s 59th minute — they’d built a 41-0 lead.
“Their touchdown was a bust in coverage and you can’t really fault the (defender) because he was playing out of position due to injury,” Mullen said, “… but if it’s still 7-0, all of a sudden it’s 7-all.”
Though Mullen said Oshawa played well, the slow start Saturday was due to his own team’s misdeeds. “We take penalties that stall drives,” he said. “We dropped a few balls.”
Indeed, so floundering was the Kingston offence in the opening half, the only touchdown the Grenadiers scored, a one-yard run by quarterback Dylan Fisher, capped a drive that was helped along by Oshawa penalties on consecutive plays for unnecessary roughness and offside.
Playing on a hot, brilliantly sunny afternoon at Loyalist Collegiate, Fisher completed a 40-yard touchdown pass to Nate Thompson in the sixth minute of the third quarter as the Grenadiers took a 14-0 lead. That’s the way the score stayed until two and a half minutes into the final period, when Fisher connected for a 15-yard TD pass to Jeremy Pendergast.
A 38-yard completion from Fisher to Pendergast six minutes later set the Grenadiers up on the Oshawa eight-yard line, from where running back Konner Burtenshaw scored on the very next play. A 20-yard punt return by Brodie Latimer set Kingston up for another touchdown on its next possession, a 24-yard pass from Tanner DeJong to Rahim Silcott.
After the Oshawa score spoiled Kingston’s bid for its second consecutive shutout, Riley Avery scored the Grenadiers’ final major on a 70-yard run.
The win, Kingston’s fifth in its last six games, improves the Grenadiers’ record to 5-2. They remain tied for second place in the Wettges East division with the Cornwall Wildcats, 35-21 winners Saturday over Pickering. Oshawa fell to 2-6.
The Kingston defence was again stout, defending the run brilliantly and returning the ball to the offence in good field position to start virtually every drive. By the end of the game the Grenadiers’ secondary was coping with the loss of Dylan Bell and Harry Robinson to injury.
“The kids up front are doing a good job. In the back end, we had kids playing out of position all over the place,” Mullen said.
Even in defeat, Mullen had words of praise for Hazlett, the Hawkeyes quarterback, whose uncle, Paul, a Kingston native, was a teammate of Mullen on the Queen’s Golden Gaels 1978 national championship team.
“The kid was hard to keep down,” Mullen said. “We were trying to maintain a little more discipline in the pass rush because he was doing a good job of extending the play with his feet.
“They were missing a number of players. No. 7 (Braeden Vavassori) was clearly the guy they were trying to get to and in the second half we tried to erase him from the scheme a little bit. That was really about all (we did differently in the second half). “
The Grenadiers will conclude their regular schedule Saturday in Toronto, where they’ll face the Metro Toronto Wildcats.
The junior varsity Grenadiers improved to 3-4 with a 34-17 victory over winless Oshawa. It was a bittersweet win for Kingston; though it ended a two-game losing streak, the 17 points allowed by the Grenadiers was two more than Oshawa had scored in its six previous games combined.
“The offensive line played well,” Grenadiers coach Mark Magee said. “We didn’t give up any sacks and we ran the ball well, and to me, that’s (thanks to) the offensive line.”