The thrill of victory, the challenges of covering pro sports

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to cover the first hometown game for several young NHLers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; Kyle Turris; Ryan Johanssen; Mathew Barzal.

Friday, Port Moody’s Kent Johnson and his Columbus Blue Jackets visited Vancouver for the first time since he joined the team that drafted him fifth overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

We’ve been covering Johnson since he played Major Midget. We did stories when he was playing with the Trail Smoke Eaters in the BC Hockey League, when he moved on to the University of Michigan and his achievements with Canada’s national junior and Olympic teams.

So when the NHL released its 2022–23 schedule last summer, the first thing I looked up was the Blue Jackets’ first game in Rogers Arena. It took them half the season to get here.

You might think covering an NHL game is fun and glamorous; big building, bright lights, loud crowd, the best players in the sport giving it their all.

But it’s a lot of grinding work.

Back in the 1980s, covering a big league game meant a fancy laminated badge on a lanyard that afforded you access wherever you needed to go, a nice pre-game meal — free — in the media lounge, people opening doors for you; unlimited snacks in the press box, printed stats delivered at the end of every period or quarter.

None of those happen anymore.

Navigating restrictions

Covering a pro sporting event in 2023 is mostly about navigating restrictions as best you can, making sure you eat dinner at home before you leave for work and being grateful for any little morsel of access you can scrounge that allows you to do your job. The Canucks don’t even give you a lanyard to wear anymore; the press badge is still laminated, but if you don’t bring your own neck lanyard, you’re left awkwardly clutching this 4X6 card in some way so ushers know you belong.

Even kibitzing with other media members you know from running into each other at previous assignments is a thing of the past, so depleted are our ranks. Most of the press corps in the Columbus dressing room — all four of us — after the team’s morning skate Friday were gathering content for the team’s website and social media channels or working for the league. Sure, they were asking questions and trying to get insight for their audience, but they were essentially PR agents.

Four years ago, when we covered Barzal’s homecoming, you were able to take a hard right after checking in with security and you were in the dressing room area. If we were there at a practice, you could walk through the tunnel and shoot from the visiting team’s bench area.

Now those locations are all curtained off, restricted.

Instead, we have to walk all the way around the arena to a holding area where the team’s PR person will bring out the coach to answer questions, then signal us when we could access the dressing room to talk to the players.

The hole

The old shooting area at Rogers, a private media box at centre ice on the mezzanine level, is also gone. Now there’s a hole cut into the plexiglass at each corner of the rink, so essentially room for four photographers per game.

Last year, after one too many incidents where a puck or stick shot through the open holes, the NHL mandated removable covers and some sort of shield that has to be moved into place by the photographer whenever the play got close.

For media that are there all the time, this gradual erosion of access is likely just more annoying inconveniences; you adjust and carry on. For someone — like myself — who only gets down there once every four or five years, they amp up the already fish-out-of water presence.

Of course, sports teams are private businesses. They have a right to control access; media can’t just walk into factory and start questioning workers and poking around machinery.

The changing dynamic

But the old notion that allowing us to tell their stories is good for their business is gone.

Sports franchises can tell their own stories to connect with their fans (a.k.a. customers) on social media, and of course they’ll only tell the stories they want to be heard. Impartial media is no longer needed, but seeing as we’re still around, increasing the layers of restriction and inconvenience makes it more difficult to get at the stories they don’t want to be told. And with so few of us left, there’s little push-back. We swallow hard, put our heads down and do the best we can.

And it’s only getting worse.

Last week, the company that owns most of Canada’s daily newspaper implemented a ban on travel for its sports reporters. That means no more beat writers covering teams like the Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens when they’re on the road. Winnipeg and Toronto still have independent newspapers, so those teams might still have some coverage away from home.

Not only does such a decision further the circling of the drain for those papers, it makes it that much harder for the beat writers to get to the stories they can dig up from their constant connection to the team. And it gives teams even more ways to control their story.

The day when sports teams shut us out completely, by no longer accrediting us, or selling such accreditation just as they sell tickets, doesn’t seem far off.

