Aug. 29, 2019
Head of Sport & Recreation retires after 42 years
Seneca won 50 national championships under her leadership
Her Grade 8 guidance counsellor told her to become a hairdresser. But Linda Stapleton, even though she wouldn’t find her stride until later, was determined to do something else.
“I was good at sports and I loved that,” said Stapleton, Director, Sport & Recreation. “I knew I was interested in health and education, but it wasn’t until I saw Seneca’s ad for a recreational clerk in the Toronto Star that I knew that was my career path. A whole world opened up to me.”
After a year of supply teaching in 1978, Stapleton beat out 300 applicants to score the job at Seneca. Since then, she has moved through the ranks from support staff (1978-1995) to manager (1995-2008) and then director (2008-present).
After 42 years at Seneca, Stapleton is retiring at the end of August. But instead of scaling back her work this summer, the 65-year-old has been going full force alongside her team.
“There’s an energy level — the only way I know how to do this job — and that’s all in,” she said. “I’m making the remaining days count.”
Among many of Stapleton’s accomplishments, championing for student engagement and accessibility to participate and excel in sport topped the list.
For example, she lobbied for a softball diamond at Newnham Campus and led a women’s softball varsity program, making Seneca the first Canadian college to play in the National Junior College Athletic Association in the States. In their first year, the team won three games and lost six. The following year, they reversed the record by winning six games.
As well, as part of Stapleton’s commitment to showcasing college sports, Seneca has hosted numerous Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) and Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) championships. These include, most recently, the OCAA Women’s Soccer Championships and the CCAA Cross-Country Running Championships in 2018. And still to come, the CCAA Women’s Soccer Nationals in 2021.
Seneca has won 13 CCAA and 50 OCAA championships under her leadership.
“One of the joys of my job is to host championships, attend games and interact with athletes and coaches,” she said. “The students are what has kept me here for 42 years.”
Since her Day 1 at Seneca, Stapleton has lobbied tirelessly for fitness and varsity spaces across campuses: the Markham Campus field and fitness centre, the fitness mezzanine at Seneca@York Campus, the artificial field with seasonal dome at Newnham Campus and the state-of-the-art student recreation and fitness space in Magna Hall at King Campus.
Her goal before leaving Seneca is to ensure plans are under way to refresh the Sports Centre at Newnham, built in 1970, featuring a triple gym and a football field.
“This was the jewel of the community college and everyone was modelling after us,” Stapleton recalled.
With a number of Seneca2020 moves slated for Newnham, Stapleton hopes that a few more facility upgrades, including the newly refreshed Sport & Recreation office in Building G, will go a long way to better serve students and employees.
“The Magna Hall build was magnificent. I’d love to see an open space like that at Newnham, one that beckons people to come in to explore, work out, play or socialize,” she said. “Transparency — to be able to see what’s happening on the inside — is one of the tools we have to communicate with students, employees and community members about venues we have to offer.”
In addition to her work at Seneca, Stapleton has held a long list of executive roles with the CCAA and OCAA, including as president of CCAA. For her exemplary work over the years, she was named CCAA Athletic Director of the Year in 2016 and inducted into both the OCAA Hall of Fame and the Seneca Hall of Fame in 2019.
“I’ve been trying to accept retirement for the last two years. It’s tough leaving something you don’t consider a job. It’s part of your essence,” Stapleton said. “It’s a sense of family we have at Seneca and many of our staff were once student athletes and leaders. I adore our team. I mean, someone took a chance on me all those years ago, and I think it worked out.”