Physical Education & Athletics to Kinesiology and Health Science: The Origins and a Brief History

It all started with Dr. Bryce Taylor.


Bryce M. Taylor

Dr. Bryce Taylor was hired in 1964 to join York University’s Department of Athletics. Howard Langille was the Director at the time.  The Department was at the Glendon Campus, where the University was housed.  One of Bryce's three major tasks was to work with Dr. Arthur Johnson, the head of Campus Planning, in the design and construction of the physical education and recreation centre that was to be built at the new Keele Street campus.  That campus opened in 1965 and the Tait McKenzie Centre was completed in Fall 1966.  Bryce himself re-located to an office in the Steacie Science Library, one of the first buildings on the Keele Campus in 1965, where he could personally oversee construction activities.


Mary Lyons

Another major task given to Bryce Taylor was to bring on board appropriate staff to lead the athletics program at the new campus.  In 1966, he hired Arvo Tiidus, to coordinate inter-college athletics, recreation and instructional programs, which were launched at the new campus in Fall 1966.  At Glendon, Larry Nancekivell was in place as Assistant Director to Howard Langille, to coordinate men’s intercollegiate teams and Valerie Hunt to coordinate women’s teams. Howard Langille retired in early 1967 and Larry Nancekivell soon relocated to the Keele Campus to work with Bryce in the newly formed Department of Physical Education and Athletics.  With his vision and the University's growth plans, Bryce hired Mary Lyons in 1967 to develop and lead a women's interuniversity sport program. In 1968, the services of Nobby Wirkowski were obtained to lead the men's varsity program.


Nobby Wirkowski

Most importantly, Bryce was tasked with developing the plans and curriculum for an academic program in physical education.  His initial brief on “The Establishment of a Professional Preparation Program in Physical Education” was submitted to President Murray Ross in 1965.  This document capitalized on earlier work which had been undertaken with Howard Langille.  It addressed the history, demand and societal need and outlined principles that included a general education requirement (at least half the total units for graduation); balance among the basic sciences and the social sciences and humanities; a four-year honours only professional program; competencies essential in teaching activities, including standards for coaching and officiating sports for both genders and at least intermediate performance in sports; co-educational experiences in activities; health and safety competencies, including personal and community health, school health, accident prevention and child growth and development; competencies in leading recreational activities; and, of course, the requirement to acquire faculty members.  (Source:  The History of Sport at York University, 1960-1971, M. Thompson & D. Matheson, 1971)

The physical education program was given Senate approval in 1966 and was launched in the Fall of 1967, with about 20 students enrolled.  In the first two years, only activity (now called “practicum”) courses were offered as physical education majors fulfilled their general education requirements, psychology and sociology pre-requisites, and electives during these initial years of study.  According to Eva (Hill) Langley, a member of the first class who, remarkably, was able to locate her academic transcript, majors took three physical education full-year courses in third year and four in fourth year.

As Bryce Taylor was faced with hiring faculty members to teach both academic and activity courses, he considered those who might also be able to coach and provide leadership to the athletics program.  His first hire in 1966, Arvo Tiidus, taught the first-year orientation activity course and provided leadership to recreational programs for the next 18 years.  With the arrival of Larry Nancekivell and Mary Lyons in 1967, Bryce acquired two capable instructors for sport activity offerings. He also hired Mary Elizabeth (Haigh) Manley, a dance specialist, to teach a first-year activity in Basic Movement as well as Tom Zivic and Boris Bajin to coach gymnastics and to develop a gymnastics curriculum for the activity program. Tom Zivic also coached soccer. With Nobby Wirkowski arriving in 1968, Bryce acquired another faculty member with competencies in a number of sports who could instruct activity classes and also coach football.  Bryce himself initiated a cross-country team in 1966, which he personally coached for the next several years. Most of the other varsity sport team coaches in these early years were recruited and hired on year-to-year contracts; some were faculty members drawn from other departments on campus.

