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Monday, May 22, 2017

Success, tragedy, acts of honor

Steve Betts
May 18, 2017

The Tragically Hip have immortalized his actions in a song called 'Fifty Mission Cap'. You may know the lyrics "the last goal he ever scored won the Leafs the Cup". This song is a favourite of many Hip fans but also holds a special place in the heart of the Leafs fans around the world. The song itself is a double edged sword  for Leafs fans because it brings us back to glory days.  The ending is tragic though as a young man lost his life way too soon. As Gord Downie heroically states, "they didn't  win another until 1962, the year he was discovered".
That young man born in Cochrane  Ontario and who died at the age of 24 was Bill Barilko. Barilko was born in 1927 and clearly lived a Canadian boys hockey dream. Barilko made the NHL and played five seasons with the Leafs as a defenceman. His last goal was huge for the organization and of course for him and his family. He was flying high when tragedy struck. Unfortunately, on a fishing trip in Quebec his plane did not make it back and 11 years later the wreckage was discovered. Young and his career just starting, Bill was in his prime and it was cut short.

Here's where the story gets interesting. In 1950 another Bill was born in Amherst Nova Scotia. 23 years after Barilko and on the East coast of Canada in what is known as the Maritimes. Bill Riley was living a Canadian boys dream as well. He loved hockey, lived  hockey and eventually made it his life. He too made it to the NHL and made waves for a different reason as he was the third black man to play in the NHL. The Washington Capitals in their first season gave Riley a tryout and he made it. He toiled in the minor leagues here and there but did play in the NHL for a solid three years for the Capitals. Hard-nosed, hard-working, Riley was about work ethic and getting the job done. Excellent results for a young man from a small town on the border of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. This was good for the community, his family and for minorities. This was progress.
Here's where the story gets more interesting. Here's where the story takes a human twist, and emotional twist, this is the feel good part of all of this that brought a tear to my eye. Riley loved Barilko. We all have hockey heroes, sports heroes, role models, and just people we look up to. That is what Barilko was to Riley. It's common when your a  younger hockey polymer to choose another hockey player to like and cheer for. Now that you understand who Riley loved you will get this next part.
I got a text May 18 2017 from an old friend who just happens to be Bill Riley's daughter Tracey. Tracey and I haven't spoken for 30 years merely due to us just moving on with our  lives. The Riley family had set up their home in our hometown of Riverview New Brunswick and I became friends with Carla, Tracey, Bill Junior and Joann or Mrs. Riley the queen bee of the family. Just like Riley's work ethic on the ice surface this family was close, organized, full of love and well-liked in the community. Bill's spirited efforts on the ice translated to his home life as well.
Tracey's text message stated this: her hard-nosed hockey dad had contacted her about something that had upset him. He read an article about Barilko. In that article was a picture of Barilko'a gravesite. The gravesite was not in good shape. Right next door was the headstones of mom and dad Barilko and their sites were dirty as well.  The three headstones could use some TLC. What happened next does not surprise me completely but it sure brought up awesome emotions.
Tracey who clearly was affected by her Dad's emotion after he saw the gravesite situation, went out on a cold day in Timmons Ontario and proceeded to drive to the graveyard where Barilko is buried. With toothbrush in hand and rubber gloves she cleaned not one but two headstones. Cleaning off mould and moss, weeds and anything that didn't look like it belonged from her father's hockey hero. Tracey told me that hearing her father being affected by this simple situation moved her to go do something awesome for somebody else. She explained to me that it was sad the gravestones were dirty but she also said that had you heard what my father said and heard his voice she would understand what made me get up and go do this for a stranger.

How awesome is that emotion? How big is the heart of Bill Riley and Tracey Riley that both were moved by respect. Both were encouraged to do something honourable because of love. Not only did they show us love between two family members but they showed us what being a hockey fan is about.
Passion and emotion for a sport spills over the boards into an act of kindness that may or may not seem big to you but it is to this guy. Leafs fans can rest assured that the Legend of Bill Barilko lives on and a part of his memorialization was cleaned by a young lady who acted on pure love and respect. I knew a long time ago this family was solid and clearly that has not changed. Well played Riley family, well played. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ultimate Teammate

