Alumni donate $4 million to support coaching, exchanges

By Paul Mayne
June 20, 2013

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CowinPaul Mayne, Western News
Western alumnus Jack Cowin, left, speaks with Mustangs football head coach Greg Marshall at an event announcing a $4-million gift benefitting coaches and student exchanges from Cowin and his wife, Sharon, both 1964 Western graduates, on Friday night.

Western alumni Jack and Sharon Cowin have already benefitted from the lessons they learned both on and off the fields of play. Now, the former Mustangs hope their $4-million gift will help Western students, and varsity student-athletes, learn those same lessons.

“There are not too many things I can remember from the classroom, but I can remember a lot from the experience of getting beat up and thrown to the mat,” Cowin joked. “The lessons you learn in sports are very significant – you never give up, you keep on going and, when you get knocked down, you have to get up again.

“That has been important in my learning process.”

The Cowins each graduated with a BA from Western in 1964. Jack, who was awarded an honorary degree in 2000, was a member of the Mustangs football and wrestling teams as a student. Sharon was on the varsity swim team.

The gift is divided into two parts.

The first, $1 million ($100,000 over 10 years), will establish the Jack Cowin/Lone Star Coaching Excellence Fund to support Western’s efforts to retain and recruit top-level head or assistant coaches for its varsity teams.

The remaining $3 million will create the Jack and Sharon Cowin Scholars Award, a partnership between Australia’s Bond University and Western, building academic exchange opportunities between the two universities, beginning this fall.

Cowin, founder and chairman of Competitive Foods Australia Ltd, the largest franchisor of restaurants in Australia such as Hungry Jack’s and Domino’s Pizza, said increasing the excellence and number of coaches available to Western will allow future student-athletes to reap the benefits of an “on-the-field” education just as he did.

“My time as a student and athlete at Western taught me valuable lessons in leadership, perseverance and commitment to excellence,” he said. “My coaches and my experiences around the world have played a significant role in developing the values and skills that have taken me through my life both personally and professionally.”

Western President Amit Chakma added this first-of-its-kind coaching fund would impact the university’s athletics program tremendously.

“Beside every great university athlete is a great coach,” Chakma said. “This (fund) will help our student-athletes to reach their full potential, to be leaders in their sports and, of course, enhance our competitiveness at Western.”

Regarding the partnership between Bond and Western, Cowin lauded Chakma’s work toward increasing the university’s international impact, citing the president taking Western’s international enrolment from 3 to 9 per cent in his first four years as his inspiration to create the partnership.

Bond is 35 per cent non-Australians, most of these being Canadian.

“You are going to see a lot more Australians here in London, and Western students will have the opportunity to travel to Australia,” said Cowin, also director and majority shareholder of the Lone Star Texas Grill restaurant chain. “I think through this, what happens is relationships develop, friendships develop, businesses grow and we are all beneficiaries of that.”

Cowin said his venturing ‘Down Under’ following graduation vastly changed what he referred to as “an insular view of the world,” having grown up in southwestern Ontario.

“I got involved in setting up my own business down there, and through this experience I got exposed to the fact that, in this day and age, you can no longer do business just in your own backyard,” he added. “We live in a global community … the world has changed, and will continue to change, and we, as a society, have to learn to adapt to it, because if we don’t we’ll get left behind.”

Chakma said Western is committed to providing opportunities to help students become well-rounded, global-minded citizens, and this partnership will allow more Western students and faculty members to gain international experience and perspectives, further enhancing their education and enriching their research.

“As a demonstration of his commitment, Jack has agreed to take on the lead role in our international efforts,” said Chakma, announcing the creation of the first-ever International Advisory Board, which will advise the Board of Governors chair and the president on international matters. “Under Jack’s guidance, we have convinced a number of distinguished alumni worldwide to be part of this initiative and Jack has agreed to be the inaugural chair of the board.”


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