Norman Gledhill

Norman Gledhill

In 1969, Bryce hired Tom Duck to coordinate the activity (practicum) program and teach aquatics; and Norman Gledhill to teach exercise physiology and also to coach both volleyball and soccer.  He also arranged for Harold Minden, who had just been hired by the Psychology Department, to be cross appointed to Physical Education because of his expertise in sport psychology.  In these initial years, Bryce also drew on talents beyond his small faculty complement in order to deliver activity classes as well as essential courses for the curriculum.  Tom Duck recalls Dr. Roy Shephard, a highly recognized exercise physiologist from the University of Toronto, teaching physiology to the first class in its third year of study in 1969-70.


Carol Wilson (Gluppe)

In 1970, Bryce added to his faculty complement by hiring two physiologists, Al Chin and Roger (Seaman) Kelton; a sport historian, Kevin Jones, who had a background in competitive waterpolo; and Carol Wilson (Gluppe), an aquatics specialist with teaching experience and a record of sport involvement and leadership.  That same year, Bryce also brought Carol Ann Letheren on board to assist him in the administration of the physical education program and also to instruct modern dance activity classes.  She had previously taught at the University of Toronto and had served with Bryce on the board of the Ontario Gymnastics Federation.


Kevin Jones

And so, the physical education program began its evolution, with a strong focus on its integration with sport and physical activity.  As the first class (narrowed down to 15) graduated in 1971 and the number of students in the program continued to grow, additional faculty were added to the complement including Marina van der Merwe (field hockey, basic movement, community health), Mike Smith (sociology of sport), Tudor Bompa (science and methodology of training); Tamara Bompa (gymnastics), Vietta “Sue” Wilson (sport psychology and relaxation) and Ed Nowalkoski (athletic injuries, varsity sport team trainer).  From his arrival at York, Norman Gledhill had developed an introductory Fitness & Health course (initially called Test & Measurements along with Sheldon Levy who taught the statistics component); Al Chin and Roger Kelton took on the teaching of human physiology and anatomy respectively; and Tom Duck accepted the challenge of teaching biomechanics.  The incoming classes grew in size and there were soon close to 150 students in the undergraduate program.


Patricia Murray

In the several years that followed, more faculty were hired largely to coach varsity sport teams, to teach activity courses and to support laboratory and tutorial instruction in core academic courses.  These included Patricia Murray (synchronized swimming, badminton, physiology), Bob Bain (basketball), Eric Willis (soccer, fitness), Natasa Bajin (gymnastics), Masaaki Naosaki (gymnastics), Neil Smith (biomechanics, anatomy), Mike Dinning (rugby, sport history), and Wally Dyba (volleyball, biomechanics).  Additional professorial appointments during these years included Dave Chambers (coaching, hockey), Barry Fowler (psychology, motor learning), Stuart Robbins (education, children’s play and development) and David Ianuzzo (physiology).  The growth in the full-time faculty complement reflected the increasing popularity of York’s undergraduate physical education program, emerging interests for areas of specialization within the curriculum, the development of a Master’s program and the need to provide stability by hiring full-time appointments to coach varsity sport teams including the hiring of women as faculty coaches.  Additionally, there had been some departures, including Mary Elizabeth (Haigh) Manley, who accepted a professorial appointment in the Faculty of Fine Arts’ Department of Dance; and Larry Nancekivell, who left to pursue a leadership role with the Ontario Rugby Union.

In the early 1970’s, the Department participated in a University wide discussion concerning the development of a unique Faculty of Education at York. It was unique because it was based on the fundamental principle that it would draw on existing strengths of the University and that other academic programs at York would support this new Faculty.  For instance, specific content area faculty would be selected from the academic disciplines (e.g., History from the Department of History), required courses in psychology and sociology would be offered through the academic Departments of Psychology and Sociology, and elective courses would be offered by academic departments of the University (e.g. early literature of the young child through the Department of English and physical activity and the young child through the Department of Physical Education and Athletics).  Additionally, the practicum courses in the Faculty of Education would be taught by both an academic and a practising teacher who was seconded from a local school; and the program would be a concurrent one in which students pursued studies in Education at the same time that they were taking their academic program courses.  Because undergraduate physical education at York was created primarily to be a teacher training program, the Department of Physical Education and Athletics became very involved in supporting this new Faculty and program. Mary Lyons was cross appointed to the Faculty of Education to co-ordinate the Secondary Physical Education stream and Stuart Robbins was cross appointed to co-ordinate the Elementary School Physical Education stream and to develop theoretical and practical courses in Physical Activity and Young Children.  Both these streams and the courses became very popular.

