Another milestone for quiet achiever

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By Graham Croker

When Bruce Ross was elected unopposed to lead Sydney University Sport and Fitness for another two years, when nominations closed for next week’s annual general meeting, he began his third decade in the presidency of one of the biggest sporting clubs in Australia.

Mr Ross is now in his 21st year at the helm, having served as president of the Sydney University Sports Union for 12 years before becoming the inaugural president of Sydney University Sport at the beginning of 2003. The new body emerged when the Sports Union and the Sydney University Women’s Sports Association came together under a new banner of Sydney University Sport and Fitness.

With the establishment of the Sporting Scholarship Scheme in 1991 and the subsequent Elite Development Program, and the merger of the men’s and women’s organisations, SUSF has become a very successful sporting body.

As Mr Ross pointed out at the recent Sydney University Sport awards ceremony in the Great Hall, the university’s rugby, women’s rugby, cricket and American Football clubs are premiers in their sports in the premier Sydney competitions, while the AFL club made it through to the 2010 grand final. He said the athletics, boat and tennis clubs had also enjoyed unprecedented successes.

“Sport at the university is a very healthy state,” Mr Ross said. “And the good news is the quality of athletes electing and aspiring to come to Sydney University is constantly rising.”

The male and female vice-presidents were also elected unopposed, with Tom Carter re-elected for another term and Emma Schiller taking over from long-serving Denise Wee, who had to step down after receiving an overseas posting with the Department of Immigration.

Mr Ross was first elected to the Sports Union Management Committee as a Senate representative in 1990. The following year he replaced Maurice Cunningham to become the 39th president of the Sports Union since its foundation in 1890.

A graduate of the University of New South Wales, where he majored in economics in an arts degree, Mr Ross came to Sydney University in 1973, working for 28 years as a lecturer and senior lecturer in economics. His principal research and teaching interests were in business enterprise and corporate strategy.

His initial involvement with sport at Sydney University was as coach of the Football Club’s First Grade Colts team in 1989. He coached various colts and grade teams during the following four years and became a great supporter of the club. He can be seen at most home games, sitting quietly on the north-eastern hill with a thermos of coffee and shortbread biscuits.

As President of the Sports Union, Mr Ross worked closely with the then executive director of the Sports Union, Greg Harris, through a period of substantial growth and change in sport at the University.

Among the major achievements of the Sports Union during this time was the upgrading of its capital facilities, notably the $5 million redevelopment of the Noel Martin Recreation Centre. Other initiatives included the enhanced provision of infrastructure and support services for high performance clubs, the development of links with outside sporting organisations and the creation of an extensive program of school holiday sports camps and physical education services for schools.

In 1991 Mr Ross proposed the introduction of a system of sports scholarships, the foundation of the Sports Union’s comprehensive elite athlete program. Following a 1989 study tour with Mr Harris of athletics departments and sporting programs at leading universities in the US, he took on the role of academic counsellor to elite athletes.

He still works in conjunction with the athlete services managers at SUSF, providing academic and career advice. He has taken a particular interest in encouraging past sporting scholars to maintain their involvement with the University and its sporting clubs.

“The greatest thing about the sports scholarship scheme is the success of the students on the academic side,” he said.

“They are collectively more successful academically than other students. And that’s because the scholarship offers them academic counselling and time management skills. They develop a study culture and our academic results are now better than that of the overall student body.”

In more recent times, Mr Ross has enjoyed a fine working relationship with Mr Harris’s successor as Executive Director of SUSF, Mr Rob Smithies.

During that time SUSF has appointed full-time Directors of Cricket, Soccer and AFL and Matthew Phelps as High Performance and Club Development Manager.

Mr Ross’s contribution to sport at the university was recognised in 2003 with the conferral of an Honorary Fellowship of the Sydney University Senate.