The rich tradition of St. F.X. X-Women athletics will be in the spotlight next weekend as part of Homecoming 2019 festivities.
One of the focuses for the traditional fall gathering of students, alumni and friends will be the golden anniversary of the establishment of the X-Women on the Antigonish campus.
The X-Women soccer and hockey teams will play at home this weekend, while the defending U Sports champion rugby squad will take the pitch Saturday, Oct. 5, at 3 p.m., when they host the rival Acadia Axewomen.
As for the timing of the match, there is added significance, beyond it being a key regular-season match-up between the perennial AUS rugby powers.
Traditionally, across North America, including at St. F.X., homecoming weekends at universities center on the Saturday afternoon varsity football game.
“It was a risk that everyone was willing to take,” Wendy Langley, St. F.X. director of development, said of the decision to make the X-Women rugby match the centerpiece of the weekend varsity sport offerings.
She noted everyone involved in the decision, including the St. F.X. athletics and alumni departments, “didn’t know how people would react” to the change.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive response,” Langley added.
As for selecting the rugby X-Women for that honour, it will provide the opportunity to recognize the program and its six national championship crowns.
As part of the ceremonial kick-off, a representative of each decade of X-Women history will carry a banner honouring one of the rugby program’s national championships.
One of those honorees will be Michelle Chiasson-Suart, who helped launch women’s rugby at St. F.X., when she convinced St. F.X. Sports Hall of Fame member Ed Carty to enter a team in an annual sevens’ tournament in Truro.
And newly-formed X-Women rugby team played its first season the next fall.
To help mark the 50 years, a logo has been created, which now emblazons souvenir T-shirts. They are on sale at the St. F.X. Store on campus, with $5 from each sale going to X-Women varsity athletics.
X-Women are born
With the launch of the golden anniversary celebrations approaching, organizers stressed the need to make a distinction; it may be 50 years since the X-Women were established, but the rich tradition of female athletic accomplishments at St. F.X. span a wider timeline.
Prior to 1969, female student-athletes represented the Antigonish campus under the Mount Saint Bernard (MSB) College banner in sports such as basketball, volleyball, field hockey and badminton.
Antigonish native and St. F.X. Sports Hall of Fame member Jane Hanley-MacGillivray served as MSB’s director of women’s athletics, starting in 1965.
With the focus on establishing equity between male and female student-athletes – financially and otherwise – the decision was made to put St. F.X. teams under one umbrella with then athletic director Father George Kehoe.
With that, the X-Women were born and the rest – as they say – is history.
On Saturday morning (Oct. 5), before kick-off between the X-Women and Axewomen, the St. F.X. Women of X-cellence will host a buffet breakfast to help mark the half-century milestone.
The gathering will take place from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. in the St. F.X. Keating Centre conference rooms.
Noting the event is “open to the public,” St. F.X. varsity athletics and communications manager Krista McKenna said.
Depending on playing schedules, the majority of X-Women student-athletes will be in attendance, along with supporters and young female student-athletes from the community.
Coupled with a delicious meal, people will be treated to a thumbnail sketch of X-Women history from one of its pioneers, Peggy Gallant, another St. F.X. Sports Hall of Fame member.
The keynote speaker will be Beth McCharles, a member of the Class of 2019 for the Hall, who will reflect on, as Langley described, the “positive impact” sports has provided in her life.
For breakfast buffet tickets, call St. F.X. Alumni Affairs at 902-867-2186 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The alumni affairs director noted Xaverians have really embraced being part of the X-Women golden anniversary activities.
“There has been a tremendous response,” Shanna Hopkins said.
And, the organizers reminded, the 50th anniversary celebration does not end at St. F.X. Homecoming 2019.
Alumni chapters in several locations are planning rallies for each X-Women team during one of their road trips or championship events.
Throughout the season, there will also be moments of recognition at homes games, such as ceremonial hockey puck drops or basketball tip-offs that will spotlight former X-Women and their contributions to their respective sports.
“It has been a great partnership,” Langley said of the collaboration between St. F.X. alumni, athletics and St. F.X. Women of X-cellence.
‘Enhance the experience’
As for the latter group, Langley outlined its establishment, noting the seeds were planted during a conversation she had with Sue Kiely-Chisholm; both Antigonish natives and former X-Women student-athletes.
“Since birth, basically,” Langley said, in reflecting on the sport opportunities the pair received growing up here, including at St. F.X.
They saw the need for deepened recognition of the talents, power and competitiveness of the X-Women, and showcasing them for more and more people.
Joined by another long-time X athletics’ booster and alumna – Karen Gardner – they met with St. F.X. director of athletics and recreation Leo MacPherson.
With support from him and the department, the first meeting of what would become the St. F.X. Women of X-cellence took place in Langley’s living room in 2013.
One of the results of that first gathering was the decision to create the first female mascot in U Sports’ history; she would become Super Xavia, who is now a familiar face not only at X-Women games and university events, but also in the broader community.
As it describes, the St. F.X. Women of X-cellence mission is “to enhance the experience of current female student-athletes both on and off the playing field.”
“Our goal is to raise awareness for women’s athletics by recruiting and retaining St. F.X. Women of X-cellence members and to help provide financial support for women’s athletics.”
As for the evolution of the group, Langley offered "I am not going to say it hasn’t been slow going.”
Nevertheless, in its first few years, they have been able to support different events and promotions, along with fundraising initiatives aimed at assisting with X-Women recruitment.
“We see the change,” Langley said in the exposure and recognition X-Women teams receive – not that there isn’t room for improvement – which she noted is a reflection of what is going on more broadly in society.
McKenna said, over recent years, there has been a steady increase in attendance for X-Women games and events.
“People are realizing – more and more – the talents of these young women,” she added.
Both women encouraged people, if they haven’t already, to come out and enjoy an X-Women sports’ experience.
“They appreciate the support so much,” McKenna said.