The music industry has already ventured down that road; when was the last time you read a review or saw news photos from a concert? In fact, some acts don’t allow media access at all, unless you buy a ticket like all the other fans. And photos are supplied by the artist’s management, likely approved by the artist to ensure they look their absolute best.

It’s a slippery slope to PR.

Here’s the story I did about Kent Johnson’s homecoming game. It was a long 14-hour day.

MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Port Moody’s Kent Johnson wheels out of the corner in his first NHL game in Vancouver since he joined the Columbus Blue Jackets last spring.

‘Obviously this one feels a little bit more special’

Kent Johnson’s dad just can’t wipe the smile off his face.

Ten rows of maroon-coloured seats above the ice, Jay Johnson is intently watching his 20-year-old son wheel around Rogers Arena with his Columbus Blue Jackets teammates, just hours ahead of his first NHL game in front of hometown family and friends from Port Moody.

Just how many, Jay can’t say.

But, he added, he’s dreading his visit to a ticket reseller’s website later in the day to see what he might be able to dig up for some buddies who’ve requested to join the contingent headed to last Friday’s (Jan. 27) game against the Vancouver Canucks.

Kent Johnson said while he didn’t exactly mark his calendar when the NHL released its schedule last summer, playing against the team he cheered for as a kid — not so many years ago, when the Sedins were still playing — is “really exciting.”

“I always wanted to play in this building, so it’s gonna be cool to come full circle,” the 20-year-old told the Tri-City News.

Johnson is in his first full season with the Blue Jackets, who drafted him fifth overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. 

A highly-touted forward who burned up the BC Hockey League (BCHL), scoring 101 points in 52 games in his final season with the Trail Smoke Eaters, then totalled 64 points in 58 games in his two seasons at the University of Michigan, he got a nine-game taste of the NHL late last season after his collegiate season ended.

Johnson said that sampler, along with further chances to play against men at last February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing and the World Hockey Championships a few months later in Helsinki, Finland, helped ease his transition to becoming a full-time professional hockey player.

“It’s been pretty smooth, I’d say.”

In 45 games this season heading into Vancouver, Johnson has nine goals and 14 assists – sixth amongst this year’s crop of NHL rookies.

Likely none of his goals were bigger than the overtime winner he scored Wednesday (Jan. 25) to give the Blue Jackets a 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

The victory earned Johnson and his teammates a day off in Vancouver Thursday (Jan. 26) that the young hero was able to cap off with a family meal at a downtown restaurant.

He said it’s nice to be coming home on the high the overtime goal gave him, but his spirits are always good when he gets on the ice.

“It’s pretty easy to get motivation when you’re in the NHL,” Johnson said. 

“But obviously this one feels a little bit more special.”

Blue Jackets’ coach Brad Larsen said he’s been pleased with Johnson’s progression, even as the team has struggled through a seemingly endless parade of injuries that has left it mired near the bottom of the league standings.

“He’s growing and improving,” Larsen said, adding Johnson’s ability to slow the game down in his mind and read what is about to happen has advanced significantly from the start of the season. 

“He’s got a lot of confidence, a lot of swagger.”

Johnson said he’s just trying to get better and earn more ice time, an aspiration he backs up by generally being the last player off the ice at practices and morning skates. It’s a pattern that hasn’t gone unnoticed among his teammates and the Blue Jackets’ travelling crew who needle him when he finally lopes into the dressing room after Friday’s pre-game skate.

“He’s always working on his game,” Larsen said. “He’s got a tremendous skill set.”

Johnson said having a teammate from his Michigan days, Nick Blankenburg, has made that work more fun, and veterans like Columbus captain Boone Jenner have readily taken the team’s young players under their wings.

That’s helped him respond to some of the challenges that have come his way, like being moved to centre from his usual spot on the left wing position for several games when injuries depleted the Blue Jackets’ corps of pivots.

“He’s handled it very well,” said Larsen of the way Johnson’s handled the curves, adding he has “great poise.”

