By Lori Bennett
Santa has come and gone, the presents have all been opened, and the turkey has been reduced to soup bones. This is a good time to reflect on some of the good news stories of this past year in sports. Here are a few that came to mind for me during the holiday season.
Junior hockey players intervene with suicidal man
Earlier this month news broke out of Brandon, Manitoba concerning four young players from their junior hockey team, the Brandon Wheat Kings. The incident in question happened on an evening of volunteering at a local food bank. Four teenage boys volunteering together at an essential community resource like a food bank might be remarkable enough, but that’s not the story.
On their way home from an evening of giving, the boys encountered an opportunity to give some more. They came upon a man in a compromised position, sitting on a concrete barrier on a local bridge, contemplating ending his life. The boys offered help, while one of them called for emergency assistance. First responders arrived shortly thereafter and pulled the man to safety, but four teenage boys were his lifeline while they waited for the professionals.
If Santa does make lists and checks them twice, we know which list these guys were on.
Hockey player turns his body-shaming experience into an opportunity
On a night in late November, Pat Maroon of the Tampa Bay Lightning was minding his own business and just doing his job. The Lightning were playing the Boston Bruins when Bruins broadcaster Jack Edwards inexplicably broke into a series of comments about Maroon’s weight and eating habits, chuckling as he went.
Anyone who has been on the receiving end of one of Maroon’s body checks knows he is a big boy, a trait that has served a couple of winning teams well. The three-time Stanley Cup Champion responded like a true winner.
The next day Maroon donated $2000 to Tampa Bay Thrives, a non-profit that supports people who struggle with mental health, bullying and body image. He made the donation in Edwards’ name and tweeted to encourage his teammates and fans to join him.
The Lightning Foundation followed up with a commitment to match Maroon’s donation, and all donations made in support of Maroon.
Who’s chuckling now, Jack?
Blue Jay pitcher defends teammate against online insults
In a September Jays game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Catcher Alejandro Kirk had to hustle from first base to score a run. He was successful, mind you, but the play still drew comments from Matthew Ross, the former host of TSN’s Weekend Game Plan.
Ross had commented that the play was “embarrassing for the sport” and that “giving guys like this prominence feeds negative stereotypes.” He was commenting on one of the traditional myths surrounding the sport – that professional baseball players are not required to be particularly fit.
Pitcher Alek Manoah immediately came to his teammate’s defence. He called out Ross, who had “never played a day in the big leagues” for his comments. He challenged him to “Go ahead and tell that 8-year-old kid who is 10 lbs overweight that he should quit now. Or, just step aside from the keyboard and let KIRK inspire those kids to continue to chase their dreams and chase greatness.”
We could all use a teammate like that.
Buck Martinez returns to the Jays Sportsnet booth
In April, the long-time Blue Jays play-by-play announcer announced he would be stepping away from the game to undergo treatment for cancer. Martinez, a catcher, enjoyed a long playing career, including with Toronto from 1981 to 1986. After retiring from the game, Martinez began his career as a colour analyst.
Over the years, Buck has called games in several cities, but he has been in Toronto since 2010. Martinez took a break from broadcasting for a brief career in management, serving as the Blue Jays Manager between 2001 and 2002.
Martinez has been a fixture in Canadian baseball, and the news of his diagnosis hit hard. But in late July he returned to his role in the Sportsnet broadcasting booth after the completion of his treatment.
It was a day of genuine celebration for Blue Jays fans who have grown accustomed to his voice being the soundtrack of Jays games for years. In interviews since his return, it has been unclear how much longer Martinez would stay in the game. Whatever Buck decides, he has earned that right.
We wish him a long, healthy retirement at some point in his future.
Athletes visit their local children’s hospitals
If you suffer from dry eyes, I can offer you a cure. It has become a tradition, particularly in hockey circles, for teams to visit hospitalized children during the Christmas season. Take a few moments to google the name of your favourite team and their local children’s hospital. It’s well worth the search.
NHLPA supporting youth hockey in Port aux Basques
In a story that hits a lot closer to home, in October Wreckhouse Press
reported on a special donation made by the NHL Players’ Association.
The NHLPA was in Newfoundland for the Kraft Hockeyville event and became aware that some young hockey players had lost their equipment during post-tropical depression Fiona, which destroyed over 100 homes in Port aux Basques alone. They stepped up, through their Goals & Dreams Fund, to donate new equipment to replace what was lost.
The Goals & Dreams Fund has international reach, responding to situations all across North America and Europe and assisting those who need help to acquire hockey equipment. In this instance, they reached out to a small town on the Southwest coast of Newfoundland.
Port aux Basques Minor Hockey has returned to the ice, and the gift from the NHLPA has been very much appreciated.
Happy holidays sports fans!