Game on. Again

In the grand scheme of things, sports may not save lives, cure disease or reduce climate change. But its absence for many months then gradual return highlighted its importance to our mental health.

Even when denied the opportunity for competition, athletes and weekend warriors found ways to stay active, overcome challenges and strive for goals.

And when the games returned they were more than ready to play with renewed enthusiasm and dedication.

The fabric of our lives and community are richer when the fields, pitches, diamonds, pools and gyms are alive with the sounds and sights of sports. Because in the end, it’s not about winners and losers, it’s about just being able to play. Again.

Here’s some of my favourite sports photos from 2021, when the games came back. It’s great to be back on the sideline. (Be sure to click on the “i” icon when you go into the photo gallery to learn a little about how the photo was made)

Putting the coverage into local coverage

This is what local coverage is about.

Saturday, we had two local teams playing in the two varsity semifinal games at BC Place Stadium to determine the opponents for next week’s Subway Bowl provincial high school football championships.

This is typically a pretty big deal.

The kids get to play in the grand environs of a big-time stadium. A couple or few thousands fans fill a section of the expansive grandstand. The local TV stations usually send a crew or cameraman to put together a highlight package (in fact, in days of yore I think they even showed the final game live on one of the stations), the daily papers assign at least a reporter and photographer. Also on the sidelines would be the reporters and photographers from the various community papers if one of their local teams was participating.

It’s always been a lot of fun. We’d get to shoot some dedicated young athletes in relatively decent light, catch up with our colleagues and compete for the best coverage.

But local news resources are now so depleted, the sideline media contingent last night consisted pretty much of myself, a former newspaper journalist who now blogs about high school sports and a reporter from one of the dailies who spent a good chunk of time trying to figure out how he could get a hot dog (can’t say I blame him; don’t even get me started on the demise of the food buffets that used to be provided at big time sporting events to ease the hunger pangs of journalists working at their event).

As we had two teams from our coverage area playing for the possibility of an all-Tri-City final for the first time, I pitched my editor this was an opportunity for us to go big.

With my colleague @KyleBalzer up in the press box handling the writing and live posts to social media, I was able to concentrate on shooting.

At halftime of each game, I headed up to download a couple of photos for the quick hit he’d post to our website and social media channels immediately after each game. Following the final whistle, I edited a more complete take while he gathered quotes and produced a more fulsome account.

Within an hour of the end of each game, visitors to tricitynews.com were able to read a complete game story with accompanying photo gallery and even a few video clips Kyle shot with his phone from the press box.

The daily has yet to post its story (maybe the photos they were going to get from one of the organizers weren’t any good).

The morning news show on TV didn’t even mention the scores.

The blogger is probably sleeping in.

The hits we get on our website may not come close to the traffic generated by a story about a local crime wave or a reader’s screed about a parking ticket, but I’d like to think each one we get will go away from our site appreciative of our commitment to cover the community and then return to us again when they want to find out what’s going on in their neighbourhood or across town.

And for Kyle and I, the evening was a chance for each of us to do what we do best so we could provide our readers the best coverage — even if we were really hungry…

Sports is more than just fun and games

It’s been awhile.

As the end of 2021 draws nigh, we continue to struggle for normalcy.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still all around us, changing the way we work and how we interact. Our newsroom continues to work mostly from our homes, meeting occasionally over Zoom, daily on Slack. Who’d ever even heard of those apps before all of this started?

But compared to last year at this time, we’ve come a long way.

Not every story we tell now has a pandemic context. Events are starting to happen again. Sports is happening again.

That’s been huge.

While most of the sports I’ve covered over the past several years — first at the papers in Burnaby and New Westminster, then the past four years in the Tri-Cities — has been off the side of my desk, it’s still my passion for shooting and writing. So much so, that even when the pandemic shut down pretty much all sports at every level, the only times I wasn’t able to get some sort of sports coverage into the paper was when ads took my space.

