Acadia experience sets table for career with Nova Scotia Special Olympics

Timmins, ON native Matt Quinn (’06) says he didn't know much about Eastern Canada before coming to Halifax in 2001 to play his last year of junior hockey for the junior A Exports.

“I had played two years for Rouyn-Noranda in the QMJHL,” Quinn said in a June 29 interview in Wolfville. “My coach there, Bob Mongrain, steered me to Halifax for my 20-year-old year.”

It turned out to be a life-changing decision for Quinn, 35, who now calls Halifax home and is the Program Director for Nova Scotia Special Olympics.

Not only did the Exports win the Royal Bank Cup in the 2001-2002 season, but Quinn made a connection with hockey Axemen head coach Darren Burns (’95) that resulted in playing five years with the Axemen and earning a degree in kinesiology from Acadia.

“I had always hoped I would end up playing CIS hockey,” he said. “Burnsie had just been hired as the Acadia head coach. Mongrain contacted him during my exit meeting from Rouyn-Noranda.”

Quinn said, “ever since that phone call, it was in my head to come to Acadia if Burnsie wanted me.” He joined Exports teammate Brian Sutherland as rookie Axemen in the fall of 2002.

“I came here to visit during the 2001-2002 season and fell in love with the place,” he added. “I'm not from a big city, and the small-town feel appealed to me.”

To Quinn, Acadia “felt and looked like what a university should be.” Even today, “it has an aura to it. I visited other AUS schools, but only to look. I never came on a recruiting trip; just conversations with Burnsie. I guess I was kind of self-recruited.”

After four years at Acadia, Quinn graduated in the spring of 2006. He came back for another year to do more schooling in exercise physiology and to play a fifth and final season for the Axemen.

“Exercise physiology was an extra course I could take to go along with my degree so I decided to come back, and it also gave me the chance to play a fifth season.”

Quinn was never a top scorer – he had 33 goals and 74 points in 137 CIS games – but he was the kind of character player and quiet leader Burns was looking for. He played on an AUS championship team in 2004-2005 and the Axemen made it back to the conference final in 2006.

Quinn played two years of minor pro hockey after leaving Acadia, and won a championship with the Texas Brahmas of the Central Hockey League in 2008-2009, his final season. “I wanted to play two years,” he says. “I had a two-year plan, to say I had done it, and I was lucky enough to go out a winner.”

Fond memories

In 2010, Quinn applied for an opening at Nova Scotia Special Olympics and was hired. As Program Director, he is responsible for “all the sport aspects, competition, volunteers, training of coaches, and supporting the regional associations.

“Once I got started, I felt fortunate to be able to do a job that didn't feel like work. I had always been more worried about being financially secure and stable, but doing something you love trumps all the other stuff.”

Quinn has fond memories of Acadia and Wolfville, and visits as often as he is able. He was at Acadia June 29 finalizing details for the Nova Scotia Special Olympics provincial competition in Wolfville July 8-10.

Asked if his experiences at Acadia helped him obtain his current job and continue meeting its requirements, Quinn said, “absolutely. The hockey, the community, working with kids. They all helped.”

Though not a 'regular' with the Acadia S.M.I.L.E. program, Quinn learned from his experience with it. As well, “in hockey, and in sports in general, there's always that connection to people with intellectual disabilities so it's not something that was foreign to me.”

All Acadia varsity teams “are involved in the community. We did reading programs at local schools, and connected with local families.”

While he “probably could have done more, I got the opportunity, through the team environment, to interact with the community in a positive way” – something he now does on a daily basis.

Quinn's Acadia experience “made adjusting to my job a seamless experience, and gave me a better feel for the regional, volunteer-driven aspects of Special Olympics and working with community leaders.

“All the connections I made here are still there.” Earlier this year, Quinn chose the Valley for a special unified sport program currently being piloted at three Valley schools. “These kinds of connections aren't to benefit yourself, but to benefit the community as a whole.”

Quinn acknowledged there are lots of great schools in Canada, all of which have their strengths. At the same time, “I don't think I would have had the experience I had at Acadia anywhere else.

“It's something you can't put into words. I'd recommend the experience I had at Acadia to anyone. Universities are constantly trying to change, but no matter when you graduated, it's all the same. It's nice to see the growth, but I love the tradition.”

- Story by John DeCoste ('77)

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