Frank Cosentino

Frank Cosentino

Bryce Taylor remained Chair and Director of the Department of Physical Education and Athletics until 1976 when he was replaced by Dr. Frank Cosentino, a sport historian who came to York from the University of Western Ontario (now Western University) where he had also coached football.  Bryce Taylor and Carol Ann Letheren proceeded to develop an undergraduate certificate in sport administration that could be obtained concurrently with the physical education degree by grouping a number of elective courses (including developing some new offerings), while a similar certificate in coaching was developed by Dave Chambers and Bob Bain.  These certificate programs were launched in the early 1980s and they would soon be followed by a certificate program in Fitness Assessment and Exercise Counselling, developed by Norman Gledhill.  The certificate program in Athletic Therapy, developed by Frances Flint, was established in 1992.

The Masters level graduate program in physical education was developed by Norman Gledhill and the first MSc student (Fred Buick) enrolled in 1974.  Graduate study was in the physiology of exercise until a psychology of sport stream was developed in the 1980s.

The doctoral program in Kinesiology and Health Science was initiated in 2002, under the leadership of long-serving Graduate Program Director, Dr. Barry Fowler. Today, Masters and Doctoral degree programs are in three areas of specialization:  molecular, cellular and integrative physiology; neuroscience and biomechanics; and health and fitness behaviours.

David Smith

David Smith

On the basis of sheer workload alone, the expansion of both the academic and sport and recreation programs through the 1980s necessitated a separation of the role of the chair of the department and the role of the director of athletics and recreation. The chair of the department at the time of this division was Dr. Norman Gledhill and the first Director of Athletics was Dr. Roger Kelton.  During this time, the department was given an Executive Officer position (first occupied by Patty-Jo McLellan Shaw and followed by Steve Dranitsaris and Sheila Forshaw) that expanded on the Administrative Coordinator role that David Smith had performed through much of the 1970s and early 1980s. There were also emerging internal and external political pressures in the early 1990s to clearly delineate the use of student ancillary fees designated for athletics and recreation that, over time, effectively separated the delivery of the academic and non-academic programs within the Department – although both continued to function for the next two decades within an integrated School model in which facility, administrative and personnel resources were shared to the extent possible.  In more recent years, the School of Kinesiology and Health Science has become an entirely academic unit, while Athletics and Recreation now forms a separate department -- both continue to collaborate in the sharing of facilities and in a number of initiatives, including applied research and student experiential opportunities.

In the early stages of the academic program, most graduates headed into teaching physical education in schools but, as the depth and breadth of knowledge increased, the routes available for graduating students also increased.  And so, the number of students within the Department/School increased dramatically.  Many students began taking physical education in much the same way that students registered in liberal arts programs. The blend of arts and science exposed students to different ways of thinking. Work as individuals and in small and large groups provided them with a broad background and developed skills that helped prepare them for a wide range of future employment.  “When I was Chair of the School,” says Stuart Robbins, “many employers contacted us to seek out potential future employees since they found physical education graduates to be successful in their companies.”   Many other graduates found opportunities for employment in coaching, sport administration, athletic therapy, recreation, etc.  As the depth and specificity of knowledge increased many students have pursued graduate studies very successfully.  At this time, the School of Kinesiology and Heath Sciences is one of the largest academic units in the University and across Canada at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The enrolment levels clearly demonstrate these trends.

Athletics and Recreation

Since initiating its involvement in interuniversity competition, York has won 173 provincial banners and 36 national titles.

Boris Bajin

Boris Bajin

Tom Zivic

Tom Zivic

York’s first major successes in interuniversity athletics were in gymnastics.  Shortly after  Tom Zivic’s arrival, York began its domination of men’s gymnastics at both the provincial and national level, capturing 19 provincial and 17 national titles between 1972 and 1992.  The women’s gymnastics team, with leadership from Natasa and Boris Bajin and Tamara Bompa, also dominated gymnastics winning 5 national championships and 17 provincial titles – including a run of 11 consecutive from 1969 to 1979.  Neil Smith remembers those early years when Bryce Taylor and Carol Ann Letheren envisioned creating a world gymnastics centre at York, with the coaching talent that had been assembled (including the later addition of Masaaki Naosaki) and the quality of student gymnasts who were being recruited.

