Dustin McCrank

Gryphon athlete Dustin McCrank likes to throw his weight around. But the defending national weight-throw champion knows enough to leave the brawn in the ring.

When McCrank dusts the chalk off his hands and dons his hockey linesman’s stripes or his Gryphon athletics T-shirt, it’s a different game. Last month, the fifth-year anthropology student ─ and multi-sport athlete and official ─ began a one-year contract as co-ordinator of Gryphon intramural, camps and community programs in the Department of Athletics. He’ll oversee a team of intramural sport co-ordinators and peer helpers, look after camp administration, and co-ordinate Gryphon community leagues.

It’s a big job for a big guy, but at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, McCrank figures he can shoulder it.

Guelph intramurals are big too, attracting about 5,000 participants each semester. Including students in multiple activities, that works out to about 7,700 registrations per semester for some 700 sports teams. And that makes U of G’s intramurals one of the largest Canadian university programs, he says.

In between intramurals and varsity games, U of G athletics facilities welcome about 2,700 youngsters to summer activity camps and up to 400 Guelph-area residents for summer sports leagues and old-timers winter hockey.

McCrank figures he’s a natural for the co-ordinator role. Since arriving at Guelph, he’s played intramurals ─ hockey, baseball, flag football and floor hockey ─ and has helped lead sports activities on and off campus. Among his plans for 2011, he aims to improve the intramurals website to make it easier for students to sign up and make team rosters online. He’s also helped arrange alternative venues to the closed Gryphon Dome this year, including organizing March madness soccer tournaments in the W.F. Mitchell gym this semester.

Says Dave Trudelle, supervisor of intramurals, clubs, martial arts, sport classes and camps: “Dustin brings a great passion for active living, excellent client services skills and a respectable professionalism to all of the positions he has held in our department.”

McCrank’s new job also lines up with his career plans. After completing his degree this spring, he hopes to begin a master’s program in leadership studies in spring 2012.

Right now, it’s all about preparing for Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) track and field championships, taking place March 10 to 12 at the University of Sherbrooke.

In a come-from-behind win at last year’s nationals in Windsor, McCrank hurled the 35-pound weight for a gold-medal distance of 18.61 metres, more than a metre further than his closest competitor. In 2009 he won silver.

At provincial championships last weekend, he collected silver with a throw of 17.29 metres, sandwiched between Gryphon teammates Tim Hendry (17.39 metres) and Brent Roubos (16.52 metres).

McCrank feels good about his medal prospects for Sherbrooke. Referring to Hendry, he says: “He’s ahead in the rankings, but I’ve been known to show up at CIS and come from behind.”

Mention weight-throwing, and you might think brute strength. Yes, brawn helps. But there’s more to it than that. “You have to be explosive.” It takes speed, strength, rhythm and not a little co-ordination to swing a 35-pound lead ball on a handle while spinning heel to toe within a tight throwing circle.

For McCrank, those same attributes translate well to the varsity rugby field, where he’s played for three years. “You’re playing defence, but there’s always a chance to score. I’ve surprised a lot of people with my speed.”

He played varsity hockey in his first year here. He was recruited by the Gryphons after having grown up with the game in Haileybury, Ont.

Most often when he laces up his skates today, he also pulls on a linesman’s striped jersey. He’s spent 15 years calling offsides and icing. He works at varsity games and now officiates for both the Ontario Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey Association.

Like any official, McCrank says he’s taken his share of abuse from the stands. Still, he’s able to block out most of the distractions from behind the glass ─ or even uses the occasion to observe spectator behaviour with the disinterestedness of an anthropologist.

“It all comes down to integrity and how people respect you,” says McCrank. “It’s all about calming things down and composure.”