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.