This past Saturday I attended the funeral of Stephen David Kinch, otherwise known as ‘Kinchy. I attended with a heavy heart as I knew him personally but only a small part of what he truly was. I knew Steve mostly from the restaurant business and knew little of his sport life and interests. All the missing years I never knew Steve were filled in by his family and old friends confirming my already formed opinion of Steve; he was a great man.
Kinchy was best known as the best bartender in Halifax. He worked at many a bar with a smile making each person he came across feel welcomed. This seems a bit cliché but unless you experienced his hospitality you didn’t get a taste of what he was about. He loved people and it showed every time he spoke to you. ‘Kinchy’s Corner’ was always my destination for either complete silence and reflection or laughing so hard your sides hurt.
I knew Kinchy played hockey and I did get to play with him a few years back in a rec tournament. He was smooth, fast, knew where his teammates were and was a thorn in the side of the opponents. I loved feeding him the puck and watching him go. I wondered what the big deal was in the dressing room when he was talking about his skates being $200 more than mine. Once I saw him play, I knew he needed good skates to do the things he did on the ice. Simply put, he was awesome and this was in a time when us men were past our prime.  I knew there had to be a background and pedigree that I didn’t know about and this past weekend I discovered that history.
During the funeral Father spoke of a chat he had with one of Steve’s family members. He said Kinchy was “quick tempered” but then changed his story with a coy smile and said “Steve was passionate” while playing hockey. Each person I spoke to said that he was the best teammate to have as he was an offensive player but also quick to help and defend you. That to me is the ultimate teammate. He scored tons of goals and had lots of articles written about him for his heroics but to me his heroism was showing the same passion on the ice as he did for everyday life. “Go big or go home” or “Give it a 110%” are a couple of common interview statements that actually apply to Steve and his life. He left the arenas satisfied and woke up ready to apply that same mantra to life.
I discovered not only the teams he played for but more importantly, I found out how much Kinchy loved sports but mostly hockey. I got to speak with his true teammates and friends about his Pee Wee hockey through to his Senior hockey years here in Dartmouth. The teams he played for are not significant to me and certainly were not to anyone this past weekend. What caught my ear and made everyone else take notice was the passion he had for the game. Story after story was about how he cared about winning and his teammates. Each story had the same message that Kinchy was intense and his teammates loved it. I knew Kinchy was fiery but didn’t realize he was this in love with hockey. Year after year Kinchy loved to play and never changed his way. What made me smile was the happiness he had while playing because isn’t that why we play? We play to have fun and to satisfy our need for competition. I get Kinchy’s desire and it makes me closer to him knowing he spent all those years in cold arenas with that desire and enjoyment to play. People should know he was a local legend in the sport and he that he deserves to be mentioned in local hockey circles.
Stephen Kinch made so many people happy. My eyes are wide open about how he was such a hard worker at sports and life. It’s true, people do touch us from beyond. They hopefully make us better and stronger and lend us strength to adjust and move on. I certainly took that away from this past weekend as shared grief and shared stories have helped me understand his loss. I had a small glimpse into his life and it was a positive view. After this tragic event and meeting his sport family and his actual family, I am very proud to say I was graced knowing a great athlete and man.
God Rest Your Soul Kinchy. Thank you for letting us be your friend. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

SMU is the future


        Sorry sorry. Ive been away. Watching baseball, broadcasting hockey and doing interviews. None of which are anything to write about so Ill write about SMU Football which is super important to any AUS football fan other than Mt A or Acadia. Why? The reason is about the future.
SMU is our and by our I mean Atlantic Canada's best chance to beat any West team. Acadia does not have the horses to win a big game and Mt A has an All Star running back in Ross but has little experience and or enough good players to complete the goal. Of Acadia and Mt A I have to side with Mt A being the better of the two teams.
SMU has best chance to beat a West team and to bring some sort of respect to eastern Canada. SMU started 0-3 and has rebounded to surprise some to get to 5-3 and a get a bye into the finals. For others, not so much but we should be surprised they are at 5-3 because losing 3 is a lot of games. 1 game, then 2 then 3! Thats a big deal in a short season.
I think Coach Sumarah is the reason for this about face. A CIS coach of the year, I am sure Sumarah stood up after loss 3 and said "whoa whoa whoa". He separated the units of the team and set them straight. He got Micah Brown under control. Spoke to his receivers and taught them ball and self-protection. Spoke to his coaches and even that mascot we all see trolling the stands and said "do your job". Well in 5 straight games everyone has done their job and with vigor.
SMU has re-invented themselves in the last 5 weeks and are showing promise for the future. The future being the Loney Bowl vs Mt A? and then the Mitchell Bowl vs a team we know will be bigger and faster.
The dilemma is this. Whoever wins the Loney Bowl needs to be ready for a war in the West. SMU gives the East the best chance. Even if they lose in the Loney Bowl, their play, their resilience and their character makes them a favorite for me to play the Hardy Cup champs. Although you cant send a loser to the next round and whoever wins I will be cheering on with pompoms and brews, I hope its SMU that advances. They have the experience, the talent, the character, the resolve and depending on how the next 3 weeks go, the future of Atlantic Canadian university football respect in their hands.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Baseball- Man I love this game Part III


