Pandemic forces youth basketball program to take it to the street

This is part of a series reprising some of the stories I’ve covered for The Tri-City News during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As some summer youth basketball programs struggle to find a way to operate amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Coquitlam’s Panther Hoops is taking it to the streets — or, more specifically, the parking lot — thanks to the collective effort of some volunteer parents.

Shut out of school gyms and community centres that are mostly still closed, and loathe to overstay its welcome at some outdoor facilities like Port Coquitlam’s Evergreen Park, Panther Hoops’ head coach Doug Dowell said the program needed a more permanent solution to make its plans to put on a full schedule of summer camps viable and sustainable.

“The pressure was on us to find a place we could call our own.”

That’s when several parents decided if they built it, the kids could play.

Over the course of a rainy weekend in June, when pretty much every weekend was damp, they cleaned up detritus from the parking lot behind BC Christian Academy where the program is based, bored deep holes into the pavement, assembled four full-sized basketball nets with glass backboards and poured concrete to lock them in place. A welder was brought in to add another level of security.

The result is an urban playground worthy of a Woody Harrelson streetball movie, set against a backdrop of an auto repair shop, crooked fibreboard fencing and stacks of shipping containers.

More importantly, Dowell said, the makeshift courts have allowed Panther Hoops to offer co-ed day camps for players aged 7 to 16, and evening camps three times a week for more experienced high school players.

Dowell said the camps are an important element of Panther Hoops’ broadened mandate to serve the wider community after it started 13 years ago as a prep program at BC Christian to develop elite players who could contend for post-secondary scholarship opportunities.

The public health emergency threatened to derail that progress.

Dowell said he quickly recognized moving outdoors was the solution.

“With this whole COVID thing, people are on the edge,” he said. “We wanted to get the kids out the door.”

With no gym at BC Christian, Panther Hoops has always led a nomadic existence, so it ventured as far as Pitt Meadows to find open-air facilities it could use for small groups of kids working on their individual skills.

Dowell said one of the biggest challenges was getting his staff of experienced coaches that includes longtime high school coach Rich Goulet, former Cape Breton University bench boss David Petroziello, and former Pitt Meadows Marauders star player Scott Walton, to deconstruct routines they’ve run for years and reassemble them as individual drills that don’t require sharing the ball or close-quarters defence.

He said the exercise has been refreshing.

“In a way, it’s helped us realign ourselves.”

The end result, Dowell said, is a more innovative, free-form approach to basketball, more akin to creative streetball than the regimented strategies and patterns of the sport when it’s played in the gym and a final score matters.

“It’s made you get more into the ingenuity,” Dowell said. “It’s a missing part of the game.”

The weekly camps, that run through to the end of August, have full safety procedures in place, like a staged entrance to the outdoor facility after each participant has answered a health questionnaire, had their temperature checked as well as recorded, and their hands sanitized. Players must also bring their own ball which can be used only by them exclusively, although it’s also wiped down frequently during sessions and before they head home for the day.

And while the outdoor venue means the odd session may get washed away, the kids don’t lose out, as each is issued a punch card so a missed day can be made up as part of another camp.

Dowell said their summer of survival is actually allowing the program to thrive.

“True growth in the sport will only happen when you think outside the box,” he said.

Or in the case of Panther Hoops, outside the gym.

Chalk murals brighten spirits, garage doors in Port Moody neighbourhood

This is a part of a series reprising stories I covered during the COVID-19 pandemic for The Tri-City News.

What started as a little activity to draw chalk rainbows on the pavement has transformed a Port Moody neighbourhood into a gallery of giant colourful murals that is bringing people together and lifting spirits during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Ladawne Shelstad said she was going through a rough emotional patch early in the pandemic when her six-year-old daughter, Maddyn, suggested they create rainbows on the road in front of their Klahanie townhouse.

“They’re a symbol of hope,” Maddyn said.

Working together, Shelstad found the mother and daughter project soothed her anxiety. It also fired her creativity. So they extended their effort to their garage door, decorating it with a giant heart.

When Shelstad discovered one of her neighbours was a nurse, she doodled on paper a design for a mural of thanks she could chalk on her garage door.

A project manager in the communications industry who’d taken some art courses “years ago,” Shelstad found inspiration in stained glass windows. Using tape and a little elbow grease to get the wooden doors clean of dust and grime so the chalk could adhere, she and Maddyn did one mural, and then another as neighbours enquired whether their garages could be included in the project as well. A donation of chalk helped push them along.

