By Matt Dionne
After graduating high school, I decided to attend the University of Ottawa in 2011. I was recruited to play football. I chose to study psychology, but I was mostly there for the football.
At the time, Carleton University didn’t yet have a team. However, there were rumours that they were going to be getting one very soon; then, in early 2012, it was confirmed.
At the time, I didn’t think much of it, that was until a team meeting where our head coach informed us he was leaving to take a job as the offensive coordinator at Carleton. Then, about a week later, another coach informed us he was leaving for Carleton, and soon after another coach said he would also be leaving.
In about a month, our entire coaching staff had been decimated, and many of the players were unsure about what they were going to do. New coaches bring a lot of uncertainty, especially for players who are ‘inherited,’ which is a term for players who were a part of a team before a new coach’s arrival.
Some players decided to stay and see where things went, but a lot of guys either quit or transferred. I decided to transfer.
“Because of a hazing-related scandal at McGill in 2005, U Sports had taken a much harsher stance on rookie-initiations.”
I chose a small school on the East Coast of Canada, called Acadia. Acadia is in a small town called Wolfville, which has a population of roughly 4,000 people (the population doubles during the school year as there are about 4,000 students).
I applied in the winter of 2012, and in the following August I made the move from Ottawa to Nova Scotia. I was the only rookie quarterback, also known as ‘QB’, that year, and as a result, the veteran players had a lot of fun ‘hazing’ me.
Most collegiate football teams in Canada hold a training camp during the last week of August through the first week of September.
During training camp, our schedule consisted of two practices a day and several meetings. We called them “two-a-days.”
Because we spent so much time at the team facilities, most players lived in res for the two weeks regardless of whether they were local or not. We also ate all our meals together, which was the perfect opportunity to embarrass the young bloods.
Because of a hazing-related scandal at McGill in 2005, U Sports had taken a much harsher stance on rookie-initiations, and many teams had adopted the same hazing method. It involved forcing the rookies to stand in front of the team (and whoever else was in the room at the time) and sing a song during meals.
Having already gone through the rookie experience at uOttawa, I had an idea what I would be facing at Acadia. I had also learned a few tricks to avoid embarrassing myself. The first thing I learned was, it doesn’t matter so much how you sing, but what you sing. If you chose a very obscure song, there was a greater chance you’d get booed, unless you have a terrific singing voice (in my experience, I’ve found most football players do not). However, if you chose a song that is very well-known, and/or popular at the time, the veterans would often join in.
“He absolutely butchered the song, but his confidence and showmanship won over the vets.”
The other trick with singing during meals was to serenade someone. At uOttawa one of the rookies (who was nicknamed Casanova, on account of his skills with women—he had serious game) serenaded one of the girls who worked in the kitchen at the campus bar where the meals were served.
He absolutely butchered the song, but his confidence and showmanship won over the vets, and his performance was met with cheers and applause.
Given the fact that I was the only rookie QB, I knew I was going to be one of the first rookies mandated to sing. I had spoken to a second-year player who said a female friend of his, who was on one of the women’s varsity teams, would be on campus during our training camp—the women’s soccer, rugby, and volleyball teams were each having their own training camp simultaneous to ours.
She had mentioned to him she was hoping one of the rookies would sing to her, so naturally I offered to grant her request.
I didn’t have to wait long for my opportunity, as the very first day the hazing started, I was chosen to go.
It would start with a single veteran player clinking his fork against his plate. Then another veteran at his table would join in. Then, the whole room would be filled with a chorus of silver striking plastic. This was the moment all the rookies would attempt to make themselves as small as possible, to avoid being ‘chosen’ (a pretty impossible feat given the size of some of these behemoths). Once they had the attention of everyone in the meal hall, one of the fourth- or fifth-year players would choose a rookie by chanting their name.
There would normally be three or four rookies performing during each meal. As I mentioned earlier, if a performance was deemed acceptable, the vets would join in and applaud the singer after a few verses.
However, if the performance was deemed unacceptable, boos would fill the meal hall and the rookie would have to stand on his chair until someone else could sing a song that would appease the vets.
Sometimes there would be five or six rookies all standing on their chairs, hoping the next guy could redeem them. Usually at that point, a veteran would get up and sing something to end their humiliation.
The worst part about getting booed was it meant you could (read WOULD) get chosen to sing again, and again, until you were able to perform a song that satisfied the veterans and resulted in cheers.
I managed to avoid being the first or second rookie chosen, but the third time the clinking started, I saw a fourth-year receiver staring at me with a mischievous grin and I knew.
“Dionne! Dionne! Dionne!” Everyone chanted, as the other rookies at my table looked at me with an expression that was equal parts pity and relief.
I set my fork down, stood up on my chair, and looked at the player I had spoken to earlier.
“Alright, I have a song ready,” I said, “and Chase has a girl who wants to be serenaded,” I announced with a confidence that was bordering on arrogance.
“She’s not here yet,” he called out from across the room.
“Well, pick someone else then, any girl in here, and I’ll sing to her,” I declared, my confidence having completely morphed into arrogance.
“I was a poker player who was pot-committed.”
One of the defence coaches got up and walked over to a table that was occupied by a few members of the women’s soccer team. There was a girl who was attempting to hide from view; she clearly didn’t want any part in our shenanigans.
So of course, she was the one coach chose. At first she was resistant, but the coach was persistent and he practically dragged her out of her seat towards the middle of the room (at this point I realized I should just abort my plan, but things had already gone too far, and I was like a poker player who was pot-committed).
He pulled out a chair and had her sit down; I could tell she was absolutely mortified. I knelt down in front of her and held her hand in mine. As I did this, she shifted in the chair and I thought she was going to bolt.
I had been practicing the song “Find Your Love,” by Drake (I assume to the chagrin of my neighbours—the walls of my residence had thin walls). I chose it for three reasons: first, it was still pretty popular at the time; second, it worked well as a song with which to serenade someone; and third, it was easy to learn the lyrics (they’re very repetitive).
“I’m more than just an option, hey, hey hey. Refuse to be forgotten, hey, hey, hey. I took a chance with my heart, hey, hey, hey. And I feel it taking over,” I sang, getting through the first verse without incident.
“I better find your lovin’, I better find your heart, I better find your lovin’, I better find your heart, I better find your lovin’, I better find your heart. I bet if I give all my love then nothing’s gonna tear us apart.” As I completed the chorus, I could tell the vets were into it (or at least not hating it) and even the girl to whom I was singing seemed a little more at ease.
Then I got to the second verse, and my mind went blank.
I wracked my brain, trying to remember the words. The room was silent. There was a panicked look on the girl’s face as I knelt there, holding her hand, frantically trying to think of the words.
“Come on, sing something!” she hissed as she looked around the room at all the eyes staring at us.
After about 15 seconds of awkward silence, she had had enough; she ripped her hand from my grasp, bolted out of the chair and zipped back to her seat, covering her face with her hand.
There was about a half-second of silence before the meal hall erupted into a cacophony of boos (it was almost like a scene out of a movie—I half-expected people to start throwing garbage at me).
With a sheepish grin, I shrugged, slowly stood up on her chair, wondering what I would sing for my next song—whatever it was, I decided it wouldn’t involve serenading someone again.
Copyright© 2020 by Matt Dionne