Game Fixer

Important stories are told here

BRIAN BAKER, The Game Fixer

These days I will flip through the Toronto dailies and notice a complete absence of high school athletics being reported.

Somehow in the reconstruction of print media after a rocky recession, one that saw many lose their jobs at the whims of the economy, amateur sports became irrelevant. Game coverage has been left to local TV, and now the personal lives of pro athletes — whether adversity or hijinks — are being focused on in ink.

Fair point: the news is in the big four — hockey, baseball, football and basketball. But where the pro athletes come from is just as important.

In the din of Toronto’s pro sports, amateur athletes are losing their spotlight. It seems that Torontonians don’t care enough about pro sports origins. Even more so, if it’s not the Maple Leafs.

As sports editor of Toronto Today and the eight sisters publications the Town Crier group of newspapers, I tell the stories of high school athletes. I appreciate sharing their experiences and listening to the support of their coaches and parents. The kids have great tales of adversity, just waiting to be told in print.

Although the students graduate after four or five years, you still get a sense of the proud traditions at schools. For example, Toronto Argonaut Mike Bradwell has left a resounding echo with his accomplishments on the students who come to Leaside long after his departure, as recent grad and gridder Morgan Moskalyk shared with me.

At the 26th annual Athlete of the Year Awards, we honoured all student athletes who gave it their all both in sport and academia in 2010-11.

It never ceases to amaze me how kids balance straight-A feats, part-time jobs, volunteering and multiple sports teams. That’s what makes my job picking the best athletes for the regional and overall winners so tough.

We honoured Maddie Stephen from Lawrence Park CI as our Central Region winner. The 6-foot-1 grad raised $11,000 for the charity Right To Play. That entire school is full of kids who do their best on and off the field.

Aside from Maddie at Lawrence Park, my props go to Ally Haggart, who worked tremendously hard this year to create a snowboarding team at her school. Teacher Peter Gilbert has also donated many hours of his time to train his skiing team for city gold.

Don’t forget Panthers alum Justin Babin and Jordan Glover, who are pursuing their dreams at post secondary institutions. Babin tries to catch his CFL pass at U of T while Glover makes the pitch to fulfill his MLB desires at Eastern Michigan University.

Lawrence Park is just one school and five stories, offering plenty to the Canadian sports community.

It’s unfortunate, though, that Canadians seem less than passionate about high school sports — unlike our American neighbours.

Is it a problem that Canadians ignore amateur athletes? I honestly never used to think so but being immersed in the midtown Toronto sports culture, I do now. The ignorance to what our kids do at the amateur level is what I interpret as negligence and borderline disrespect.

Two years ago I introduced the Coach of the Year awards to honour school volunteers who donate their time to teaching students sports.

As much as the schools like to shy away from nominating teachers for the award, it is needed because not enough is done for volunteers. Modesty is not an option; teachers who donate so much free time need to be lauded.

Regardless of the dailies pouncing on Northern SS during the whole Emil Cohen debacle, the work of Wendy Luck, Brian Gaw, John Lombardi, Daniel Gana and Bryan McAlpine should not go ignored. I see the warmth students have for their mentors in their eyes and hear it in their words.

And what would North Toronto Norsemen be without the years Lorne Smith has given? That same sports ethic in Smith is materializing at Lawrence Park with their phys ed head, Peter Bartha.

It gives me great pride to say the Town Crier and Toronto Today have honoured both student athletes and their teachers for their accomplishments and continue to do so.

Unlike other Toronto media in the past, we do not berate the volunteers or students.

We go to games and follow the stories. And in doing so, I personally have developed a great respect for high school sports.

We also give a voice to a portion of Canadian culture that so often gets ignored because of the hang-ups and pretensions of those who perhaps prefer the arts to sports.

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