Shelstad said the one to eight hours she spent working on each mural were “completely uplifting.” She met some neighbours for the first time, learned about their own interests and challenges navigating the pandemic. Three of them are health care workers, she discovered, along with a teacher who’s coping with doing her job from home, and even some people who’ve lost their job.

“We’re all part of the same thing,” she said. “We’re in this together, but apart.”
Other neighbours enquired about designing their own murals.

Before long every garage door in Shelstad’s lane had been decorated and the gallery has even extended to other lanes in the complex, some fences and the brick rostrum at the entrance to their street.

Shelstad said the project has showed her the power creativity can have to help people get through tough times. So others can explore the healing salve of their own expression, she’s also assembled kits of chalk and art supplies, with proceeds going to Share family and community services.

“You find what gives you joy,” she said. “The whole neighbourhood has embraced something. We’ve been in this glorious bubble of positivity.”

Port Moody woman’s ratings of Skype backgrounds gets worldwide attention

This is part of a look back at pandemic stories I’ve written for The Tri-City News.

When Jessie Bahrey settles in to her Port Moody apartment to catch up on the nightly news, she’s not noting the latest federal assistance program being announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, or MSNBC correspondent John Heilemann’s analysis of the American response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She’s looking for the succulent that would add a pop of colour to the bookshelves behind Trudeau’s head or what fruit Heilemann has ripening in the bowl on his kitchen counter.
Bahrey, along with her Washington, D.C.-based partner, Claude Taylor, have become the pre-eminent Twitter authorities on what’s going on behind TV journalists, politicians, pundits and even a few scattered celebrities as they’re being interviewed from home or office on virtual platforms like Skype and Zoom.

For the office manager at Muldoon Greenhouses in Port Coquitlam, her newfound avocation started as a bit of a lark between the long-distance couple. But in just three weeks, their Room Rater Twitter account, @ratemyskyperoom, has grown to more than 133,000 followers, some of them the very targets of their sharp eyes and gentle humour.

“Everybody was talking about them but not doing the rating,” Bahrey said of their background critiques. “This was supposed to be a fun little thing we did for giggles.”

Shifting each other off according to their respective time zones and work schedules, the pair spend about 11 hours a day watching various American and Canadian news programs, taking screen grabs and dishing out their opinions. So far, they’ve posted more than 1,300 times. Neither has a background in interior design, although Bahrey admitted they’re both “news junkies.”

She said aside from the environs in which the interview is being conducted, they also pay attention to the lighting and camera angle.

Bahrey said it’s been illuminating to see how people used to working in controlled studios, where the lighting is perfect and backgrounds are designed to complement rather than distract, have adjusted to the more intimate and ad hoc settings of their homes.

Some, like former deputy prime minister John Manley, and New York Times correspondent Trip Gabriel, haven’t fared so well. Their low-angle perspectives that emphasize the blank walls and ceiling behind them make them look more like “hostage videos,” she said.

“Blink twice if we should call the police,” Bahrey wrote of Manley’s appearance.
Others show careful attention to detail.

Bahrey praised musician John Legend’s interview, conducted as he sat at his piano, a bookcase of Grammy awards to his left and the rest of his bright living room fading back into the distance.

“All the way back as far as you could see, it was just peaceful,” she said, adding the couple has purposely avoided doing too many celebrity critiques as they have the wealth and image self-awareness to ensure they have nice backgrounds.

Former First Ladies Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton also got raves.

Some targets of Room Rater’s reviews have even reached out through direct messages for tips. MSNBC’s Heilemann gave them a heads up to watch the fruit bowl as it evolved through several on-air appearances then culminated with a guest appearance by his great dane.

Will Reeve, a reporter on ABC’s Good Morning America, reached out to rebut the couple’s criticism of his no-pants appearance on the morning news magazine program.

Bahrey said seeing so many prominent and important people in their home environment, with all the distractions that can come with it, has helped humanize them.

“The biggest thing is they are very much like us,” she said. “Just because they’re famous, doesn’t mean they don’t struggle with the same things we do.”

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SCREENGRAB Port Moody’s Jessie Bahrey is paying close attention to backgrounds during Skype interviews on TV, including her own appearance on Global National.

Bahrey said the project has been a fun distraction from watching all the doom and gloom of growing infection numbers and death rates.

“It breaks up the bad news cycle,” she said. “It gives us a sense of community, that we’re all in this together.”

Pandemic resurrects Elvis

This is the first in a retrospective of stories from the COVID-19 pandemic. All appeared in The Tri-City News.