Chapman was suspended by Cuban officials for being too cocky and complaining he could not pitch in a big international game. The officials decided that Chapman was a detriment to the team and therefore was suspended for a year. Enrique was ready for that curveball and made my day with his reply. I asked him some questions about Aroldis and what he was like. He told me that he was an amazing athlete. That he was always around the park and was actually annoying sometimes because he was always begging people to play baseball or have a catch with him. It wasn’t Chapman’s youth that I was enthralled about; it was the stories that Enrique was able to tell me. What he was telling me was exactly what I wanted to hear; Cuban baseball stories of success and even defeat. He told me about his job and how many kids he saw go on to pro careers. He admitted he wasn’t their number one coach but he had a hand in their youth. He was a humble man and I sat on the edge of my seat for the 1 hour drive talking to Enrique about baseball. To me this man was the man who made Cuban baseball  what it is, a legend, a builder, a coach; he was baseball to me.
I hadn’t noticed the drive and the next thing I know we are in our resort. I had gotten to know Enrique on the drive and found out he has a 25year old son who uses a left handed glove but he is a lefty. Bingo again. I had a left handed glove in my suitcase. I brought two gloves, four baseballs, a baseball hat and a soccer ball to give away. Enrique was smiling from ear to ear when I produced the glove. He told me to ask for him and his tour to Holguin and then I was invited to his home to meet his son and see the stadium. He told me exactly how to get there and he would show me around Holguin personally. He even told me he would take me to his son’s work which was a cigar warehouse where we could smoke the best cigars on the East part of the island. All this hospitality because I gave him a glove! He shook my hand and made me feel lucky to have met him. It was only the beginning of my trip too! I had big ideas for the week and it started with a safari trip.
I did manage to get the safari trip. It wasn’t hard because my wife and friends are adventurous.  I also knew that I was going to be watching for baseball games while the rest of the crew was looking at mountains, houses and the odd animals in the fields. I made it through the day without seeing a big game; then it happened. We had seen some small games in the middle of streets, intersections and the odd grass field but no real game on a real field. We were headed to the marina, going down a steep hill into a valley. The hill was steep and made the drive fast. As we came out of the hills and into the flat of the valley, I saw a baseball game to my right. I spun around in my seat like a kid who just saw Santa. It literally yelled out loud and pointed and asked my friends if we could stop but we were a part of the convoy and therefore we kept couldn’t. My heart sank and it hurts to write about it. Truly it does.
As I type this, I am getting the feeling that I missed out on exactly what I wanted to see and do in Cuba. I wanted to go watch real Cubans playing a sport I love. I wanted to see their uniforms with holes in them, their handmade gloves, bats, balls and their skill and their love for the game. Albeit I didn’t get to see some of things I wanted, I am more than happy to have started a story that I know I will build on as time goes by. I could not be happier I have these small victories to report. In two trips I met true baseball people, a real mentor to a pro and got to buy a glove that I will cherish as much as I cherish this great game.

Baseball- Man I love this game Part II


I was on the bus with the other 50 people headed to the resort and was listening to Enrique our tour guide. He was bantering on about this and that and cracking jokes back at the drunks at the rear of our bus. One of the comments that wasn’t off color was about a baseball player that I forgot was from Holguin, Cuba. His name is Aroldis Chapman. I perked up. Thoughts raced though my head about seeing the stadium in Holguin and maybe where Chapman, a young man who just signed a $30 million contract in January, played his youth ball. I took the opportunity to talk to Enrique as soon as he was done.
I had to clarify what the yahoos in back were saying about Chapman because I knew if Enrique knew what they were saying maybe he would have some insight as to the baseball in the area. He might be able to tell me if there any games going on and where to see them. I leaned forward and said hello. We spoke about arriving in Cuba and how happy we were to be there blah blah blah. I had something to ask but was being polite. I sat fidgeting in my seat wanting to know about any games in or near Holguin. I was on a mission this trip and be damned if I couldn’t sit through some welcoming rantings to get some baseball info out of a local. Enrique interrupted me a couple times to answer some questions from the crowd but I still sat on the edge of my seat, arms hanging into his area so he knew I still wanted to talk. He started it up again and I jumped at the chance. I asked about any games or stadiums around that I could visit. Actually I asked him 300 questions in about 12 seconds and I think he registered them all.
Enrique turned in his seat and said “you came to Cuba for sun and drinks or baseball?”.  My wife was beside me so I said with a laugh “drinks and sun but baseball too!”. I told him what the boys in the back of the bus had said and like Clint Eastwood in any of his movies he smiled and said in a gruff old voice “I know Aroldis Chapman”.  I sat a little closer and asked how he knew him because I am a skeptic when someone tells me they know a famous person. He said he coached him as a child because his main job is a manager of a Holguin community centre where the baseball leagues are run. He acts as a manager/coach/coordinator/mentor for any kids that are involved. Chapman was one of these kids. I wasn’t convinced but I knew how to find out if he knew Chapman. I was going to say something that I knew was the opposite of what was true and see if Enrique knew the difference. I was doing my best Magnum PI work to see if this was legite and if it was I was going to be pretty stoked. I told Enrique that Chapman had such a great attitude and that he should do good in the US. Enrique called my bluff right away. He laughed out loud and told me Chapman has a bad attitude and that the Americans “will straighten him out”. Bingo. We have a homerun!