Up in the stands, Jay Johnson surveys the cavernous arena around him. His son may not have marked the calendar for this day, but he sure did.

“It’s pretty exciting.”

Outreach worker connects with the Tri-Cities’ homeless — one candy bar at a time

Port Coquitlam’s A-Team doesn’t wear khaki cargo pants or drives a black van with a red spoiler.

But like the fictional TV team of mercenaries from which Adam, Amanda and Aaron of the Hope For Freedom Society have adopted their nickname, they spend their days fighting for what’s right: Providing some comfort and goodwill to the Tri-Cities’ homeless population.

Adam Thompson — one of the A’s — says the group’s mission is simple.

They provide the basic necessities to those whose every moment is a toil of survival while offering a conduit to resources that might help ease their struggles, and maybe even get them off the street or out of the bushes.

It’s a job that requires boots on the ground — or rather, a blue van on the road — every day beginning at 7 a.m. when the overnight shelters release their guests to fend for themselves through the daylight hours.

Thompson’s van is stockpiled with supplies that could make the difference between a good day and bad: hot chocolate, candy bars, cigarettes, feminine products, blankets, backpacks, hand warmers.

His rounds take him to the sidewalks, alleyways, garages and parks in Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam where the homeless might hunker down to get out of the rain or cold, or just get some respite from the rigours of existence.

In his 14 months on the job, Thompson said he’s learned to see the signs of street life that would otherwise be easy to miss: a piece of cardboard wrapped around a vent pipe in a parkade to direct warm air, a twist cap from a water bottle with its seal cracked secreted in a patch of grass for future use to administer a fix.

Street cred

Before starting this gig, he said, he was on the road to becoming homeless himself after losing everything to fentanyl addiction.

That near miss, Thompson said, gives him the street cred with the people he meets every day, equips him with the compassion needed to see the humanity in their struggles and the empathy that might just crack the door back to “normie” life.

“To have the past that I have, the population we assist appreciate that I’ve been there,” he said.

It’s not an easy job, Thompson said.

The “wins” are few and incremental.

A nod of greeting, a hand extended, a conversation initiated.

The losses often go home with him at night.

“The things that nag at you are the things you think you may have missed,” he said.

But when one of his clients lets him in to begin the monumental steps of rebuilding their life, it’s affirming, Thompson said.

A success story

That was the case with Brian, who once ran an autobody shop in Port Moody until he fell on hard times and ended up in a decrepit RV parked near the PoCo bottle depot and piled high with his worldly possessions that mostly consisted of large jerry cans filled with his urine.

“It was the worst living situation I’ve ever seen,” Thompson said.

Now living in a rooming house in an established PoCo neighbourhood next to the Coquitlam River, Brian said he was depressed as he gave his life over to booze.

“I was letting myself go,” he said. “I knew something had to change.”

Knock on his door

When Thompson and another member of his team, Amanda, knocked on his door, he knew that change had come.

But, Brian worried, where would it take him? Would he be institutionalized? Would he be sent to rehab even though he doesn’t do drugs?

Thompson said it’s a common worry.

People living on the streets don’t have much other than their self-sufficiency and independence; many clutch those fiercely.

Convincing Brian he could still be independent and have a safe place to begin rebuilding his life “took a bit of coaxing,” Thompson said.

A month later, Brian has a warm room with a proper bed and assurances of his next meals.

“It was a huge moment in my life,” he said of his decision to finally accept help, adding he now has the freedom to look beyond his next waking moment.

He’s even armed himself with colouring pencils to sketch the nearby woods and create bright, geometric designs on squares of paper.

The situation is getting worse

Thompson said he’s seeing more Brians show up in the Tri-Cities as the situation in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside continues to deteriorate.

Shelters can’t keep up with the need and the rapid pace of development in Coquitlam’s City Centre neighbourhood is diminishing the places they can hunker down.

“The need is real,” Thompson said.

(Almost)back to normal

It was the year of getting back to normal. Almost.

