Out for a hike in Canmore with the family (Wendy, Taylor, Jason, and Peyton)
As a former U Sports basketball student-athlete and Toronto Raptors super fan, Jason Kerswill surprised me with his response. I would have bet a lot of money that he would have said something else other than what he told me when he mentioned his favourite sporting event that he had ever attended.
“Rogers Cup tennis in Toronto was by far the best event I’ve ever been to,” said Kerswill. “The game of tennis is so fast in-person and the action is non-stop. You get enthralled by the sounds – the ball, the rackets, the shoes, the cheering after every point. I watched two quarter-final matches, including Milos Raonic vs David Ferrer and it just so happened to be Roger Federer’s birthday. Everyone in the crowd sang happy birthday to him.”
Spoiler alert: this wasn’t the only surprising answer that Kerswill would give me during our hour long phone conversation.
When you meet Kerswill in-person, his 6’8 frame catches you off guard (at 6’3, I’m not used to tilting my head upwards to look someone in the eye). It certainly made immediate sense to me why his parents chose to put him in basketball. Growing up in Ottawa, Ontario, Kerswill fell in love with the sport at a young age. Between playing club basketball and attending camps with TSN basketball analyst, Leo Rautins, Kerswill recognized that his passion for ball could help him to a post-secondary path. An opportunity at St. Francis Xavier University eventually presented itself, and he decided to make the move to Nova Scotia. The decision turned out to be better than he could have imaged – helping the men’s basketball program to two U Sports National Championships.
Jason with his parents in Halifax, NS celebrating the St FX Men's Basketball 2001 CIAU championship.
Spending time in the Byward Market in hometown Ottawa, ON.
National Championship trophy case at St FX in Antigonish, NS.
As great as the titles were, what had a more lasting impact was realizing just how much he wanted to give back to sport. During his time at StFX, Kerswill got to know the sports administrators of the athletics department. When he saw their passion for the student-athletes on campus, and how they poured themselves into providing opportunities necessary to help each individual excel, it inspired him down his own sports admin journey. Like those admin staff at StFX, Kerswill came to the conclusion that he wanted to help student-athletes get to the next level.
Before starting at Edge on March 15 in his new role as the Athletic and Programming Director, Kerswill took time to field questions, and looked ahead to his second stint with Edge School.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity)
Q: When you reflect back on your time with the Dinos, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’ve have to say it was last year when we set a U Sports record for Academic All-Canadians. To have over 200 student-athletes achieve an A average while competing at such a high level of sport was extremely special. Having so many students reach that level of success in the classroom assured me that we had the right program and supports in place. We also had 15 of our teams attend their respective U Sports championship in 2019-20. The fact that we had so many individuals continue to do so well in their studies while competing at nationals was incredible. It was really great to see their commitment.
Q: What were some challenges that you faced that you had to overcome while working with the Dinos?
I would say the perception that university sport is well funded. When someone sees our student-athletes travel coast-to-coast, they assume it means our program has a lot of money. That simply isn’t the case, there is so much that goes on behind the scenes on the fundraising side – coaches knocking on alumni doors for donations. It doesn’t happen overnight; programs take a long time to establish themselves.
Also, having to work with a small, lean staff, you’re required to wear many hats in order to help our student-athletes have the most success possible.
Jason with the W.P. McGee Trophy (U SPORTS Men's Basketball Trophy) after the University of Calgary Dinos won the championship in 2018. Kerswill is one of only a few to have won it as student-athlete and Athletic Director.
Kerswill's U SPORTS and CCAA Championship ring collection from his time at St FX as a student-athlete and administrator at Seneca College (Toronto, ON) and the University of Calgary.
Jason with current University of Calgary Dinos Football Head Coach Wayne Harris and former Dinos Head Coach and Canadian Football Hall of Famer, Peter Connellan, celebrating the Dinos 2019 Vanier Cup championship.
Q: When you were at Edge back in 2005-10, what did your role look like then?
