“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”
During my recent observations of the goings on over at Trinity Western University in Langley, specifically the athletics teams that are named the Spartans, an urban patois in the vein of the erstwhile Twain comes to mind: You just cannot make this stuff up.
For example, it is alleged by current and former Spartans athletes that they have been manipulated, coerced and have suffered verbal, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their head coach Rob Pike.
Of course, it is viscerally more entertaining if the moral-shredding contempt is true.
The hierarchy of a university typically, but not always, has a faculty dean, followed by an athletics director, head coach, then assistant coaches plying away in their respective sports. Often, assistant coaches are the closest to the athletes and are volunteers or lower-paid staff. They are part of the gristle and marrow that completes the body of the team. Without the emollient of a connected assistant coach, a team can suffer from a lack of emotional cohesiveness.
For the Spartans, the president is Bob Kuhn, Blair Whitmarsh is the dean of human kinetics and Jeff Gamache is the athletic director. Below him is Head Coach Pike. One of the assistant track and field and cross-country coaches has been a local school teacher named Mark Bomba – one of the best middle and long-distance minds in the country. The Spartans are fortunate to have had him.
Bomba is loved by the athletes. To a man, they will go to the proverbial wall for him and have on the tracks, trails and roads as well as within the campus’s offices, to share their grievances, en masse.
The students went up the chain, starting with Bomba and Pike, then met with Pike and Gamache, then Whitmarsh and finally with Kuhn – the athletes feel that only Kuhn seriously listened to them, and asked thoughtful and relevant questions. Whitmarsh asked, “why are you taking this up with me, talk to Pike and Gamache,” which they made clear, they had already done.
The students wrote an email to Kuhn, cc’ing the rest of the hierarchy, asking them to meet – to no avail.
Despite the behavior of their head coach – which has been acknowledged by the university – They have scared the bejesus out of the big players in the CIS, now called U Sport, like the Guelph Gryphons, Western Lancers and Toronto Varsity Blues, to name a few. This, thanks to recruiting and coaching by Bomba as well as former Head Coach Laurier Primeau – now at the University of British Columbia, across town.
As an athlete, Bomba was competitive, his personal bests are 13:48.44 over 5,000-metres and 29:08.86 over 10,000-metres. He is a student of the sport and appreciates the great coaches that came before him.
Bomba has had even more success as a coach, for example, there is Fiona Benson, who ended up competing on the world stage. She is a shy, small-town girl from Dawson Creek, BC. A town so far removed from Vancouver culturally-speaking, it might as well be a suburb of Auckland, NZ.
Benson’s raw talent, coupled with Bomba’s ability as a coach, helped her make the leap from a good varsity career to a season that many athletes could only dream of experiencing. In 2015, she became the fifth Canadian all-time to run 800-metre distance under the two-minute benchmark (1:59.59). The 800 is not even her main event. She qualified for the 2015 Beijing IAAF World Track and Field Championships and the performances that followed would prove to be fast enough to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, however, she did not qualify during the period of time set by Athletics Canada.
Bomba helped her to a fine, knife-edge physical sharpness, where she ran a few stunning performances before her season ran out in Rieti, Italy. In that September meet, she raced the 1500-metre event in the time of 4:05.24 – easily mixing it up with the best in the world.
Bomba has coached Sarah Inglis from Scotland, who recently won the Scottish 10-mile national championships and also won the 2016 CIS Cross Country Championships – leading from the gun. She is entertaining to watch, with her big, brazen stride.
There is a story from the meet where Pike was refusing to accompany Inglis to the post-race drug testing. She was required to have someone from the school in attendance. While Bomba was occupied coaching the men in their championship race, Pike could be heard by a few athletes wondering aloud if Bomba should do it.
Then there is alumni Declan White, who ran the Vancouver Sun Run in 2015, finishing in the time of 29:58. He has also run as fast as 14:07.56 in the 5,000-metre event – two outstanding performances, among many.
White is a gazelle, a forefoot striker who is graceful and yet despite running “tall” gets the job done in cross-country. He is versatile, smooth and a bonafide talent; a distance machine brimming with infectious enthusiasm, but Pike managed to infuriate him early one morning.