After nearly two full years of lockdowns, public health restrictions and mandates, we began to emerge from our cocoons of self-isolation with more antibodies coursing through our veins and renewed determination to return to the familiar patterns of life.

We returned to the work and play.

We got down to business again, toiling to reverse the damages inflicted by pandemic fears and trepidation.

Celebrations and events returned. Though not all.

Fields, gyms and arenas once again filled with the raucous sounds of… life.

But uncertainty was never far away.

A surge of illness last winter brought on by the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus reminded us how tenuous our grasp on normalcy can be in this post-pandemic reality.

These are some of my favourite images of the past year of near-normalcy, along with a bit of commentary about what it took to capture those images.

I like to think of them as a bit of a celebration of the Tri-Cities at a unique moment in our history, but they’re also witness to our resilience and determination to overcome the challenges of the past two years.

A basketball championship for the ages

Two years ago, the provincial girls’ high school basketball championship was the last major varsity sporting event to play to its conclusion before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shut competition down for more than an entire school year.

The Terry Fox Ravens, from Port Coquitlam reached the final. But the team was young and inexperienced, comprised mostly of Grade 10s riding the emotions of playing for a teammate who’d been felled by cancer. They were blown out by an older, bigger, tougher opponent.

It was a tough game to shoot. My heart ached for the players as I focused my lens on the bench for some sort of photo that would show the emotion of their struggle.

Fast forward two years — and one lost season; those sophomores are now seniors and they have the strength and athleticism to carry the memory of their teammate onto the basketball court with conviction. They play their way to the number three ranking in the province, but their ascent is largely lost on me.

Ongoing COVID restrictions cancelled tournament play that is the bread and butter of getting out to shoot some high school hoops during my regular work schedule this winter, as well as a ban on spectators at indoor events at schools made it difficult to follow the season.

So my first encounter with the team since their miserable championship loss was the semifinal of this year’s provincial tournament. The players, so overmatched and humbled two years ago, now played with resolve and tenacity that pulsed off the court. It’s like they were on a mission.

That the only thing standing between the fulfillment of their task would be the top-ranked team in the province all season that happens to be from the other side of town, the Riverside Rapids, added a whole other layer of drama and intrigue to what was to unfold at centre court at the Langley Events Centre.

The showdown didn’t disappoint.

The championship game may have been one of the most intense high school basketball games I’ve ever covered.

While the lead on the scoreboard changed only twice, the ebbs and flows of momentum were epic. The fire in the belly of both teams to prevail burned hot: Terry Fox playing for a beloved teammate seared into their hearts; Riverside playing for a longtime coach who’d been to the final before but never won.

The atmosphere in the gym was electric; it’s rare for two teams from the same city to meet for the provincial championship.

In the end, Fox held on, upsetting the Rapids by two points. It’s the school’s first senior girls provincial basketball championship.

This hatter’s not mad at all

I had the pleasure of hanging out with 72-year-old Robert Gault for about an hour as he worked on one of the custom fedora hats he crafts in the garage of his Port Coquitlam townhouse.

He bought his first hat when he was 13, but it wasn’t until he was looking for something to keep himself busy during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic he started making his own, learning as he went along.

Since gifting one to a friend, Gault’s gained a growing reputation amongst fans of fedoras, who now seek him out over the internet or through word of mouth.

Each fedora takes about 20 hours to complete and can cost hundreds of dollars.

And be sure not to call Gault a millener. They make women’s hats. Men’s hats are crafted by hatters.

‘I want to the change the narrative’

Alana Cook weighs 144 pounds. But when the Port Moody resident steps into the combat octagon, she carries the weight of a nation.

Cook recently won her debut as a professional mixed martial arts fighter. She’s also Métis — on her mother’s side — and works at organizing sports opportunities for Indigenous youth as the Fraser Regional coordinator at I-SPARC, an initiative of three founding First Nations organizations to promote sport and physical activity in their communities.

So when Cook defeated Max Turcotte-Novosedlik by technical knockout 4:23 into the first round of their bout in Calgary Jan. 15, the win was more than just a notch in her fight record.