It took a pandemic to revive Elvis.

Or, at least, one of his impersonators, who’s resurrecting his career by bringing his act to neighbourhoods on lockdown because of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

For 30 years, Coquitlam’s Darren Lee was one of the best tribute artists of the famed performer who died in 1977.

In 1997, Lee won the World Elvis Championship in Memphis, Tennessee. He played Las Vegas for 11 years, followed by a four-year run in Maui.

But then, a couple of years ago, a business partnership went bad and — long story short — Lee left the island and found himself back in British Columbia.

“My self-motivation at that point was pretty nil,” he said, adding the lack of gigs eventually neccesitated taking a job driving deliveries for a restaurant supply company so he could get back on his feet.

Still, Lee felt a hunka hunka burning love to perform.

“Your voice has been singing for all these years, your legs are used to doing all these moves,” he said. “I’m older, but I’m not done.”

Opportunity knocked when Lee’s brother in Edmonton, Robin Kelly, launched Facebook Live performances of his own Elvis tribute act to weather the shutdowns of entertainment venues and large gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The two collaborated weekly, accepting tips by PayPal.

But Lee’s upstairs neighbours weren’t as appreciative.

So he got in his car, popped some backing tracks into the stereo, rolled down the windows, balanced his phone on the console and went for a drive.

The rolling Facebook performances caught the attention of a friend in Port Coquitlam, who invited Lee to join her neighbourhood’s nightly 7 p.m. cacophony of appreciation for frontline workers. His guest appearance turned into an impromptu two-hour concert that only ended when his car’s battery died.

Even though the audience was no more than 10 people — all properly practising physical distancing — Elvis was back.

“It was the biggest audience I’ve had in months,” Lee said. “You want to get that applause. I thrive on it.”

Lee said he feels his temperature rising. In fact, he’s taking requests for guest appearances in other neighbourhoods. And his brain is flaming with plans to reinvigorate his career when the health emergency has passed.

“I’m an entertainer, it’s what I do,” he said.

Telling stories in a pandemic

The past four months have been: exhausting, exhilarating, challenging, frustrating, frightening, disorienting, illuminating and rewarding. They’ve also been frantic, difficult in many ways, actually easier in others. There have been days fuelled by adrenaline, others bogged by drudgery.

I guess that’s what it’s like to cover the biggest story of our lifetime, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initially, it seemed so remote as our newsroom localized stories of the respiratory virus sweeping through faraway cruise ships by chasing down family members of some of those trapped in seagoing quarantines.

Then, suddenly, it was upon us and we were being advised to prepare to begin working from home.

Those initial days were a blur of feeding constant updates to our website of postponements, then outright cancellations and closures. Like waves, they kept coming. We were telling the story of the dismantling of virtually aspect of our lives that we’ve come to take for granted. Every five minutes the news just seemed to get worse.

Along the way, we lost colleagues — our longtime editor and most senior reporter — as the pandemic also became an economic catastrophe. None of us were in the newsroom to say goodbye.

When we were first dispatched to our ad hoc home offices, most of us thought it would be for no more than a month, maybe six weeks. We cobbled together new systems for copy flow, dug out earbuds from desk drawers to be able to conduct all of our interviews by phone as well as hear each other during virtual editorial meetings. I tried to limit my own excursions out into the community shoot photos to an afternoon or morning a week.
Freebie stock photos became our visual tool of necessity, as much as that pained me as a photojournalist who’s felt the sting of our profession’s devaluation over the last decade.

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MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS The blossoms are in full bloom at Coquitlam’s Town Centre park, bringing the hopefullness of spring amidst the anxiety of the public health and economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once everything had been cancelled or closed, we shifted our coverage to tell the stories of coping: businesses finding new ways to serve their customers; educators and students navigating the unfamiliar world of remote learning; gyms going virtual; breweries doing deliveries; artists and musicians stretching their creative inclinations in unexpected directions; people figuring out ways to stay connected in a world of self-isolation.

The innovation, determination and resilience we encountered in the community every day was invigorating, a balm that countered the daily dose of bad news about infection rates, deaths and a grim prognosis for the future.

Now, as the smothering blanket of the public health emergency begins to slowly, carefully lift, we are telling the stories of what the new normal is going to look like for the next while: what it’s like to get a haircut; go out for a meal; participate in civic affairs; get a library book; visit a park. Every aspect of the communities we cover, the routines of daily life must now be viewed through the prism of the pandemic, which makes pretty much everything newsworthy.

