Everything old is new again

“Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged . . . . Get back, Jo Jo.”
Apparently, the Beatles are too powerful a force to be ignored. So here I am, roughly 115 months after I wished you all farewell in this very space.
Who says you can’t go home again?
I am sincerely thrilled to return to the sports reporter’s desk here at the Fort Frances Times that I left behind in January, 2004. It’s been quite the long and winding road, both professionally and personally, since I hit the westbound highway for the bright lights of Medicine Hat, Alta.
That excursion included a still-memorable stopover at a truck stop in Radisson, Sask., where I witnessed a broadcast on The Weather Network stating the current temperature locally was minus-52 C.
I seem to recall immediately sprinting for “Christine II,” my close-to-dying 2001 Buick LeSabre, and getting back on the road before I was stuck in Radisson until the spring thaw.
I was lucky enough to see the Medicine Hat Tigers win their first WHL title in 16 years that spring, leading to my first live Memorial Cup tournament in Kelowna, B.C.
Two vivid recollections from that week: the Kelowna crowd screaming “GUARD!!!” during the “Stand on guard for thee” line of “O Canada” before each Rockets’ game in honour of their favourite son, goalie Kelly Guard; and the unbridled joy that exploded in the Prospera Place throng of more than 6,600 people when Kelowna captured the championship over the Quebec champion Gatineau Olympiques.
It was a quick six-month stay in “The Hat” before I nabbed the sports editor position at The Daily Graphic in Portage la Prairie, Man., where I witnessed the Portage Terriers grab their first MJHL title in 15 years while also being blessed with the chance to interview such sporting luminaries as Gordie Howe, Ron McLean, and Chris Berman.
Apparently, I did OK during my four-year stay there. My parting gift? A game-worn Terriers’ jersey from Kenora product and fan favourite James Cain. Very cool stuff, indeed.
While at the Graphic, I realized I may have hit a glass ceiling in the journalism industry as job opportunities at the major daily paper level didn’t seem to be forthcoming any time in the near future.
That’s when a seemingly meaningless tour of schoolchildren through the paper in late 2007 changed my life. I had such a great time interacting with the students and when I enthusiastically reviewed my day to my wife, Robin (yes, she’s still putting up with me after seven years of marriage, the saint that she is), she looked at me with one of those looks you give someone when the point is obvious as the nose on their face.
“Just a thought . . . did you ever think about teaching?” she asked.
Suddenly, the realization hit me like a Muhammad Ali left hook.
The next day, I was looking into post-secondary education programs and was lucky enough to be accepted into Lakehead University’s one-year after-degree program. And thanks to the guidance of amazingly-gifted teachers Luella Kellar at Crossroads School and Kari-Lynn Beckett at Robert Moore School during my teacher placements, I graduated in the spring of 2009 with the belief I had made the right career decision.
I dove into the supply teaching ranks in Rainy River District and found time on the side to coach basketball and volleyball at St. Francis School (Go Sentinels!)
That was surpassed by the joy of coaching first my niece, Jaymee Fiset, and then my grandchildren, Shelby and Damien Hunt, as part of Fort Frances Youth Soccer (classic Shelby quote: “I’ll play forward or goalie. But not defence. I don’t like defence, Grandpa.” Six years old and the girl thinks she’s Mario Lemieux).
I was hired for my first full-time teaching job at Sakatcheway Anishinabe School on Grassy Narrows First Nation, north of Kenora, in the summer of 2011. While it was a good learning experience to live on an isolated reserve on a regular basis, I found myself missing my home—and my home region—very much.
When my contract ended this past February, it was like a fresh start to get back to Rainy River District and begin teaching and coaching familiar faces again.
June and July saw me go down a different temporary career path as a delivery man for the local Leon’s outlet. I learned some hard truths during what was mostly two enjoyable months of employment there: my body is not as young as it used to be and I am the last person you want building a dining room chair in a crisis situation.
Then, out of the blue, a phone call from my dearly-departed predecessor, Lucas Punkari. He announced his intention to leave the sports desk of the Times and was curious if I wanted to return.
The answer was a most emphatic “yes.”
I had almost forgotten what an active and vibrant sports community there is around here. But I’m ready to take on the challenge of serving your appetite for sports coverage to the best of my abilities.
I’ve already experienced in recent weeks the energy Fort Frances and area radiates when pulling together for a common sporting cause. Specifically, I think of sharing a table upstairs in the Fort Frances Curling Club with the likes of the energetic Hailey Beaudry, the determined McKenna Begin, and the inexhaustible Reece Jones as that trio of teens and I pounded out vote after vote to help Fort Frances capture the right to host the Kraft Celebration Tour and an episode of TSN SportsCentre on Aug. 25.
When young people such as those three are willing to put in the effort they did to help promote our community, it gives me great hope for what this area can accomplish in future years.
I ask you all to help me make this the best sports section possible. Let me know about upcoming games, events, and tournaments. Tell me about special athletes competing abroad or travelling to post-secondary school to further their educational and athletic careers.
Keep me in the loop and I will do all I can to get as much information out to the masses as possible each week.
You can call me at 274-5373, fax me at 274-7286, or e-mail me at jpayeur@fortfrances.com
I also plan to stop avoiding modern technology and be more active with my Twitter account (@jrpayeur) to keep you up-to-date with whatever sporting event I’m at whenever possible.
I have all of seven followers right now. Make my dream of reaching double digits a reality.
It was a great journey the first time. I’m on the edge of my seat as to where the train is heading this time.
Hop on and enjoy the ride. It should be a whole lot of fun.