Thanks, it’s been fun

The rumours are true, so feel free to either shed your tears or plan your parades.
As fast as news travels in this town, I’ll be surprised if this is a news flash to most of you. But for those of you unaware, this is the final instalment of “Sideline Passes.”
This coming Monday, I pack up my (limited) sports writing skills—and anything else I can jam into Christine II (my beloved 1990 Buick LeSabre)—and head west to my home province of Alberta, where I begin work next month in the sports department at the Medicine Hat News daily paper.
There’s no question the positives that accompany this move are plentiful. One of the two writers leaving the News to make room for me has caught on at the Calgary Sun. So in baseball terms, making it to Medicine Hat is like getting promoted to ‘AAA,’ with a call-up to the big leagues hopefully looming just around the corner.
The personal side of the ledger also has me in high spirits, as I now will be only a six-hour drive from my home territory of Edmonton. Even a monthly trip to my old stomping grounds is sure to do my heart well, as opposed to the two-day drive I have now (or two-hour flight from Winnipeg, take your pick).
I could mention the weather improvement, too (plus-five C there today, as opposed to our balmy minus-20), but that would be rubbing it in.
Seriously, though, in my almost 17 months of work here in Fort Frances, I’ve had the chance to meet probably hundreds of people while trying to manage being a one-man sports department.
There are those of you whom I know will miss me about as much as the ’flu epidemic. But Mom always used that cliché about if you can’t say anything nice, shut your yap. So to you people, I’ll simply say I hope your relationship with the next man or woman who sits in my chair turns out better than what ours did.
I prefer, instead, to concentrate on the people and the moments that made living and working in this community much more enjoyable than it could have been. So with my swan song come several thank-yous.
To my publisher, Jim Cumming, and his co-owner siblings, Don Cumming and Linda Plumridge, thanks for allowing me to work for you and help contribute to what I sincerely believe is the best community paper in Northwestern Ontario, bar none.
To my editor, Mike Behan, thanks for your patience despite my many mistakes, and for providing me the opportunity to polish my skills. I know late nights and deadlines led to some short tempers between us some days, but there’s been few instances I’ve seen of someone being as dedicated to their craft as you are.
Oh, and I’m still going to win the office hockey pool.
To my fellow writers, thanks for the good times and gripe sessions that kept us sane. Special thanks to Duane Hicks, who must have answered the same question about 3,000 times during page layout sessions.
To the rest of the Times staff, along with Ken Johnston at the Rainy River Record, thanks for accepting me into your newspaper family—and always making me feel at home. Special kudos to John Pierce, my fountain of local sports information from the first day I set up shop here, and my supplier of proper perspective when my heart got in the way of my head.
Your wisdom and kindness won’t soon be forgotten.
To the Kellar clan, thanks for Sunday suppers, a Christmas home away from home, and a thousand smiles. I’ll carry you in my heart always.
To the Munn family, thanks for a roof over my head when I had none, and to Pam Munn for targeting the perfect apartment for me to move into. Here’s to Bingo nights, smokies, and a lifetime of friendship.
To my landlady, June Smith, thanks for supplying me with one of the best apartments I’ve ever lived in, and for never once telling me to clean up my room, although you had ample opportunity to do so.
To my fellow tutors at the library: it was an honour to serve alongside you. And to the kids I taught, it was a pleasure to make learning a little more fun and a little less difficult for you. I hope I made a difference.
To Tevis Dupuis Barry: thanks for the companionship and for being a super “little brother.” Keep being the good kid that I know you are.
To all the players, coaches, parents, school administrators, officials, organizers, and anyone else connected to sports in Rainy River District, thanks for your information, co-operation, and for being generally good-natured acquaintances during my stay.
Please help my successor as much as you’ve helped me, and even more so, if possible.
For all of you that I crossed paths with in a non-sporting vein, thanks for your goodwill, and all the best in whatever awaits you.
Finally, though I risk offending others I may not mention specifically, I want to pay tribute to a few special individuals who stood out for me during my time in this region.
To Rebecca Cornell, for an amazing combination of athletic talent, academic intelligence, and the ability to succeed at pretty much anything you try—all while sporting an almost constant smile and possessing a genuinely compassionate heart for your fellow human being.
You’re going to go far, my friend, make no mistake about it.
To Carley McCormick, for not shrinking away from life but embracing it and squeezing ever last ounce out of it. There’s not a roadblock you can’t conquer, Carley, and you have my respect always.
Go take that mountain, and make it your own like I know you will.
To Danielle McGee, for having the incredible courage to try and play in pain that few others I’ve known could have even begun to suffer through. If there was a shield lying around during that NWOSSAA basketball final, you should have been carried out on it.
Take heart in what you’ve already done, and stay strong throughout all that you do in the future.
To David, Melanie, and Lauren Pierce, for showing great skills on the court and on the ice, and for remaining so level-headed away from the playing fields.
The apples, indeed, do not fall far from the tree. You’re all pure reflections of the fine people your parents have proven themselves to be.
To Alex Parent, for showing heart and determination when it would have been easier just to quit, and for riding that perseverance all the way to national glory. I’ll see you at the Paralympics someday, Alex, I have faith in that.
To Chrissy Thomson, for walking into the pressure cooker that is NCAA Division I sports and showing there’s a place for a small-town Canadian to make their mark down south. You are the epitome of grace and good sportsmanship, be it in victory or defeat.
Be proud of yourself, Chrissy.
To Hannah Firth, for exhibiting grit and enthusiasm that makes any shortness of stature on your part an afterthought. Keep slinging those webs, Spiderman.
Last, but most definitely not least, to Allison Hyatt, for being the centrepiece of the greatest single set of volleyball and my favourite personal sporting moment of the past 17 months.
Maybe the scoreboard wasn’t on your side that day. But after giving everything you had only to have your high school career come to an end, you blinked back the tears to hold court with me just minutes later in the same unsurpassable classy manner you always did.
Hold your head high, Allison, you’ve most certainly earned it.
The single thread tying all those mentioned in the final group is simple: every one of them is a prime example of the fact you can achieve great things while never forgetting to remain great people.
So in closing, remember that sports is part of life, not life and death. Remember that children’s sports are about the children, not the grown-ups. Remember to take New England over Carolina in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1.
Most importantly, remember to treat each other with genuine respect. This is a region with great potential to blossom—as long as petty differences and personal agendas get put on the backburner, and communication and co-operation take centre stage.
Don’t hurt your own cause, people. The sky really is the limit for you.
Take care, everyone. To quote the “Boss,” Bruce Springsteen, I’ll see you further on up the road.

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