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The Golden Era of SUSF - Robert Smithies

by Ed Smith | November 7, 2019
The Golden Era of SUSF - Robert Smithies

After 28 years in university sport and with the incorporation of Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness (SUSF) safely underway, Robert Smithies, SUSF’s Executive Director for the last twelve years, has decided to step out of the driver’s seat and “just go surfing for a while”. And so, while he reflects on the next set to roll in at Curl Curl, we reflect on his extraordinary contribution to SUSF and the amazing legacy that he leaves the students and their sporting clubs.

ROB – THE OVER-ACHIEVING STUDENT ATHLETE

Rob Smithies' involvement with university sport began in 1991 when he was recruited out of Killarney Heights High School, NSW, to Marquette University via West Bend, Wisconsin in the U.S.A. on a four-year soccer scholarship (fair to say “a path seldom trod”).

After a stellar four-year stint in a U.S. college sports program, Rob graduated in Economics from Marquette and was awarded Magna Cum Laude Honours, the University Prize for Best Paper in Economics, a four-year letter winner and the captaincy of the team in his senior year. More importantly, Rob learnt how beneficial a good university sports program can be to a developing young student. Rob then returned to Australia to study law at Sydney University in 1996 at which time he joined the Sydney Uni Soccer Football Club (SUSFC).

Less than a year later, he was awarded both SUSF’s first ever soccer scholarship and a University Blue. Graduating with an honours degree in law in 1998, Rob practiced as a solicitor in some of Sydney’s big law firms while also playing as the club’s premier striker, captaining its various teams as it won three grand finals, two premierships and promotion from Division 4 all the way up to the NSW Super League (scoring a club-record 205 goals in 212 games).

Rob’s soccer career reached its peak in 2004 (apart from his annual staff soccer match hattricks, of course) when he was awarded NSW Super League’s Player of the Year, notably a year in which Australian soccer collapsed and many future A-League players were back playing in the NSW Super League.

ROB – THE SUSF LEADER

2004 was also the year that Rob Smithies decided to sacrifice his high-flying legal career for the more rewarding pursuit of university sports administration. Having volunteered many years as an SUSFC administrator and as a student representative and Vice President on the SUSF Management Committee, the then SUSF Executive Director, Greg Harris, saw something special in Rob and offered him the esteemed position of SUSF Operations Manager.

By 2007, Rob worked his way up to Deputy Director and, in January 2008, was asked by the SUSF President, Bruce Ross to take on the role of SUSF Executive Director, a position he has filled in exemplary fashion ever since. Over the last twelve years in charge, Rob’s leadership as a crusader for student programs, as a champion of the Clubs program, and as a great builder, has been instrumental in what will become known as the 'Golden Era of SUSF'.

ROB – THE STUDENT PROGRAMS CRUSADER

One of Rob Smithies' first big decisions as Executive Director was to establish the Programs and Participation Department in order to provide and promote greater student engagement opportunities in sport and recreation outside of SUSF’s already successful clubs program. Under Rob’s guidance, SUSF’s P&P Department has grown such that it now provides an extraordinary array of programs and competitions all year round for our students including Interfaculty, Intramural Sports, Lunchtime and Evening Sports Competitions covering over twelve different sports.

The same P&P team manages the legendary Rawson Cup and Rosebowl Competitions, campus fun runs, 3x3 basketball competitions, SUSF’s First Aid and CPR Courses, Holiday Camps, tennis programs and, most recently, free squash lessons for female students of all levels of experience.

When added to the 700 overseas students who have learnt essential life skills in SUSF’s free Water Safe Program over the last two years, Rob’s crusade to engage students in campus life and physical wellbeing programs has a positive impact on over 12,500 Sydney University students every year – and that does not even include the 4,000 students who are currently members of SUSF’s impressive Sports Clubs Program. Nor does it include the other members of the University and local communities who also benefit from the University’s tremendous social sports programs.

ROB – THE CLUBS’ CHAMPION

While driving up three-fold the amount of non-club related participation, Rob Smithies was always very careful to ensure that the SUSF Sports Clubs continued to be well supported and to flourish. As the leader of the parent organisation of over 40 men’s and women’s sports clubs, Rob was aware of SUSF’s responsibility to ensure that all of its clubs were given as much resources and support as SUSF could afford in order to ensure that the clubs thrived – and thrive they did during his term as Executive Director as can be seen in the timeline below.

Throughout his tenure, and regardless of the unfortunate pressures that universities, politics and sports can bring to bear on such a position, Rob retained his integrity and remained even-handed with all of SUSF’s clubs. This exemplary approach not only saw the continued success of SUSF’s traditional clubs, but also the tremendous growth and success of new clubs that cater for the everexpanding range of sporting interests of the University’s evolving student cohort.

Read more on Rob's observations on the ever-changing nature of the sport and fitness industry in his piece for ROAR 43, titled The Changing Footprint of Sport.