It was also affirmation of her heritage, her belief in her role as a “female warrior,” and the example she can set for young Indigenous people.

“It’s important to say this is where I come from,” Cook said. “I don’t want to be taken as a ‘token Indian.’”

Growing up in Maple Ridge, Cook played team sports like soccer and volleyball, but when she aged out of the youth leagues, she decided to explore a long-held fascination with martial arts.

Cook said she loved reading comic books and training and sparring in a gym tapped into her inner female superhero.

“I mostly trained for fun,” she said.

But when a job opportunity took Cook to Thailand for a year where Muay Thai kickboxing events are a weekly occurrence in neighbourhoods across the country, she decided for the first time to test herself against an opponent. The ring was set up in a parking lot in Ko Pha Ngan – an island in the southeastern part of the country that’s known for its monthly celebrations of the full moon.

“It was super chaotic,” said Cook, recalling the loud music and boisterous crowd of locals, most of them smoking cigarettes.

The butterflies and adrenaline rush were like nothing she’d ever experienced, Cook said.

She was hooked.

Cook won her first regulation amateur MMA match in 2018 at an All Martial Arts championship card in Vancouver but she then had to take some time off to recover from an injury. The COVID-19 pandemic extended her hiatus.

Cook’s fight in Calgary was part of an all-female card at the Grey Eagle Events Centre promoted by the Pallas Athena Women’s Fighting Championship. She said it was empowering to compete and commune with other women.

“Everyone had hands like me, with short nails and bruised knuckles. I felt among my people.”

Cook, who’s based out of Ascension Martial Arts in Port Coquitlam and Universal MMA in North Vancouver, said much of her preparation for the fight was done out in nature — running on the streets and trails near her Heritage Mountain home, and icy swims in Buntzen Lake.

It’s a regimen she’s intimately familiar with, having earned her Master’s degree in Indigenous land-based education at the University of Saskatchewan after presenting her thesis on using natural environs to promote health and fitness amongst First Nations.

Cook said her success is already having in impact among the young people she works with.

After her win in Calgary, her email Inbox received a steady stream of congratulatory messages from participants in the I-SPARC programs she organizes. She hopes the glow stays with them, teaches them to fight for their dreams as well.

“It means a lot to me to give them someone to look up to,” Cook said.

“I want to change the narrative.”

These Hollywood and basketball stars turn to Port Moody man for their retro Jordans

When Hollywood comedian Kevin Hart or Phoenix Suns basketball player Devin Booker want to secure a special pair of Air Jordan sneakers, it’s a Port Moody man who hooks them up.

Tye Engmann has been buying and selling collectible kicks for the past five or six years. In fact, he’s become so good at it, he bailed out of his second year at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business for the school of hard walks.

Engmann, 20, specializes in vintage Nike Air Jordans. The iconic basketball shoes were first produced for NBA superstar Michael Jordan in 1984 then released to the public in April, 1985. They were an immediate sensation.

Fans who wanted to feel a bit of their hero’s magic wrapped around their toes lined up for hours to get the latest shipments. Muggings, assaults and even a murder to get the shoes became the fodder of media crime blotters.

Some schools banned them outright to curtail the potential for violence.

New Air Jordans have been released yearly since, along with several special editions commemorating milestones in Jordan’s career, historic occasions like the Running of the Bulls in Spain, the player’s relationship with filmmaker Spike Lee who once served as a pitchman for the brand as well as collaborations with various designers.

But Engmann said it’s the original old-school Jordans that elevate his heart rate and boost his bank account.

He said they’re the most collectible not only because so many have disappeared into waste bins over the years, but they were also the best quality.

Engmann said a pair of Jordan 1 Chicago sneakers from 1985 can be worth up to $25,000 if they’re in brand new condition. Other variations like a limited run of that shoe with a black sole when the manufacturer ran out of red rubber, or an iteration with a special strap that was added when Michael Jordan was recovering from an ankle injury are even more rare.

