An Earl Marriott Secondary alum is leaving the university rugby ranks with a pair of top athletic honours – including one so prestigious it has only been handed out four times in 16 previous years.
Last week, the University of B.C. held it’s annual Big Block awards gala – virtually for the first-time ever, rather than in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic – and rugby star Michael Smith was awarded the Bobby Gaul Memorial Trophy as UBC’s top graduating male athlete, while also winning the Jama Mahlalela Award.
According to UBC, the Jama Mahlalela Award – named after the former UBC basketball star and current coach in the Toronto Raptors organization – is awarded “in recognition of excellence in areas of selfless dedication, leadership and spirit as a student-athlete and citizen of UBC.”
“The award is conferred thoughtfully and only when a candidate worthy of the honour is present.”
Smith joins four other recipients of the award, including Mahlalela himself, who was presented the award upon graduating in 2004.
Mahlalela “set the bar for giving back to the UBC community,” the Big Block awards program notes.
Other past recipients include Claire Hanna (2008), Laura Thompson (2014) and Kristina Walker (2019).
In bestowing the honour on Smith – who in addition to starring on the pitch for Marriott has also played internationally for Canada – UBC Athletics said he “is a consummate professional.”
“His work ethic in his social, academic and sporting endeavours are exception and not limited to rugby,” a news release continues.
“A well-rounded individual, Michael exemplifies what it truly means to be a UBC Thunderbird.”
On the pitch, Smith is a two-time Canadian university men’s rugby champion; two-time winner of the Wightman Boot – awarded to the winning team in the annual rivalry game between UBC and the University of Victoria men’s rugby teams – and three-time World Cup series champ, helping lead the T-Birds to victory over the University of California Golden Bears.
He served as team captain in his final season, while also serving as president of the Thunderbird Athletes Council.
Other winners at the Big Block Awards including the school’s women’s golf team being named team of the year; Surrey’s Kate Choi – a Johnston Heights Secondary grad – is a member of that team.