When I started in 2005, I was helping to do student intake and I was assisting with academic exams. I was even helping admissions plan out the bus routes, I definitely had to wear many hats at Edge when it first got going. Those were the days when we were still running out of the Calgary French & International School.
There was only four admin staff at the time – me, an admissions director, a principal and a CEO. In those early days, we had just over 100 students and were looking to grow. We were rolling up our sleeves and helping build the school in any way that we could.
Once we got into the school year, I was jumping into a class to help if a teacher had to leave for a day; driving the old Edge tubby bus up and down from CFIS to Springbank and back; driving Arianne Jones to luge practice; and taking the dancers off campus in the afternoon. I felt like a chauffeur sometimes, but you know what? I got to know the students so well. Hearing their stories about what was going on at the school, and the excitement they had about their respective sports and how hard they worked was great.
Q: The school itself has obviously changed a lot since you were here. What did Edge School look like then compared to now?
I remember setting up classrooms under the Sprung structure where the gym and DPC are now. Believe it or not, we had semi-permanent drywall in there with classrooms all in place. It was chaos, but it was fun. The school is where it is now because of all of those cool stories and the people that helped it move from one stage to another. It is exciting to see where things have come the last 21 years.
In those early days of dance, I’d talk about dance to parents, thinking that they’d hopefully believe what I’m saying about the dance program (coming from a tall guy who couldn’t dance at all).
Seeing the growth in our hockey program is pretty wild. I had the opportunity to get the CSSHL hockey league off the ground and was there when they drafted the bylaws for it. To see that league move from an idea to where it is now is remarkable.
Q: What made you want to come back after all these years?
My wife, my daughters and I were driving back from Cochrane on a Sunday a few weeks ago, and we pulled into the Edge parking lot. We had the opportunity to take a look around the school and walk through the hallways. Seeing the number of student-athletes from Edge that have gone on to do great things at post-secondary and beyond, it made me miss this. It was a lightbulb that went off in my head. Over this last year, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what I’ve done and what I want to do in my career moving forward.
Where I’m happiest and most passionate is helping that next generation of student-athletes get to the post-secondary level. I love post-secondary sport and personally, I think that our student-athletes should be encouraged to pursue that opportunity. I want to be part of that process of making sure that they are prepared with the toolkit that they need to excel at that next level.
Both the school and I have evolved in the last 15 years. I’m looking forward to using the experience I have gained in the last decade to help the school in the next phase of its development.
Q: Anything in particular that you want to do when you get started?
There is going to be a lot of learning and listening when I get going. I’m curious to hear where the school is now and where my colleagues want it go. I look at our facilities and wonder 10 years down the line, will the sprung structures be the way they are, will they need to be replaced with bricks and mortar? There are opportunities to build for sure. I want to see the halls absolutely filled with students to our school’s capacity – lets aim to get there. Lots of the programs are growing and maturing, but are there other sport academies that we should consider? Ultimately, it’s about helping Edge grow.
(Left photo, upon returning to Calgary in early 2018, Jason spoke to all Edge students about "what it takes to be a successful student-athlete" and reconnected with Edge School CEO, Keith Taylor and teaching faculty, Dana Ellis and Lara MacNeil.)
Kerswill completing the Wasaga Beach Sprint Triathlon in 2017.
Former Edge School science teacher Wendy Kerswill with daughters Taylor and Peyton at Lake Minnewanka, AB.
Kerswill thinking that he can still dunk!
Q: How do you stay in shape mentally and physically these days?
I just finished up a 30-day workout routine called Lean Squad. It is a combination of high intensity interval training and nutrition. I feel better than I have in a long time. I believe that physical and mental health are all tied together. A healthy mind comes via a healthy body and vice versa. I also get out for walks, love to read and spend time with my kids. Right now I’m reading President Obama’s book A Promised Land. I always have a few fiction and non-fiction books on the go.
Q: Are you an early bird or a night owl?
