Finding balance — on and off the court
Ezeoha Santiago spent much of his youth crisscrossing the Americas — from Ontario to Trinidad and Tobago, then back to Ontario and on to Texas — but it wasn’t until he arrived in Calgary that he truly appreciated that famous Canadian affability.
“Everyone says how nice Canadians are, and Calgary is five times that,” says Santiago, who first visited the city in 2018. He was nearing graduation from Lee College in Texas and considering his next move. “UCalgary was the only school I visited in Canada. I stopped over on my way back to Texas, after spending the Christmas break in Ontario with my family, and I was just blown away.”
It wasn’t just the city’s friendly nature that won him over. Santiago, who grew up playing a variety of sports, was particularly impressed with what the university had to offer. The exceptional facilities, coaching and team culture were more than enough to get him into a Dinos jersey.
Today, Santiago is a fourth-year Haskayne School of Business student and guard with the Dinos men’s basketball team. Like all student-athletes, he’s had to perfect the art of balancing two demanding pursuits: athletics and academics.
Fortunately for Santiago and his fellow Dinos, the Sixth Man Club has their backs. Formed in 2001, the Sixth Man Club is a group of dedicated alumni and community members who support the men’s basketball program by way of mentorship, fundraising and community outreach. It’s one of just several groups of Dinos alumni who have banded together to support current athletes on their former teams.
“From the moment I stepped on campus, the club has been very supportive,” says Santiago, who has made invaluable connections and lifelong friendships through the program. Each player on the team is paired with a mentor, whose support and encouragement help lighten the load that comes with being a student-athlete. “A lot of them are former Dinos, so they get it. Even though they’re really busy themselves, they always make time for us.”
Our men’s basketball program is only as successful as the resources provided through the Sixth Man Club and its donors.
Head Coach, Dinos Men's Basketball
Just as the Sixth Man Club supports student-athletes, the club itself is backed by a generous community of donors and volunteers.
“Our men’s basketball program is only as successful as the resources provided through the Sixth Man Club and its donors,” says head coach Dan Vanhooren.
Resources for recruitment and retention, mentorship, sport science, equipment, assistant coaching, travel, scholarships and more — all of which enrich the student-athlete experience and help prepare them for life after university — are made possible through philanthropic gifts.
“The experiences we provide are the key to the lifelong relationships created with the university,” adds Vanhooren. “Dinos are not just the athletes and the sports we play, but who we are for generations. This can only be accomplished through the generosity of former Dinos and community supporters who believe in the value of developing future leaders from all our programs.”
For Santiago, that support has led to experiences he wouldn’t otherwise have — like helping to write the business proposal for a new Dinos arena, an opportunity made possible by Sixth Man Club director Geoff Thompson. And when the Dinos season was sidelined last year due to COVID-19, Santiago made the most of the time by taking an internship with mentor Phil O’Neill, gaining business acumen — which, along with his on-court experience, will serve him well as he completes his bachelor of commerce and eventual MBA.
“Business and basketball kind of go hand in hand,” says Santiago. “Learning how to communicate, to work hard and stick with your goal … those skills transfer over into the business world really well.”
Mentorship, Santiago has learned, will also get you far. In fact, the Sixth Man Club has made such a difference in his life that he’s already paying it forward.
“I mentored a kid through Catholic Family Services and it was just a great experience. We still talk to this day, and I can tell that it’s made a huge impact on his life,” says Santiago, who got as much out of the experience as he put into it. “Learning from someone that's been in your shoes or has been where you're trying to go is the quickest, easiest, most useful way to learn.”
Indeed, it’s a sentiment that rings true both on and off the court.
What Giving Gives Me
Calgary has a bright future and this university is a vital part of that. I’ve had the opportunity to witness firsthand the great things that are happening at UCalgary, so it makes it easy for me to support such an important institution, whether through my connections, my time or my treasure. Supporting such an impactful organization is very easy.
Ian Minnifee, BA’94
Minnifee, a UCalgary alumnus, donor and volunteer, was instrumental in creating the Sixth Man Club