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Posts Tagged ‘Don Fennell’

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I had the great honour of being on Howard Tsumura’s podcast last week (link HERE).  We spoke about blogging, basketball and the future of schooling among other topics.  Howard has been a real mentor for me in the world of writing, as he is an amazing storyteller.  I didn’t get to say it on the podcast, but reporters like him, Steve Ewen, Don Fennell, and Mark Booth have all been inspirations for me with the Culture of Yes because they tell wonderful stories. I have often tried to use this blog to tell more stories like those I read them sharing.

Now, I don’t want to just turn this entry into a blog post that laments the loss of so much local news through our traditional sources. I do think it is a big deal, and community based public education is not well served by Facebook Groups replacing community newspapers.  I have written before (HERE) about the loss of community circulations, but rather today I am thinking about the importance these local papers are to our high school athletics. 

When I talk to people from other parts of Canada, one of the great differentiators we have had is that our media has treated high school athletics as important and relevant.  I remember coaching in local high school gyms in the mid-1990’s and seeing Trevor Henderson, Barry MacDonald and Don Taylor walk in to do a story for Sports Page. And this was no surprise – they and others would often be at fields and gyms telling the stories of high school athletes. School sports, like the Canucks, Whitecaps and Lions was part of our British Columbia sports DNA.  I know many people who only had a Vancouver Province subscription to read The School Zone on Thursdays with Howard Tsumura or Steve Ewen. Both Vancouver daily newspapers had full-time high school / university sports reporters at the time. 

Now because of the foresight of the Langley Event Centre and a collection of partners, we still have the treasure that is Howard Tsumura doing stories for Varsity Letters.  And others like BC Sports Hub trying to fill the high school sports storytelling void.  And Steve Ewen still makes sure that school sports gets into the Vancouver Sun and Province, but his beat is now basically everything so it can’t get the same attention.  And it all makes me sad for stories we will never hear. 

We will always get Canucks scores but what about the stories like Andy Prest who writes for the North Shore News and his remembrance of Quinn Keast, or Ben Lypka in Abbotsford who was writing about Chase Claypool when he was winning provincial football titles and playing senior boys basketball – well before being a breakout star with the Pittsburgh Steelers,  or Marty Hastings in Kamloops who covers sports in their local community so well, or Mark Booth who has been writing for decades about school sports in Delta and Richmond or Don Fennell who I first begun talking to about high school sports in Richmond in the 1980’s and now writes as Editor at the Richmond Sentinel (I encourage you to explore any of these links – they are all great stories told by masterful writers). 

Stories like this one from Howard Tsumura on Bradley Braich on sports and mental health are powerful and they make a difference when other young people can read stories like this.  It helps students to know they are not alone.  And so important that stories like Karin Khuong’s get told – the way Steve Ewen did multiple times, including this past October

Now, I know we are all still challenged by COVID, but I am absolutely convinced school sports will come roaring back in a post-pandemic world.  As I have written before, athletics may (and I think should), look different, but school sports are tightly linked to our definition of schooling. 

What I have noticed during the pandemic is that as much as I miss school sports, I really miss the stories of school sports.  I realize that reading and watching the stories of athletes, coaches and teams is one of my favourite parts of the game.  The human interest aspects are as or more interesting to me than the scores of the games.

And it is this coverage which has been waning in recent years prior to the pandemic.  Replacing a full-page story in a local community newspaper on a young athlete with a highlight reel on Instagram is not the same thing.  And in recent years this has really been lost.  I worry that with no high school sports this year, another unintended consequence is that when they come back, there will be even fewer storytellers.  I get it, reporters move on, newspapers and other traditional media are struggling.

Talking to Howard Tsumura definitely made me nostalgic.  I love reading about the grade 9 track star from Burnaby, or the high school rugby coach from Victoria who is fighting cancer or the graduating volleyball player who is also an amazing musician.  These kinds of stories define the power, beauty and community of school sports.

Thank you to all of you who have and continue to tell our stories of school sports.

I started with that overused quote about a tree falling in the forest, as I keep thinking about it when I reflect on high school sports.  If there is nobody around to tell the great stories – how will we know about all of our students amazing accomplishments?  And that will be a tremendous loss.