ROB – BY THE NUMBERS

As a keen student of economics, Rob has always studied the numbers – and what a fine set of numbers they make. Under Rob’s leadership over the last 12 years, SUSF memberships have increased by 40% to now exceed 15,000 while the price of student membership has gone down by 28% from $55 in 2007 to what will be a $40 price tag in 2020. Meanwhile, Sydney University student and staff gym, group fitness, pool and other pass sales have increased by 250% and gym attendances have grown by over 100,000 entries per year.

In fact, when combining attendances at all of SUSF’s sports club programs, SUSF’s sports centres and SUSF’s student participation programs, SUSF now boasts approximately 840,000 genuine interactions with students and community visitors every year – and that’s without counting the website and social media hits of SUSF and its clubs (a new set of numbers he loves to track weekly to our great chagrin).

Importantly, during Rob’s time in charge, SUSF’s annual business revenue has increased from $4 million in 2007 to a forecast $7.5 million in 2019. Using 2007 as a base year, these annual increases in revenue, when totalled across the last 12 years, amount to an additional $19.4 million for sport at the University. This increase in revenue has allowed SUSF (as a not-for-profit organisation) to provide more support for student sporting programs and, perhaps most importantly, more sports infrastructure for university students of the future.

ROB – THE BUILDER

Of all of Rob’s achievements as SUSF Executive Director, his most significant will be the addition of over $40 million worth of new sporting infrastructure. In 2013, Rob Smithies and the Vice Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence, cut the ribbon on the $15 million SUSAC Extension, in 2016 it was the $13.6 million development of the new TAG Family Foundation Grandstand and Sydney Uni Football Ground and, in 2017, the two of them were on the scissors again with the opening of the $7.1 million Thyne Reid Boathouse and the $4.2 million Bruce Pryor Hockey Field.

To achieve this unprecedented increase in Sydney University's sports infrastructure, Rob worked closely with the University of Sydney Sports Foundation to lead a philanthropic drive that has raised over $13 million for sports infrastructure alone since 2013.

When combined with the $1.45 million raised for sports scholarships under his watchful eye, Rob is leaving the organisation and the University’s student-athletes of all levels with the resources that should ensure Sydney University student engagement and success for the next 50 years.

ROB – A BIG ‘THANK YOU’ FROM THE UNIVERSITY AND YOUR SUSF TEAM

Throughout his tenure, Rob Smithies has been a devoted, loyal, caring and wise leader of the SUSF team and its clubs. A passionate family man, he shares these qualities at home with his four sporty children and his very patient and supportive wife, Tasha. They are qualities that he no doubt learnt from his own parents and his strong faith in God. On behalf of the SUSF team and the University, I thank them all for sharing so much of Rob’s time and talents through what will be looked back on as the ‘Golden Era of SUSF’.

Thanks Rob, enjoy the surf

TIMELINE

2008

20 Olympians at the Beijing Olympics & Paralympics win 3 silver & 4 bronze medals

Men’s Rugby win the Shute Shield first grade title, Club Championship (5th year in a row)

Boat/Rowing Clubs win the overall point score at the NSW State Championships (6th year in a row) & win the Centenary Oar for best club at the National Championships

American Football win 6th straight NSW Championship title Volleyball wins

NSW State Club Championship for the first time ever & the UTS/Sydney Uni team win the National Women’s Volleyball League

2009

Men’s Rugby win the Shute Shield first grade title, Club Championship (6th year in a row)

Boat/Rowing Clubs win the overall point score at the NSW State Championships (7th year in a row)

Swimming Club wins Australian Club of the Year

American Football win 7th straight NSW Championship title

Australian Boat Race held for the first time in Melbourne

Men’s & Women’s Handball win NSW League Championships Volleyball wins NSW State Club Championship (2nd year in a row)

2010

Men’s Rugby win the Shute Shield first grade title, Club Championship (7th year in a row)

Swimming Club wins Australian Club of the Year for the second year running

Women’s rugby first ever championship win of the Jack Scott Cup.

Men’s & Women’s Clubs become the first ever Club to win both men’s and women’s titles in the same year

The Sydney Uni Flames Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team win the WNWBL Championship for the first time ever

Boat Club wins the men’s Australian Boat Race

7 Athletes to Commonwealth Games in Delhi

American Football win 8th straight NSW Championship title

2011

Men’s Rugby win the Club Championship (8th year in a row)

Men’s Cricket win the Belvidere Cup first grade title, minor premiership & one-day titles

Women’s Rugby win the Jack Scott Cup (2nd year in a row)

Crowned Overall Australian Uni Games champions after our wins in the summer and winter games

Boat Club wins the men’s Australian Boat Race

American Football win 9th straight NSW Championship title

2012

24 Olympians at the London Olympics win 1 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze (39th in the world if we were a country)