I’ve always been a proponent of a feature-based approach to sports coverage. Partly as a survival strategy because it allows me to stockpile stories to be parsed out when other duties are more demanding. Partly because blow-by-blow game reports filed in a weekly paper seem so futile in this age of social media and live streaming.

Mostly, I love covering sports because it’s such fertile ground for interesting and compelling features. They’re stories of triumph and adversity, hopes and dreams. They offer drama, pathos and even humour.

Sports is a microcosm of life, played out on the ice, the pitch, the diamond, the hardwood.
In the past year, I told stories about:

a pro hockey player getting back on the ice after overcoming cancer three times;
a young boy knocked off his BMX bike by a similar diagnosis;
student-athletes coping with the uncertainties of the pandemic on both their academic and athletic aspirations;
a hockey team’s commitment to providing its players supports for their mental and emotional well-being;
a young lacrosse player who can’t play because he can’t find a helmet that fits his head;
a minor pro baseball player toiling for a team named after a hot dog;
a basketball player thriving on the court despite being deaf

Yet, sports continues to struggle for respect from editors.

After photographers, sports reporters have paid a heavy price for our industry’s woes. I know several who were punted to the bench because their beat was deemed more expendable than say covering city council or school board, their work not as important, well read or generating as many hits.

But sports coverage is a huge community builder, a point of entry for readers — especially younger ones — who might not otherwise get engaged by the latest drama unfolding at school board meetings. And in the newspaper industry’s rush to stanch the bleeding, those roles have largely been neglected, further distancing us from our lifeblood.

A feature story about a young athlete heading to university to play a sport they only took up in Grade 12 won’t affect your taxes or property values, or alert you to alter your commute to work, but it will give you a glimpse into your community and the diversity of the people who populate it. And it might even make you smile, feel a bit better about where you live, more connected to your community.

To be successful — heck, even relevant is an achievement these days — newspapers must be all those things. We must inform, but we also need to entertain, evoke emotion, broaden your understanding of the world around you, even if that world is just down your street or across town.

2020: Enough said

It all started so innocently, a couple of stories about local people caught out on cruise ships as a mysterious virus swept through passengers and crew.

Then, more stories on the news about sick people filling hospitals in New York City.

But it took an NBA basketball player testing positive for the novel coronavirus, and the subsequent cancellation of his team’s game that was set to start only moments later that really set 2020 off on its own extraordinary tangent.

Suddenly the reality and seriousness of this new contagion hit home with a resounding thud.

Little did we know at the time just how that thud would reverberate through the year.

My own wife and son were in Arizona, visiting her parents who are snowbirds just outside of Phoenix. My son was excited to see his first NHL game that Thursday night, the Arizona Coyotes vs. his beloved Vancouver Canucks. Alas, it too was cancelled. There were tears.

Then came the scramble to get home before borders were closed. Flights were delayed, worried texts exchanged.

Upon their arrival we headed home where we encamped in self-isolation for two weeks, as prescribed by public health authorities. It all felt a little extreme and overwrought at the time, but in a few weeks, we figured, it would all be over and we could laugh at this weird blip in our routine.

How wrong we were.

The COVID-19 pandemic has coloured virtually every story we told in the Tri-City News since March. In fact, the acronym pretty much auto-fills now every time we type a capital “C.”

The first few weeks of covering the COVID story were a mad scramble just to keep up with reporting on cancellations, closures, and new protocols. As it became apparent this virus would be more than a diversion in the calendar, we settled in for the long haul, looked for stories about people coping, finding their new normal.

We didn’t have to look very hard.

As miserable as 2020 has been — for so many reasons — there have been just as many reasons to celebrate a year that brought out the best in so many people, tested our communities and found them much more resilient and enduring than we’d ever imagined.

In the context of a global pandemic, no story felt too small or mundane, because every one had the potential to offer hope and reassurance we’d all get through this.

Here are some of my favourite photos that accompanied many of those stories. If you click through to the gallery, you’ll be able to read a bit of commentary about each image.