Natasa Bajin

Natasa Bajin

Tamara Bompa

Tamara Bompa

York was quick to establish itself as a perennial contender in men’s hockey when, under the leadership of coach Bill Purcell, the Yeomen upset the mighty UofT Blues in 1969-70 and proceeded to win the consolation title at the national championships.  While Ontario titles were captured in men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, men’s volleyball and men’s rugby during the 1970s, the first national championship in a team sport was the men’s soccer team in 1977, under the leadership of coach Eric Willis.

Dave Chambers and Graham Wise, 1988

Dave Chambers and Graham Wise, 1988

Through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, York remained an annual contender for the Ontario title in men’s hockey and, under the direction of coaches Dave Chambers and Graham Wise, captured two provincial titles and three national championships between 1985 and 1989.

There have been other York sport teams regarded as perennial provincial and national contenders including the men’s basketball teams of the late 1970s and 1980s under the leadership of coach Bob Bain (7 provincial titles, 2 national bronze medals); the women’s field hockey and indoor hockey teams of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s coached by Marina van der Merwe and Kathy Broderick (7 provincial titles and 2 national silver medals in field hockey and 7 provincial championships in indoor hockey); the men’s volleyball team, directed by coach Wally Dyba (7 provincial titles); and the women’s volleyball team coached by Merv Mosher that won 13 Ontario titles between 1982 and 1997.  Additionally, there was the men’s wrestling team of the late 1980s coached by John Park (one national championship and two silver medals, plus two Ontario titles); both the men’s and women’s track and field teams of the 1980s and 1990s (5 national titles between them); and the tennis and water polo teams of the 1990s and 2000s (13 and 8 provincial titles, respectively).  More recently, the men’s soccer team has emerged as the University’s flagship program under master coach Carmine Isacco, capturing four national championships and four provincial titles since 2007.

Marina van der Merwe

Marina van der Merwe

Over the years, York varsity sport teams have garnered provincial championships in badminton, basketball, cross country, curling, field and indoor hockey, figure skating, golf, gymnastics, ice hockey, rugby, soccer, squash, synchronized swimming, tennis, track & field, volleyball, water polo and wrestling.  Individual York athletes have captured gold medals at the national and provincial levels in cross country, golf, gymnastics, squash, swimming, synchronized swimming, tennis, track & field and wrestling and many have gone on to complete at the Olympic Games and World Championships.  At one time, York University held an interuniversity sport record of teams competing in National Championships in the same year (1981-82, with 7 teams at Nationals).

The inter-college athletics program which, in the late 1980s, evolved into a much broader student intramural program, celebrated 50 years earlier in 2016.  The York Torch championship, emblematic of supremacy in intramural sports, has been captured 30 times by Stong College, which has dominated the program over the 50 years.  Participant numbers in intramurals have grown from about 1,000 in the early years to about 5,000 each year.

The instructional service program, introduced in the late 1960s, also bourgeoned through the 1980s and 1990s into a much broader program offering fitness and lifestyle classes and instructional courses in aquatics, dance, racquets, relaxation and the martial arts.  With the emergence of the fitness rage in the early 1990s, much larger exercise and fitness facilities were added to the Tait McKenzie Centre.  Over the past decade, more than 10,000 students register each year to use the Tait Fitness Centre, which was doubled in size during a 2004 building expansion.

In the early 1970s, a sports clubs program was initiated and there were a handful of clubs created, largely as extensions of varsity sport teams outside of the competition season.  A summer softball club was initiated and by the mid-1980s grew so large with several hundred participants that it had to be administered by Recreation York in the Department of Physical Education & Athletics as a summer intramural program.  By the late 1990s, varsity sport clubs were created to increase interuniversity competitive opportunities for students.  Today, there are close to 30 sport clubs, seven of which participate within the competition framework of Ontario Universities Athletics; fourteen of which source their own circle of competition; and summer softball continues to be offered as a summer intramural activity.