It’s simultaneously daunting and energizing.

It’s introducing us to people and corners of our communities that we might not otherwise have ever known about. It’s challenging us to tell stories in new ways. It’s opening our minds to possibilities. It might even be wiping some of the jaundice from eyes that have seen so much over the years they’d become numb.

Over the next little while, I’ll be reprising some of my favourite stories of the past several months, a moment in our time, and my career, unlike any other.

Looking back at 2019

Photos are the soul of a newspaper, our windows into the communities we cover and the stories we tell.

What might take a writer several sentences or paragraphs to tell, a photo has to capture in a mere glance. And getting to that storytelling moment isn’t just a matter of holding up the camera and saying, “OK, now it’s time to take a photo.”

A good photo isn’t “taken.” It’s made.

Good photography can seem effortless. But into each photo goes a multitude of decisions, all of which must inform how the push of the shutter button will serve the story, whether it’s on our website or in our weekly print edition.

At a time when pretty much everyone can take a photo by reaching into their pocket and pulling out their smart phone, news photos have to be something more than just a record that somebody showed up and did just that.

Here, then, is our retrospective of some of the photos we made in 2019, along with a bit of information about the thought processes and technical considerations that went into them.

Despite personal loss, Clay keeps winning

This story originally appeared in The Tri-City News.

Clay Stevenson knew everything was going to be alright when he made 39 saves and shut out the Surrey Eagles 3-0. It was his first game of the BC Hockey League season, and the second for his Coquitlam Express.

It was also his first time strapping on his goalie equipment since his mom, Holly, died by suicide just 10 days earlier.

Stevenson, in his third year with the Express, said that moment has helped propel him to the best season of his career. And his team has followed, all the way to the top of the league standings.

A middle child between two sisters, Stevenson grew up in Alberta and British Columbia after his parents split up when he was a toddler.

At 16, Stevenson finally made the decision to move in with his mom, who was living in Chilliwack at the time, as the Lower Mainland offered more opportunities and access to better coaching to pursue his hockey ambitions.

Stevenson said his mom was always supportive, even as she endured personal struggles with her sexual identity and navigated a challenging career change from dental assistant to paramedic.

When Stevenson left for 100 Mile House to play Junior B, his mom arranged to be posted in that community’s ambulance station so she could support her son and even catch some of his games between shifts.

Stevenson said her sacrifices to ensure he always had the right equipment and to get up at four in the morning so he could get to practice left an indelible mark.

“I wanted to do my best to show her that it was going to pay off.”

It wasn’t always easy, though.

After playing 25 games for the 100 Mile House Wranglers, where he posted a 3.12 goals-against average, Stevenson joined the Express for the 2017/’18 season. He won only four of the 23 games he played, and his GA average ballooned to 3.89.

Still, Stevenson said the foundations of fortitude and perseverance he learned from his mom pushed him forward.

“Everything she did, she wanted to do to the best of her capabilities,” he said. “That rubbed off on me.”

The next season, Stevenson won 14 games and cut more than half a goal from his average. The congratulatory texts from his mom and the proud postings on her Facebook page became more frequent.

“Honestly, it was a bit embarrassing, but that’s what she loved to do.”

TRAGIC NEWS

Stevenson learned of his mom’s death after a practice.

He was watching TV with his “billet brother” at the Coquitlam home where he stays during the season when his younger sister, Brie, showed up at the front door.

Stevenson said he knew his mom had been having a difficult year, struggling with her mental health, but he never expected the news his sister delivered.

It hit him hard.

The next days were a whirlwind as family came to town and a funeral had to be arranged.

Stevenson missed a pre-season game. But on Sept. 7, he attended the Express’ regular season opener, watching his teammates from the stands.

“Going to the rink takes your mind off things,” Stevenson said. “When I come here, I know it’s going to be a normal day. Just go out there and play hockey.”

Express coach Jason Fortier said creating that sense of normalcy was key to helping Stevenson and his teammates get through the tragedy.

“We’re here to support the players in any way we can,” he said.

By Sept. 10, Stevenson said he was ready to play, saying it’s what his mom would have wanted.

“My mom loved hockey,” he said. “She wouldn’t want me to mope around.”

COURAGE & RESOLVE

Stevenson said he was nervous about how he would get through his first game knowing he would never see his mom smiling up in the stands again or receive one of her texts after a good performance. He pulled a chain through one of her rings that she often wore to twist away her anxiety and wore it around his neck.