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With a single tweet, the 83 year-old newspaper in my community disappeared. Of course this is nothing new, it is happening in communities across North America as the newspaper business continues to search for its place in the digital world.

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Community newspapers don’t get enough credit for the important role they play with our school system.  They are so often our storytellers.  They tell the narratives of our kids, our teams, our musicals, our art shows, our academic success and our commitment to service.  They also keep us honest and tell our stories of controversies like bus service changes or school closures , budget decisions and staff misbehaviours.  Community newspapers connect schools to community.  In the district I work, we lost one of our two local newspapers last year with the closing of the North Shore Outlook and now this past week, the community I live in has suffered the same fate with the closing of the Richmond Review.

I have tagged more posts “Change” than anything else on my blog.   I champion change.  And we are seeing this change play out in almost every industry.  It is why, I believe, sometimes change in education is so hard.  With so much change in our world, people often hold onto the traditions of school hoping that at least they will stay the same – romanticizing the world we used to have.  And I kind of get it – we are all in favour of change, expect for the things we don’t want to change.  Some of the change feels more like loss.

The Richmond Review felt like more than a community newspaper.  I remember the excitement growing up seeing my name in the paper for something to do with school or sports.  It was great moments of pride for kids and families if their name was in the newspaper.    While I will read the Vancouver Province, Vancouver Sun and Globe & Mail on an almost daily basis, I would read the community newspapers where I lived and worked cover to cover – I would love seeing stories of people I knew or better understanding the views of those I lived and worked with.

Over the years I developed wonderful relationships with several people who worked at the Richmond Review.  In particular Sports Editor Don Fennell became a friend.  I first spoke to him as a high school student, and then probably hundreds of times over the twenty-six years he spent at the paper.  Whether we hadn’t spoken since last week or last year, he had that great ability of picking up a conversation and making one feel so comfortable.  I love his quote in the final edition of the paper, “I don’t like good-byes; I love Richmond.”  Don and the others at the paper made the community better.

Of course earlier this year when a deal was announced that saw the other local paper the Richmond News and the Richmond Review come under one owner – it was clear something was going to change.  This story has been repeated across North America.  And while I might be a little jaded thinking how unfair it was to kill-off an 83 year-old community paper with two days notice in the middle of summer, it doesn’t change the fact that despite the greatest efforts newspapers have been unable to transition into a viable economic model in the new digital world.  Surviving, not thriving describes most of the local newspaper that continue.

But this blog is largely about education and what does this change have to do with education?  Actually a lot!

If teachers, coaches, principals, schools and school districts need yet another reason why they need to be storytellers in the digital age this is it.  Local newspapers have long been our storytellers and these stories are important.  We need to tell them.  It is not enough for our websites to be information rich, they need to be rich in stories of the people.  If the North Shore Outlook and Richmond Review are not around to tell stories of our great young soccer players, or the high school performance of Grease, or the students going to Africa to build a school we need to tell these stories.

So, you want another reason to start a blog or change your website?  We can no longer rely on the traditional community media to tell our stories.  And people still want to hear these stories.  We need to tell them.

We need to write, photograph and video what is happening in our schools and then bring it to people’s attention.  Kids still want to see their names in the newspaper – we just need to figure out what that looks like in our world.

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Outside of work, I spend many hours coaching my kids and other parents’ kids in school and community sports.  There is a  lively debate right now in the youth sports community about the value of focusing exclusively on a single sport from a young age. I wrote on the topic in a 2012 post on the Multi-Sport High School Athlete, and in 2013 on Being a Sports Parent Today.  Part of what really draws me to this challenge in youth sports are the parallels and similar debates in education.

I find the conversation around sports and whether we should be keeping score and ranking players and teams from youth, akin to the conversation around the purpose and appearance of elementary school report cards. Letter grades are very much like keeping score; those who argue for them remind us of the competitive nature of the world we live in and the need to let kids know where they stand, with those opposed contending the real competition is with oneself, learning and improving skills and the relative comparison to others is really secondary.