Baseball- Man I Love That Game Part I


2 years ago I was in Cuba for a wedding and some relaxation. I was pretty excited for this trip because the wedding was my own and I knew I was going to the country where baseball has evolved into their national sport. The sport of baseball is like football in England and hockey in Canada. The communist country has made baseball players their pet project and many Cubans are heralded as trophies to be bred as stars and sent away as stars; with or without the regimes approval. I knew that this trip was going to be awesome and I was very excited to see anything baseball.

I will simply say that while in Cuba in 2008, I saw what I wanted and loved it. I met some employees that were baseball crazy, I met a couple internationals that were baseball crazy and I got to buy a Cuban hand made glove. Lets skip to present. I recently went to Holguin, Cuba. A resort where I knew I would have a better chance to see an actual game either in a pro stadium, in the street or a local village. I tricked my friends into a safari including horses, 'seadoos' and SUVs. This safari was my ticket to seeing a game one way or another and in the end I was disappointed but not completely. Here is the part that made my trip.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fan or not a fan?

          So here we go again. I of course need to make my fanaticism evident and say I am a proud Chelsea/Yankees/Leafs fan. Not a lot else to say except I know their are haters out there from all angles but then again I dont cheer for your team whoever you are so we agree to disagree.
Seems to be the trend these days. Even if a guy likes a player from another team its impossible to like that team because they are not [i]your [/i]team. I am not of this type of fan. I love to see my team win. I dont hate any other team (although I dont like the way teams are run and certain players). I love sport and I love seeing great plays and the great affects sport has on lives. I am a sports fanatic.
What I dont get is the hatred and I mean that literally, that a fan has for another team? Did they get cut from that team back in 2003? Did they lose a bet that was guaranteed to happen from that team? Did they run that team and they fired him somehow? The answer is no. The answer is there is a created hatred for other teams in a world that really is fantasy and made up. What does that mean? A person chooses to like a team either by acclamation (living in that area) or by love of all things 'that team'. For instance I chose Chelsea after seeing A) their history B) their uniforms C) I didn't like Ronaldo's whiny attitude on the pitch and found out that Man U was the opposite of Chelsea; decision made.
I love hearing a fan say "I $#@!@ hate those guys" like they know them personally?! I often ask why they dont like them and the first words out of someones mouth is "I dont know". Come on, you dont know why you hate someone? Thats not a fan, thats something else in your psyche that should be looked at.
Sports fans are creative, energetic, passionate fans that should be educated, informed and have arguments to share about why they love/hate someone. A true sports fan knows when the team was created, knows their victories, knows their stats and their future. They know the ups and downs and have celebrated their successes and shunned their loses. Sports is the best reality tv ever and nothing will ever change that. One thing that should change is when I ask someone why they hate someone, they should have a better answer then "I don't know".

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Waterloo Football Suspended-- Why?

Although Waterloo does not have a big influence on the AUS this is a big deal for CIS football. If anything this serves as a big warning shot over the heads of all programs and players concerning the issues of steroids and other drugs in the CIS game. Waterloo is not handling this right and surely someone can step in and tell them this.

Waterloo has suspended their own program due to 9 players who have tested positive for steroids of some sort. One player was pointed out as a supplier of these steroids and will be investigating heavy. This obviously does not bode well for the team, the school, the athletes or any living thing around this situation. There is a catch to all this though as the CIS has said that all drug free players can transfer to another school without issue. This means they can go play in September at a competitive school. Not good at all for anyone involved in Waterloo.

I like what the CIS has done here, allowing movement of players to allow them to continue their careers as football players. Good call CIS. Waterloo has dropped that long ball that needs to help the school win and they have dropped it in open field. All they had to do was think, catch the ball and score but they dropped it.  The CIS should not have the problem of making this call but they do and they are doing the right thing. Although should the CIS could be the voice of reason here and tell Waterloo to keep the program moving?

For once the bad people have been caught and clearly ID'ed. So why hold the whole program up due to a few players? This is a big deal as there are usually 65 players on a team so that means 56 players are able to play and drug free. This is so cliche because a few bad apples are ruining the whole program and it does not have to be that way.

Do the right thing, continue on, move on, get that team on the field together and start to heal. Suspending the program will only make this painful and suffering program feel more pain and suffering for a year or two longer than needed.