It is alleged and the story has apparently been shared with Gamache, that during a core conditioning routine, Pike stepped on White’s sternum applying considerable force. Pike was demonstrating his authority while the two verbalised philosophical differences regarding the workout. Apparently, White was required to ride at length from home in the rain to the early morning workout, for a session that he could have easily tackled at home. Discussion ensued and apparently, that is when Pike stepped on White’s sternum and hurled verbal abuse at him. Several athletes corroborate the incident.
Currently, Bomba is working with the very promising Regan Yee, who has run three new personal bests in 2018 including the 5,000-metre event, where she finished in the time of 15:36.30 in her first crack at the distance. She has Olympic dreams.
“Yee is one of the nicest people you will meet. She is direct and to the point, but a joy to be around,” shared a fellow athlete.
Pike didn’t like her and referred to her on more than one occasion as a cancer. He completely ignored her for her entire 2017-2018 school year and failed to offer customary recognition for breaking three school records in one season. To Pike, she simply no longer existed.
Pike’s apparent pettiness went as far as hiding a U Sport-branded hoodie that was sent to her. One Spartans athlete claims Pike lied about not knowing of the hoodie’s existence or its intended purpose.
Throughout, Bomba had kept busy drawing out the talents of many other athletes including, Caleb de Jong, Lisa Brooking, Blair Johnston, Mirelle Martens, Levi Neufeld, Joel De Shiffart, James Lam among others.
Some are as angry as hornets at Pike and the waning culture of the team. This is not the experience that they signed up for, for their formative years at university.
“As an alumnus, it is disappointing to see the program fall apart from where it was. My last year we were the best-combined cross-country program in U Sport and to go from that to potentially having no men’s team is shocking. Furthermore, I will not be recommending Trinity to any aspiring distance runner right now, solely because I don’t want younger runners to have to deal with and have the same experiences that we had,” shared a former athlete.
Bomba was partially or fully responsible for the rise of those Spartan’s teams, which included national U Sport cross country championships silver, which the women won twice plus a bronze. They were the Canada West champions four times. The men finished second once at nationals and were Canada West Champions that same year.
In seven years with the Spartans, the five-time Canada West Coach of the Year and Athletics Canada development Coach of the Year led teams to a total of eight Canada West medals, which included five conference championships. He also helped the Spartans track and field teams to two U Sport medals and five Canada West top-three finishes, including three conference titles.
The accomplishments extend beyond U Sport to the roads and tracks and trails throughout North America and Europe.
Despite his successes as a coach, on April 13 of this year, Bomba was informed by Pike that his contract would not be renewed, one month before it was scheduled to expire. This move leaves the athletes without a coach during the summer.
It is assumed by several, that Pike is simply jealous of Bomba’s successes and positive relationships that he maintains with the athletes.
Bomba continues to coach outside of the Spartans’ program. Many of the alumni continue to work with him, post-collegiately. He has agreed to not charge for coaching this summer, after all, he has been there for their entire varsity career, Pike, however, has not and apparently has not provided them with any assistance, going forward.
One person affiliated with the Spartans, who asked not to be identified, said that if you have a counter opinion to Rob Pike, you are deemed not a team player and are subsequently spoiling team culture (of which there is now apparently little). Therefore, what you have done is gone against Pike on a personal level.
“He associates one with the other; there is an immature and fragile ego at play, here.”
During one of Pike’s moody days, he entered the weight room and proceeded to tell one of the Spartans that they were lucky to win a recent medal, “because everyone else including Manitoba, ran like shit.” It was the men’s first ever track medal and they won it in the 4 x 800-metre event. They couldn’t have been prouder of the accomplishment.
“I don’t really have a problem knowing that the other teams may have had an off day if that is true, but there were 18 and 19-year-olds present who he has great influence and authority over. He shouldn’t have said it,” shared one veteran Spartans athlete.
It is alleged that after the ensuing exchange, Pike turned on his heel and stormed out of the weight room.
“You have no idea how dysfunctional, Rob’s relationship is with the athletes, due to his poor treatment of them,” shared one anonymous source.