Men’s Rugby win the Shute Shield first grade title, Club Championship (9th year in a row) and 7 grand final wins across 9 grades

Men’s first grade cricket win the Belvidere Cup & 2nd grade premiership

Women’s Hockey win their first ever senior women’s first grade hockey title

Boat Club wins the men’s

Australian Boat Race Athletics Club win the NSW Open Pennant Championship for the first time

American Football win 10th straight NSW Championship title

AFL Men’s Club complete their first season in the NEAFL

2013

Men’s Rugby win the Shute Shield first grade title, Club Championship (10th year in a row), celebrating their 150th year

Women’s AFL win major and minor premierships

Athletics wins summer & winter premierships, Treloar Shield, NSW Champs medal tally

Baseball Club wins Club Championship

Women’s Hockey win first grade premiership (2nd year in a row)

American Football win 11th straight NSW Championship title & claim

Australian Club Championship SUSF opens the Sports & Aquatic Centre Extension

2014

4 Olympians to Sochi Winter games

20 Athletes to Glasgow Commonwealth Games - 3 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze (14th on medal tally if we were a country)

Winners of Summer University Games – a record 18 Pennants – & Overall Champions

Men’s Rugby win the Club Championship (11th year in a row)

Men’s first grade cricket win the Belvidere Cup, Minor Premiership & Club Championship, celebrating their 150th year

Women’s cricket win major premiership

Boat Club wins the men’s Australian Boat Race

Athletics wins summer & winter premierships, Treloar Shield, NSW Champs medal tally

Women’s AFL win major and minor premierships (back to back)

American Football win 12th straight NSW Championship title

2015

Men’s Rugby win the Club Championship (12th year in a row)

Women’s Rugby win the Jack Scott Cup

Athletics win the winter premiership and Club Championship (4th year in a row)

Overall Winners in Summer & Winter University Games, & Overall Champions

Lauren Fitzgerald wins the National Road Series title for the Velo Club (first time ever)

Women’s Hockey win the Premier League

Women’s Soccer win the NPL1 Championship (first time ever)

Women’s Cricket win Club Championship

Netball win the State League Waratah Cup Champions

Boat Club wins the men’s Australian Boat Race

2016

27 Olympians at the Rio Olympics – 1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze (45th in the world if we were a country)

Men’s Rugby win the Club Championship (13th year in a row)

Brydens Women’s Soccer win NPL 1 Club Championship, Premiership, Championship

Women’s Water Polo win the National title for the 1st time

Men’s and women’s water polo win the Peter Kerr Club Championship – 1st year it’s awarded

Women’s rugby team win the Jack Scott Cup (2nd year in a row) and the minor premiership

Nicola Barr – first ever draft pick for AFLW

Athletics win the winter premiership (men’s & women’s) and Club Champions (5th year in a row)

Boat Club wins the men’s Australian Boat Race

SUSF opens the TAG Family Foundation Grandstand

2017

Brydens Sydney Uni Flames win their first National title

Women’s Water Polo win National title – 2nd year in a row

Men’s and women’s water polo win the Peter Kerr Club Championship – 2nd year in a row

Athletics win the NSW Club Championship Men’s first grade cricket win the Belvidere Cup, for the 6th time in the last 15 years

Men’s Rugby win the Club Championship (14th year in a row)

Boat Club win the men’s & women’s Boat Race (first ever victory for the women)

SUSF opens the Bruce Pryor Hockey Field & the Thyne Reid Boathouse

2018

19 athletes at the Commonwealth Games - 7 medals 4 athletes at 2018 Winter Olympics - 1 silver medal

Men’s water polo win their first National title since 2005

Men’s and women’s water polo win the Peter Kerr Club Championship - 3rd year in a row

Rugby League win the NSW Tertiary Cup Men’s & Women’s Cricket win the Limited Overs titles

Men’s rugby win the Shute Shield first grade title, minor premiership & Club Championship (15th year in a row)

Women’s rugby win the Jack Scott Cup first grade title

Women’s Soccer win Club Championship & NPL1 Premiership

Boat Club win National Club Championship point score, men’s & women’s

Boat Race Athletics win the NSW Club Championship, put 13 athletes on the Commonwealth Games team

The Velo Club again win the NSW Road Premiership

2019

Men’s rugby win the Shute Shield first grade title (2nd year in a row), minor premiership & Club Championship (16th year in a row)

Women’s Rugby win the Jack Scott Cup (2nd year in a row undefeated)

Women’s Soccer win the Club Championship (back to back), Premiership and Championship

Currently sitting first for Nationals Div 1 – winning 7 pennants and 12 overall

Men’s Cricket win the Club Championship & 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th grade minor premierships

The Sydney Uni Flames Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team win the WNWBL Championship Boat Club win National Club Championship point score, men’s & women’s Boat Race

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