Stevenson said that first game back after her death got easier as it went on.

“After the first period, I knew I had to be clear and present, and knowing what I had to do out there.”

He was all that and more. His shutout earned him recognition as the game’s first star. More importantly, he set an example for his team that has reverberated through the season.

“The way I was able to handle myself in that situation was a symbol of strength for my team,” he said. “We can get through anything and come out on top.”

Fortier said Stevenson’s courage and resolve to get through his first game became a bit of a rallying point for the whole team.

“It built confidence in themselves at how good they can be to help their teammate achieve something special,” he said.

The clarity Stevenson achieved in that first game hasn’t waned. He has posted 22 wins and just two losses. He has three shutouts and his goals-against average is a miserly 1.45. He was the league’s player of the month for November.

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MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Coquitlam Express goalie Clay Stevenson stops Penticton Vees forward David Silye in tight in the second period of their BC Hockey League game, Wednesday at the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex.

And while his mom may not be physically present at the rink or on the phone to share his success, Stevenson said he still feels her presence.

“I don’t know if I’m a spiritual guy, but I like to think she’s looking down and watching me when I’m playing,” he said, adding she may even have a hand when a shot he’s missed hits the post behind him.

“I want to keep making her proud.”

The hoop heard ’round the internet means so much more at Port Moody school

There’s few things more aggravating to a newspaper journalist than getting beat to a story by TV. That’s especially true today, in this post-literal-all-social-media-all-the-time age when too many people get their immediate news high from quick-hit, superficial digital media; why bother taking the time to read a well-crafted story with context and nuance when you can absorb the big bits in a 30-second clip from YouTube?
Last week I got burned twice, in 24 hours.
The first story is one I’ve been sitting on for months, holding off because I was asked to due to its sensitivity. I was confident I would eventually get it, but I was also respectful of the situation.
Then, it showed up on TV.
The other was one of those viral moments that newscasts like to feature because they make people smile or gasp and absolves them of having a reporter or video journalist on the payroll who could otherwise fill that 30-second time slot.
Usually I dismiss such stories, as they tend to flare up and then burn out quickly; such is the half-life of electronic news these days. But this one happened right in our backyard, and I sensed there was likely more layers to the story than the post on Twitter that lit the fuse could summarize in 140 characters.
In such an instance, you’re playing catch-up right out of the gate. That the story caught fire late on a Friday and we don’t work weekends made it doubly difficult.
Should I even bother? I wondered. After all, such stories inevitably become about the number of views the viral video got because viewers love that kind of data and it doesn’t require a lot of manpower or time to tell.
But as the weekend went on, I burned to know the rest of the story. Driving to the office, I resigned to playing catch-up but I was determined to tell the story better, and in a way that would hopefully resonate with our own community.

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Reid Demelo was excited to get the opportunity to take a shot in a high school basketball game.

But the Grade 12 student at Heritage Woods secondary school in Port Moody never imagined his moment of sporting glory would be seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. That it would capture the attention of local TV stations and national Canadian and American networks — including CBC’s The National and CBS Sports. That it would spark an effort by his schoolmates to get him on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Demelo’s shot, arcing through the air just as time ran out in the Kodiaks’ opening game of their own ninth annual Kodiak Klassic senior boys’ basketball tournament last Thursday wasn’t a winner. (Heritage Woods beat the Kitsilano Blues handily, 79-45.)

It wasn’t Demelo’s only basket of the game — he had sunk another shot about 20 seconds earlier.

It wasn’t even the first time Demelo had come off the bench from his usual role as team manager to get a chance to play — he’d had a similar opportunity last season.

But that shot was so much more than all of the attention it’s getting.

It was, said Heritage Woods principal Todd Clerkson, a celebration of the power of acceptance and inclusion amongst young people.

“Reid knows everybody,” he said. “He brings people together.”

Demelo has Down syndrome.

His life revolves around sports. In addition to playing basketball, he swims competitively, participates in track and field and ultimate, and he’s on the Team BC Special Olympics training squad for speed skating. He also fills water bottles for his younger brother’s academy hockey team at Burnaby Winter Club.

Last year, Demelo took on a similar role with the Kodiaks senior boys’ basketball team.

In addition to keeping the players hydrated or handing them a towel to dab their sweaty brows, he’s also a tireless booster, said Kodiaks coach Greg Schellenberg.

“Reid is such a positive individual,” he said. “He’s got such a great spirit about him.”

