Esks athlete scores touchdown on degree

(Edmonton) When Gord Hinse arrived at the University of Alberta in 2005 on a football scholarship, he thought he had it made—playing the game he loved for the Golden Bears, attending class, enjoying life as a first-year arts student.

It all went poof when, like many newbies, he hit a wall. “I flunked out. I was a good student in high school; I never found it hard to study. But while I had a successful first year in football, my study skills weren’t what they were supposed to be.”

It may be hard to believe that Hinse, now 24, couldn’t ace the classroom the way he has easily aced the football field—being drafted by the Edmonton Eskimos in 2009 was the topper on a stack of athletic accomplishments.

The list is impressive: Hinse was named 2007-08 U of A Academic All-Canadian, played for Team Alberta in the 2005 Canada Cup, was a member of Team Canada at the 2007 World Junior Under 20 Championships, and was named to the 2007 Canada West all-star team. Now entering his fourth season as number 57, a rough-and-ready offensive lineman for the Eskimos, Hinse is at the top of his game.

And instead of being defeated by that initial academic fumble, Hinse found a way to work through it. On June 11, he’ll be awarded a bachelor’s degree from the Faculty of Native Studies.

Though he’ll be unable to collect his degree in person because of his football duties, Hinse will be there in spirit.

Hinse is the first in his family to receive a university degree, and though his was a post-secondary journey of seven long years, he doesn’t regret sticking with it.

Determined to rejoin the ranks of the Golden Bears after dropping out of school, Hinse spent a year upgrading his classroom skills at King’s University College and raising his marks.

When he returned to the U of A—and the Bears— in 2007, Hinse considered different faculties, but enrolled in Native Studies for the rich variety of subject matter in its lineup.

“It’s a mix of a lot of different stuff—sociology, anthropology, law, history, contemporary issues, everything rolled into one. I told myself, if I didn’t like it, I could transfer out.” He never did.

“The curriculum we were learning was so interesting to me.” A recreational hunter himself, Hinse was fascinated with aspects of Aboriginal history, including buffalo hunts, which he turned into a classroom paper. He was also surprised to learn more about the treatment of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada than what his grade-school classes had taught.

“I’d never heard of residential schools before coming to the U of A. A lot of it was shocking.”

Although his Métis family background didn’t play a particularly large role in his choice of degree, Hinse was vaguely aware of and wanted to learn more about the history of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, including treaty negotiations in his ancestral home province of Saskatchewan. “I have more realization now about a lot of the things my ancestors would have experienced. It was cool to learn about it.”

Hinse also liked the welcoming atmosphere of Native Studies. “I’m not an extrovert, so I liked the open-door policy the professors had, and it was almost like a family, being a small faculty. People were willing to help me and see me succeed.”

That sense of belonging was boosted by the Golden Bears, who welcomed Hinse back on the team when he returned to school. “They gave me a second chance and didn’t write me off as a lost cause.”

Even after being drafted by the Eskimos, Hinse knew he wanted to continue with his degree, which meant scheduling his studies around the off-season and adding another two years to his undergrad program.

“By then I had four years invested and I didn’t want to waste that effort. And I’m going to still be young when I’m done playing. A degree will give me a meaningful job,” said Hinse, who hopes to supplement his studies with a two-year education degree, to become a teacher.

The dual experience of being a scholar and an athlete was a winning play for Hinse, who feels he has become well rounded.

“When I’m on the field, I’m doing my job there. So it is refreshing to focus on studies that take you outside of that. You can burn yourself out if you focus on one thing all the time.”

Conversely, Hinse also carries his classroom skills into the locker room. “I learned how to study and that comes in handy when you are reviewing game videos, game plans and playbooks.

And though that first-year failure as a freshman stung, Hinse is now grateful for the journey. “Flunking out of school was the best thing that happened to me. Now there’s a final coming-together of everything.”