I’ve been a play-by-play broadcaster most of my life.
My Alberta farm provided a young sports nut with a front yard that was Exhibition Stadium, a driveway that became Northlands Coliseum, and a backyard that was Commonwealth Stadium, Wembley Stadium, and the Augusta National Golf Course all rolled into one.
I played out my sports fantasies there, first by myself and then alongside an accommodating younger brother (a gracious loser if there ever was one—as opposed to his older sibling, who become quite agitated when little brother started winning all the time).
During those halcyon days, I must have imitated my favourite play-by-play announcers a million times. From the legendary Bob Cole of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada to original Blue Jays broadcaster Don Chevrier of CTV, I did my best to transfer their voices to mine, using their mannerisms with the same charged emotion they did when describing the action on our family’s black-and-white TV (yes, children, they actually did have those back in the ancient era of the 1970s and ’80s).
I had done some colour commentator work, doing Junior ‘B’ hockey games while attending Augustana University College in Camrose, Alta., and a two-game fill-in stint with the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. But never had I served in the role of such greats as Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan.
This past weekend, I finally got the chance to live my on-air dream as I served as the main commentator for Shaw Cable 10, doing three of the games during the Fort Frances Taggs Bantam ‘AA’ tournament at the Memorial Sports Centre.
Let’s just say the Emmy nominations may be a little slow rolling in.
My first game Friday evening between Taggs and the North End Flames (Thunder Bay) was ragged, to say the least.
I paused several times, unable to make out certain jersey numbers. I babbled non-stop during a majority of the stoppages in play, when I should have made the wise choice and deferred to my more polished colleague—veteran broadcaster and fellow Times employee John Pierce.
And I believe, at last count, I had used the phrase “along the boards” about 116 times.
The task got even tougher the next day, with John having to attend daughter Lauren’s participation in the Region 1 Bantam volleyball championships here. That meant going solo for two games. No one to pass off to, and only one extended intermission during the games where I would be off-air.
But, though mistakes plagued my work, the longer my on-air time went on, the more comfortable and fun it became—though I have no idea how CBC’s Chris Cuthbert made it sound so easy when he was pressed into action as a one-man broadcast team during a Washington-New Jersey NHL playoff game several years ago.
His impeccable work that night, with no graphics or intermission guests along with no colour man, was sheer magic.
You can judge my handiwork for yourself this Saturday when Shaw plans to air the three games back-to-back.
Hopefully, there will be more chances in the future to exercise my vocal chords for a sports TV audience to hear. But if not, it was a swell ride while it lasted.
• • •
While I was broadcasting the Saturday afternoon game at the Ice for Kids Arena between Taggs and the Neebing Hawks (Thunder Bay), more proof that the Canadian Hockey Association needs to continue with their “Relax, it’s just a game” TV commercial spots.
Hawks’ defenceman Nelson Matyasovsky was taken down on a high-sticking infraction called against Taggs’ Matt McLellan, and lay there for several minutes in what looked to be a great deal of pain.
Directly underneath the press box, a heated argument broke out between supporters of both sides as to the extent of the young player’s injury.
Why were any comments necessary from either side? Why could the proper thing not have been done by both sides, which was to put aside their confrontational nature and simply applaud the player (as both the Taggs and Hawks benches admirably did) as he was helped off the ice?
And why were there several instances of parents of players yelling at their own kids or, ridiculously, at other players who weren’t even their sons?
Because the message still isn’t getting through. Parents should be enjoying their child’s on-ice experiences, not ruining it for them.
Of all the background information I’ve read about Wayne Gretzky, there’s not one sliver of recorded proof that suggests Walter Gretzky ever yelled at his oldest hockey-playing son while a game was in progress. Funny thing about that: as I seem to remember, his son turned out to be pretty good.
Get it through your heads, people: the game’s not about you. It’s about the kids. The quicker you figure that out, the better off minor hockey will be for it.
• • •
The Muskie girls’ hockey team will get to be soldiers of goodwill off the ice here this Saturday.
Various members of the team will be braving the winter weather while manning their posts as part of the Salvation Army’s Christmas kettle campaign outside of the CIBC on Scott Street from 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Drop by and give them a smile, a thanks for helping out, and a donation to make the Christmas season a little merrier for the underprivileged here in the community.
• • •
Fort Frances native Jeff Plumridge and his teammates on the Guelph Gryphons men’s swim team had some noteworthy results at the recent Eynon Division championships as part of the OUA swimming season.
While Plumridge didn’t make it to the podium at the meet, he’s on the cusp of achieving national qualifying standards, which would allow him to participate in higher-level CIS meets later this season.
• • •
The 31st-annual Canadian Sport Awards, put on by the Spirit of Sport Foundation, will be held at the CBC headquarters in Toronto—and nominations in various categories are being accepted now.
When it comes to the athletes themselves, awards will be handed out in the Male and Female Athlete of the Year, Junior Male and Female Athlete of the Year, Male and Female Team of the Year, and Partners of the Year.
In the leadership awards group, honours up for grabs include the Athlete Leadership Award, the Volunteer Achievement Award, the Leadership in Sport Award, and the Coach of the Year Award.
There also are corporate excellence awards as well as the Spirit of Sport Story of the Year Award, recognizing those who have demonstrated dedication, sportsmanship, respect for others, and a true love of sport.
Any Canadian citizen can nominate an individual, team, or corporation for the Canadian Sport Awards. Individuals and corporations also can self-nominate.
Eligible entries are for performances or contributions from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2003. Nomination packages are available at www.spiritofsport.ca
Submissions must be sent to the Spirit of Sport Foundation, c/o CSA Selection Advisory Committee, 2197 Riverside Dr., Suite 300, Ottawa, Ont., K1H 7X3, and must be received no later than 4 p.m. (CST) on Jan. 15.
I’ve been a play-by-play broadcaster most of my life.