In the middle. Depends what’s on TV on the weekends. I’m an avid Formula 1 Racing fan and I get up early on weekends at 5:30 a.m. to watch F1 regardless of what happened the night before. My wife thinks I’m crazy.
Q: What music do you listen to?
My favourite genre is actually hip-hop. I listened to it a lot during my playing days. I also listen to a lot of Canadian music such as The Lumineers, The Arkells, The Strumbellas, The Tragically Hip and an awful lot of Top 40 with my daughters around.
Q: Do you karaoke ever? Favourite go-to song to sing?
I try not to, unless I’m absolutely forced into it. I really don’t need to inflict that type of pain on people. I would sing an Eminem song.
Q: Have you watched any good TV shows or movies lately?
Yellowstone, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Crown. Also watched 30 Rock again and my family watched all of Modern Family over the last year.
Q: Do you watch pro sports at all? Which ones? And favourite teams?
I don’t miss a single Raptors game, and I watch tons of F1. My friend is an equipment manager for the Raps and handles tickets for the visiting team. When I lived in Toronto, if a visiting team didn’t use their team tickets, he’d call me up and give me free tickets.
I am also a big Blue Jays fan. Growing up, I was an Ottawa Senators fan. It was only a 10 minute bike ride from my house to the arena (now the Canadian Tire Centre). When I moved to Calgary, I started cheering for the Flames. I need to get more on the bandwagon. My wife also grew up with Vancouver Canucks head coach, Travis Green, so we have a connection to the Canucks too.
(Left photo, enjoying some time in Toronto with the family and Raptor.)
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I love Lego. I’m so impressed by the engineering that goes into creating Lego. I build kits out of the box and always get one for Christmas. I’ve built the Whitehouse, F1 sets and have Emmet from the Lego Movie as my keychain. I just got an email for a Lego set I’ve been waiting on (a $179 James Bond, Aston Martin DB5 kit) but my wife would kill me if I bought it.
Q: Best advice you were ever given, and who was it from?
It came from a man named Walter Robinson. He was a teammate on one of my men’s league teams. He was 40 years old and I was 17 playing in Ottawa. I’d always give him updates on recruiting and which teams were interested in having me join them. One day he pulls me over and says, ‘Whatever school you go to, you have to like the school. If you get injured the first day of practice and can never play again, you still have to want to go to school at that university.’ It was great advice because usually when student-athletes are picking a school to go to, they are thinking predominantly about the sport side of things (such as what life will be like with the team and with the coaches). But guess what? Coaches and teams change all of the time. Regardless of what happens, you’ll want to make sure you pick the right school for you to go to while also being a great fit on the team.
Q: Favourite way to unwind after a busy day?
Making dinner with my wife and watching the Raps play.
Q: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An NBA player or a sports medicine doctor. I knew that wherever my career was going to take me, I wanted to be involved in sport in some capacity.
Q: What would we most likely find you doing on the weekend or for a vacation?
I love to be at the beach and by the water (both daughters are competitive swimmers). My family spends a lot of time in the summer looking for places in Calgary that resemble any sort of a beach whether it be on the rocks at ghost lake, or in a semi-forested bank by the water.
Peyton and Taylor enjoying a regular Saturday morning on the courts.
Kerswill family in Nelson, BC - a favourite spot for the family each summer.
Celebrating a CMBA season with daughter Taylor's team last year.
Q: If you could only have three apps on your smartphone, which would you pick?
Instagram, Apple News and Fitbit.
Q: Weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
When I was 13-years-old, my basketball club team was over in Estonia. We were staying at a former Red Army training barracks and our host would bring us all sorts of strange food. One time, our coach asked what it was and they answered ‘meat’. We didn’t know what the ‘meat’ was, but we did know that it didn’t taste right.
Q: Hopefully one day we can go somewhat back to a new normal. What do you look forward to most when that day finally comes?
Seeing sports live again. Being on the sidelines at a sporting event again would be awesome.
You take it for granted, but what I’ve missed most during COVID is driving my daughters to and from their activities and sports.