Engmann discovered his passion for sneakers when he was young. He said he coveted a pair of white and black Adidas NMD low-tops that featured some Japanese writing on the sides.

“I just wore them because I liked them,” Engmann said of the shoes that he eventually bought off a reseller because all the usual retailers were sold out. “They were actually really comfortable.”

The unique look of the footwear sparked his interest in sneaker design, the little touches like the colour of the midsole that distinguished one model from another. He started playing with dyes to put his own flair on the shoes, learning about the materials to use and techniques to follow from watching videos on YouTube.

Friends noticed, asked him if he could dye their sneakers too.

Sensing a business opportunity that could earn him the money to further his own sneaker collection without always going to his parents for a handout, Engmann started charging for his dye jobs and scouring online for unique finds. He targeted Jordans because Michael Jordan is his favourite player. He mined websites and blogs to learn all he could about the shoes.

“You have to understand the history of the shoes to appreciate them,” he said.

When Engmann scored his first pair of vintage Jordans, he posted a photo on his Instagram account. His In box filled with notifications, some with offers to buy them for much more than he paid.

Engmann said he held onto those sneakers for two or three years. In the interim, he connected with other collectors to buy and sell other pairs. It was, he said, a pretty “niche” market.

Then, in 2020, Netflix debuted The Last Dance, its 10-part documentary series about Michael Jordan’s career.

The show introduced the superstar to a whole new generation who’d never seen him play and reminded those who had of the impact he made on basketball. It also reignited interest in the shoes that bear Jordan’s name.

“There was a real surge in people becoming interested in vintage shoes,” said Engmann, who decided to dive into the growing marketplace with both feet.

Most of Engmann’s days are spent on the computer, scouring blogs and various online marketplaces around the world like Grailed for footwear treasures that may have been squirrelled away in closets or attics for years. Japan was a hotbed of sneaker culture for a time, but has since cooled.

Engmann has set up a small studio to take photos of sneakers he’s putting up for sale on his website or posting to his social media accounts and he’s started dabbling in making YouTube videos to grow his audience even more.

He’s also preparing to go to Sneaker Con events like one that’s scheduled to take place in Vancouver in March after several such shows were cancelled by COVID-19 public health restrictions.

Engmann’s growing expertise and ability to secure rare finds has caught the attention of celebrity collectors like Hart, Booker and another pro basketballer, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma Thunder.

“They’re really cool, they’re respectful,” said Engmann of his high-profile clients.

But finding a pair of vintage Jordans that will fit a pro basketball player’s giant size 14 — or more — feet can be particularly challenging.

“The hunt is so much fun,” Engmann said.

MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS Port Moody’s Tye Engmann counts celebrity collectors like Hollywood comedian Kevin Hart and pro basketball players among his clients for vintage Air Jordan sneakers that he collects and resells.

Lessons in resilience

If 2020 was the year of the pandemic, 2021 was the year we learned to live with the pandemic.

As COVID-19 infections waxed and waned through the seasons, the rollout of vaccines and emergence of variants, we persevered. Public health restrictions came, then eased, then started to return again. With them, so did our hopes for an imminent return to normal life.

Masks became the go-to accessory to pack whenever you left the house. They were joined by the vaccine passport. Simple acts like paying for groceries or entering a movie theatre became a juggling act of displaying cards, flashing cellphones and packing your own bags. And don’t you dare cough while doing any of those.

If nothing else, 2021 proved our resilience.

Despite the ongoing anxiety and uncertainty of our worlds turned upside down, people forged ahead. They chased their dreams. They started businesses. They celebrated achievements, albeit with a bit more restraint. Music and theatre returned. So did sports. And social gatherings. Maybe their absence made us embrace the richness they bring to our lives a little tighter.

The lessons we’ve learned through the past 21 months will be with us for generations. Hopefully they’ll make us stronger, more ready to adapt when the next big crisis comes along.

Here’s some of my favourite photos from the past year. Be sure to click on the “i” when you’re in the gallery to learn a bit more about the photo, and how it was shot.

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 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…