Much of the expansion and improvement of York’s athletic and recreational facilities since the Tait McKenzie Centre opened in January 1967 has been to accommodate the growing student enrolment at the University, to provide greater access to physical recreation opportunities and to improve practice and competition amenities for interuniversity sport teams.  It has also enabled the expansion of varsity sport offerings as well as the introduction of new physical education/kinesiology activity courses.  Among the facility additions were the Toronto Track and Field Centre (1979); the York Student Field House (1994), York Stadium, now Alumni Stadium (1996), the Ice Gardens, now Canlan Ice Sports (1996), the National Tennis Centre, now the Aviva Centre (2003), and the Pan Para-Pan Am Athletics Stadium, now York Lions Stadium (2015).



Dr. Stuart Robbins, Chair and Director, 1981-1986; Chair 1989-1997

Dr. Bryce Taylor, Chair and Director, 1966-1976
Dr. Frank Cosentino, Chair and Director, 1976-1981
Dr. Stuart Robbins, Chair and Director, 1981-1986
Dr. Norman Gledhill, Chair and Director, 1986-1989
Dr. Roger (Seaman) Kelton, Associate Chair and Director of Athletics, 1986-1989
Dr. Stuart Robbins, Chair, 1989-1995 and 1996-1997
Prof. Michael Dinning, Director Sport & Recreation, 1989-1995
Prof. Carol Wilson, Acting Chair, 1995-96
Prof. Patricia Murray, Director Sport & Recreation, 1995-2008
Dr. Roger Kelton, Chair, 1997-2007
Dr. Ira Jacobs, Chair, 2007-2010
Jennifer Myers, Director Athletics & Recreation, 2008-present
Dr. Angelo Belcastro, Chair, 2010-present

Name and Designation:

Department of Physical Education and Athletics, 1964-1985
Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics, 1985-1992
School of Physical Education, 1992-1997
School of Kinesiology and Health Science, 1997-present

Program Names:

Undergraduate Program in Physical Education, 1967-1993
Graduate Program in Physical Education, 1974-1987
Graduate Program in Exercise and Health Science, 1987-1993
Undergraduate Program in Kinesiology and Health Science, 1993-present
Graduate Program in Kinesiology and Health Science, 1993-present

Undergraduate Enrolments (rounded) (source:  York University Fact Book):


First Graduating Class, Physical Education, York University, 1971

1970 – 100
1975 – 250
1980 – 350
1985 – 500
1990 – 700
1995 – 1,200
2000 – 1,600
2005 – 2,500
2010 – 2,700
2015 – 3,000

Graduate Enrolments (source:  York University Fact Book):

1980 – 8
1985 – 8
1990 – 8
1995 – 13
2000 – 17
2005 – 78
2015 – 154

Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Championships (36)

Men's Soccer (5):  1977, 2008, 2010, 2014, 2015
Women's Tennis (1):   2015 (Canadian University Tennis Championship)
Men's Indoor Track & Field (3):  1983, 1984, 2014
Women's Indoor Track & Field (3):   1984, 1988, 1990
Men's Ice Hockey (3):   1985, 1988, 1989
Men's Wrestling (1):  1989
Men's Gymnastics (15):  1971, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987
Women's Gymnastics (5):  1971, 1974, 1976, 1980, 1984

Some interesting notes:

In Fall 1966, prior to the opening of the Tait McKenzie Centre, the Department of Physical Education & Athletics was housed in Founders College.  David Smith ‘70, one of Bryce’s cross-country athletes (who won two individual national cross-country titles and was one of the first inductees into York University’s Sport Hall of Fame) recalls, as a first-year student, helping to move the Department from Founders into the newly constructed Tait McKenzie Centre.

In 1967 and 1968, the University Bookstore was housed in the basement of the Tait McKenzie Centre – it relocated to a partially completed Central Square in summer 1969.

The undergraduate physical education program was initiated within York’s Faculty of Arts and Science.  In 1969, this Faculty split into the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science, consequently putting the physical education program into two separate Faculties.  This necessitated the re-structuring of the undergraduate physical education curriculum into Hons. B.A. and Hons. BSc. streams to meet the degree requirements of the two different Faculties.  In 2006, York University’s academic programs in Psychology, Nursing, Kinesiology and Health Science and Health Policy & Management were brought together to form a Faculty of Health (which just celebrated its 10th Anniversary).