I also find the challenges for new providers in the youth sports game very similar to what has happened and is happening in education.  A generation ago it was the local community sports associations who were organizing youth sports. If you wanted to play hockey, soccer or basketball there was really only one option available.  Now, there are dozens — traditional community providers sharing the stage with other non-profit organizations, for-profit enterprises, as well as a series of new sport providers in as many sports capacities.  Similarly, in education we see public education challenged by independent schools for market share, and even less traditional options for learning like for-profit tutoring companies and completely virtual options like the Kahn Academy.

Youth sports, like learning options for young people, is in a time of transition — and it is part of what makes it an exciting time.

With that as a backdrop, here are my recent comments I shared for an article by Don Fennell, Sports Editor for the Richmond Review, Year-round sports mode: top athletes, coaches share their thoughts. I have also included the comments of my wife and oldest daughter on the topic from the article because the thoughts are really ‘all in the family’.

The shifts happening in youth sports are far more complex than just being good or bad, says educator Chris Kennedy, who is also a former president of the B.C. High School Boys’ Basketball Association.

“With the opportunity to go year-round, we have seen the traditional season disappear for almost all sports,” he says. “And there are some real concerns. There is a lot of research that early specialization leads to fatigue and burnout and overuse injuries. It also seems to serve the adults more than the kids. Kids are looking to have fun and often it is the adults’ competitiveness that is driving the decisions their kids make. There is also research that suggests adults who specialized in one sport growing up have higher rate of adult physical inactivity.”

Kennedy says the related debate with increased early specialization is whether sports should be more or less “score-focused” at younger ages. He thinks youth soccer and basketball have it right: de-emphasize scoring at younger ages and focus on development.

“This doesn’t mean we don’t want kids to be competitive, but do we need to keep score and have a focus on winning and losing all the time?,” he asks. “I like the race to nowhere metaphor and how it applies to youth sports. Parents are killing themselves to get their kids to so-called elite training that is getting in the way of being a kid and what is really the goal.”

Kennedy’s wife, Stephanie, is equally passionate about the topic. She has always believed that kids should be exposed to and participate in as many different sports as possible while they are young. And for a variety of reasons.

“I know through my own four children that all kids have their own structural make-up, both physically and mentally, and that different sports may cater to these differences,” she says. “I truly believe there is a sport for all kids, but it may take some effort and time to find out what that is. And in today’s age of childhood obesity, low activity levels, access to electronics and the resulting de-socialization of youth, sport can play a key role in reversing these trends.”

Stephanie, who runs Panther Cheer Athletics, is also adamant that kids participating in as many sports as possible when they’re young aids their physical development. This doesn’t mean, she says, they must do multiple sports at the same time, but within a calendar year should shift from one activity to another.

“This allows children’s young bodies, which are often growing and changing so rapidly, to adapt and hopefully grow stronger with minimal injuries,” she says. “I know from personal experience as a provincial level gymnast that I enjoyed the opportunity to play intramural sports (such as volleyball, basketball and soccer) in high school but began to resent the fact I wasn’t able to participate in these in any large way as gymnastics took most of my time. It also alienated me from my peers who played more conventional team sports and were members of high school teams. “

The eldest of the couple’s four children, Elizabeth, 12, thinks those who focus on one sport may quickly tire of it, burn out and then have no other alternatives.

“It is also more likely you will be injured because you are using the same body parts over and over,” she says. “(Alternately), if you play a lot of sports you have the chance to meet a far more diverse group of people and learn a diverse group of skills.”

Elizabeth says unfortunately sports out of the mainstream don’t get enough exposure and because kids don’t know about them “they may never try a sport they could be really good at or have a passion for.”

“Coaches in some sports are also organizing so many practices (young athletes) don’t have time to try other sports,” she adds. “I think there will be many more overuse injuries and once their career in that sport is over they won’t know what to do because they will feel it is too late to try a new sport.”

The entire article is worth a read here.  It is interesting that there is general consensus from all those interviewed of the value of young people playing a range of sports. So, I am left wondering, if we all believe this to be the right approach why then is this topic such an issue?  I think we may know it to be right on the theoretical level, but in the heat of  “keeping of with the Joneses” we have trouble letting our actions reflect this approach.

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