So when the throng of more than 1,000 students that traditionally fills the bleachers for the home school’s lunchtime opener began chanting “We want Reid! We want Reid!” in the game’s waning moments, Schellenberg knew what he had to do.

He affirmed his notion with co-coach Roj Johal, then called a timeout with 35 seconds on the clock to talk to the Kitsilano coach, Sylvester Noel, who gave his blessing.

Demelo got the nod but, as a team manager, he doesn’t have a jersey.

So teammate Morgan Liski loaned him his #11, which Demelo pulled on over his maroon “We are Kodiaks” t-shirt.

Demelo, a point guard who has been playing basketball with the Tri-City Youth Basketball Association — where his mom, Jana Demelo, is also a coach — since he was in Grade 2 and takes every opportunity to shoot hoops with his high school colleagues during practice and at home in his driveway, said he was excited and nervous to get on the court.

“I came out flying,” he said.

Demelo got his first touch of the ball after Heritage Woods regained possession from the Blues on a rebound. He scored.

A few moments later, the Kodiaks were able to wrest the ball away again. Viktor Glogovac made a pass behind his back to Demelo, who corralled it then planted his feet just beyond the three-point line. As players from both sides watched in anticipation, he launched a perfect rainbow. The game-ending buzzer sounded just as the ball crested.

And then, bedlam.

The bleachers emptied in a wild celebration. Demelo’s teammates chased him to the opposite end of the court, where they embraced their manager in a bouncing, roiling dance of unbridled joy.

“That was the best moment,” Demelo said, adding he was thinking of his best buddy, former Kodiak star Zach Hamed, who’s sitting out his first year of basketball eligibility at the University of Victoria this season and was in the crowd at Heritage Woods last Thursday. And he said he thought of the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry, the NBA superstar he’d like to meet someday.

Clerkson said it was an apt moment because everybody at the school knows and loves Demelo.

“Reid is just so genuine. He supports all the events at the school and the kids appreciate that,” he said, adding Demelo was presented a special Spirit of the Kodiak award last year for his positive contributions to Heritage Woods and his fellow students.

“Nobody embodies that spirit better,” Clerkson said.

“It was an incredible moment to be there and experience it,” Schellenberg said. “It showcases what a great community we have at Heritage Woods that’s so supportive.”

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Monday, with the principal handling a steady stream of media requests, Demelo was free to accept the smiles, high-fives and hugs of nearly everyone he passed in the halls between classes.

It’s “awesome,” he said, but the team has a game at the Langley Events Centre in the Howard Tsumura Invitational tournament on Wednesday, and he needs a ride.

When friends open a brewery

There has been more than a few beer stories in these pages. But this latest one has a bit of a twist.

These newly-minted brewers are friends; they ride in our cycling group. Or, at least they did, until they decided to open a brewery.

Actually, their new venture is been brewing for more than a couple of years. But as any entrepreneur knows, getting a new enterprise successfully off the ground all comes down to crunch time.

Thankfully, they were able to take a few moments out of their hectic days leading up to their grand opening to allow me to help tell their story.

Spry seniors pilot Big Bike for charity

As the Tri-City News’ ad-hoc cycling reporter, pretty much any story on two wheels gets sent my way. But not all bikes have just two wheels. Or one rider.

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can get him on a bike every couple of years.
At 106 years, Don Simpson certainly qualifies as old. In fact, according to Phil Reist, the driver of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s “Big Bike,” he’s likely the oldest participant to ever ride the 29-passenger behemoth bicycle that helps raise money and awareness to prevent heart disease.
Simpson was the captain of a contingent of spry seniors from the Mayfair Terrace retirement home in Port Coquitlam who took the Big Bike for a 20-minute spin on the roads around Coquitlam Centre last Friday. It wasn’t his first rodeo, though.
Simpson cycled the Big Bike when he was much younger — two years ago when he was 104. But he also remembers riding his bike as a boy around Vancouver’s Stanley Park and attending the six-day bike races at the old China Creek velodrome.
“That was our stomping ground,” he said.
So when it came time to climb aboard the gargantuan single-geared machine, Simpson knew exactly where he wanted to be. He ignored the requests of a photographer and cameraman to mount an outboard seat so they could get a clear shot of him pedalling, and instead scrambled — slowly, and with a bit of help — to the middle row at the very back. After all, who’s going to argue with someone his age?
And with a few last-minute instructions from Reist, a shake of the maracas and other noisemakers to ensure passersby notice the big bike — like they’re going to miss it? — they were off.