In early May, one of the Spartans athletes contacted Athletics Illustrated and offered to cover the cost of transportation, accommodation and meals in order to get the story told from the athlete’s perspective. The meeting did not take place as the shifting landscape of the firing and subsequent protestations put discussions on hold. However, there were random conversations and in each situation, anonymity was guaranteed.
(18 APRIL 22:04)
AI: “So I understand there was an uprising, but TWU is sticking with Mr. Pike. Who is the person that is standing by him?”
Spartans: “Jeff Gamache, AD. It’s messier than you think.”
AI: “Well, a fellow Spartans athlete reached out to me and said that there is going to be an exodus of sorts and that there was an uprising and the leadership is going to stick together on this, is this true?”
Spartans: “There are a lot of meetings behind the scenes, at least one included the president Mr. Bob Kuhn.”
Apparently, according to Spartans athletes, Gamache failed to gather information from the student’s or Bomba to hear their side of the story, so while they allege Pike had bullied and manipulated students in his position as head coach, the athletes feel that Gamache has also failed the athletes, by not hearing them when they chose to come forward to speak about Pike’s behavior, which was the responsible thing to do.
When Spartans athletes requested a closed-door meeting with Pike and Gamache to air their concerns, apparently, one student asked, “Who does the firing of Bomba benefit?”
The answer, according to Pike was, “nobody.”
The students were at a loss for words. If it doesn’t benefit anyone, why did it happen and why were they there?
During that meeting, Gamache responded to several allegations with “we have heard all this before,” in front of Pike. More jaws dropped.
“This is why we are losing our minds. The stories that are coming out…there is the possibility that they will have no athletes next year. Unfortunately, that will be egg on their face.”
Pike, who is a former pole vault athlete, therefore should possess a specialised knowledge of the event, should have a competitive troupe of vaulters in place. According to one athlete, the relationships are so negative that two of the three female pole vaulters have chosen to not return to the Spartans for the 2018-2019 school year. Apparently, one chose to give up the event altogether – a sad indictment. A third, who is a male, has chosen to compete for a different school.
Under Pike’s reign, there is chaos in the clubhouse.
One incident that the students corroborate has Pike yelling at an 18-year-old pole vaulter about her commitment level, to the point that the scene became a distraction. When she later approached him about his behavior, he simply replied dismissively, “but what I said was correct.”
An email message was recently circulated to the athletes. In that email, the sender indicated that Pike will no longer have head coaching duties, making him a power and speed coach only. Trinity Western University clearly recognises that Pike is at fault, by sending out the email.
“…it is also clear that the athletic department values Rob’s potential personal growth at the expense of the well-being of athletes who have clearly been abused under his leadership and no longer trust him,” shared another former Spartans athlete.
One athlete suggested that Bomba was viewed as the divisive wedge between the athletes and Pike, as he often stuck his neck out on behalf of the athletes, being the emollient, as it were.
By April 22nd or so, apparently, the management was suggesting that Bomba should be offered an olive branch for some indeterminate capacity. Perhaps the uprising was enough to provoke a sober second thought. It is certainly a smart move if for no other reason than self-preservation.
AI: “Is Mr. Rob Pike still employed?”
Spartan: “Yes, believe it or not.”
When twice contacted for a response, Pike did not respond, however, Gamache wrote in an email: We do not comment on personal information for obvious reasons but yes, we are certainly working hard to hire and I feel confident we will have new people in place by end of the month [June 2018].
During the previously mentioned closed-door meeting, Gamache implied that he is working with Pike to improve his relationships with athletes, which is a good sign. However, the students advised Gamache, that they approached Pike as early as two years before and yet he has not changed one iota.
“What Mr. Pike likes to do is pit one athlete against another. If he doesn’t like an athlete, he refuses to talk to him, meanwhile, if he likes an athlete, he will confide in him about personal matters as well as telling stories about fellow athletes behind their backs.”
According to a current Spartans athlete, Pike referred to student-athlete Adam Marshall, as a whiney, little bitch. He also referred to star athlete, Yee, as a cancer on more than one occasion.
“I can’t wait until the cancers like Yee graduate.”
At least one person suggested that Pike is kept around in the hopes that he will learn how to treat people better, which is generous of the university.
“Except, many on the team feel that we cannot move forward with Pike as a team coach,” said an athlete.