Medicine Hat News

Rattlers all-star Arsenault moving on

- SEAN ROONEY srooney@medicineha­ Twitter: MHNRooney

He ran a gay-straight alliance club in high school. He even organized an anti-bullying campaign.

But when Andre (Joey) Arsenault came to play volleyball at Medicine Hat College, he didn’t feel the need to make his sexual orientatio­n a big deal. He was just one of the guys.

“I didn’t want that to be ahead of my identity (as a volleyball player),” said Arsenault, the Rattlers’ starting libero for the past two seasons. “I feel like I did that chapter of my life in high school, and in coming to college it was like ‘now I can focus on other stuff.’”

Arsenault is saying goodbye Medicine Hat this summer and returning to his hometown of Edmonton, where he’s joining the MacEwan University Griffins who play at the Canadian Interunive­rsity Sport level. He does so as a much improved athlete with plenty of accolades to his credit: Twotime conference all-star and all-Canadian, a 4.0 GPA, two major awards from the Rattlers for being an inspiratio­n and leader to those around him.

But he also comes away a better person, thanks in part to the college community supporting who he is — a proud gay man in a city that has seen its fair share of bigots.

“I feel like if I would’ve had a more difficult transition that I would’ve done more,” he said. “But I was so loved here, I didn’t need to.”

His first chance at college athletics didn’t go well. He red-shirted for two years at NAIT in Edmonton due partially to concussion problems, and recalls being treated poorly by many players. “I’d come to the change room after practice and people would sit there, not move and wait until I left.”

Then-Rattlers coach Steve Russell was a big reason Arsenault moved, even if his parents had some reservatio­ns about the city as a whole.

“I told Steve (about being gay) and he laughed,” said Arsenault. “It was really positive. The next day we had practice and I told the guys. Steve at the end of my schpiel was like ‘if anyone has a problem with that, you can leave and get off this team.’

“At first it felt awkward because it felt like special treatment. But it was nice.”

Suddenly comfortabl­e to be himself, Arsenault found the anecdotes he’d heard from other LGBTQ athletes are true — you really do play better if you’re in a better mental state of mind.

Always a stat-hound, Arsenault finished with 296 digs in 81 sets this past season — most in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.

“I can move that much faster, play that much better,” he said. “I think you can’t do the things that you love if you can’t love yourself. Just acknowledg­ing that part of you is that step that will make you that much of a better athlete, a stronger person in general.”

That’s not to say everything is easy. He’s as upset as anyone about the killings at a gay nightclub in Orlando over the weekend, and admits at bars in Medicine Hat you’ll usually only see him dancing with women. It avoids conflict, but it’s far from ideal.

“We shouldn’t be hiding,” said Arsenault. “It sucks someone did it out of hate that they are that sick or that ill that they thought this was their only solution. Especially in a gay bar where it’s a safe haven, that’s where you can go and hold your boyfriend or girlfriend’s hand without being judged.

“Despite the disasters that have happened around the world, we’re in a place in Canada, in Alberta where we are allowed to be free in most places and that’s something we shouldn’t take for granted.”

He’s not worried about returning to Edmonton. Six of the players on the Griffins are ones he’s coached, and he’s confident the atmosphere there will be equally as positive as it was here.

He leaves a legacy as one of the Rattlers’ best-ever defensive players, and his work with the junior Rattlers program is a big reason he was given the athletics program’s achievemen­t award this spring.

Being gay is a part of who Arsenault is, but it’s hardly what he’ll be remembered for.

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 ?? SUBMITTED PHOTO ?? Rattlers libero Andre Arsenault plays in this undated photo.
SUBMITTED PHOTO Rattlers libero Andre Arsenault plays in this undated photo.

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