Barry’s Best: sports reporter’s six favourite stories, and why.

Stewart selects six 2016 stories still sticking saliently.

Barry Stewart selects his six favourite  stories from 2016.

Barry Stewart selects his six favourite stories from 2016.

I’ve been writing and shooting as a freelancer for The Standard since the early 1980s — almost as many years as I worked as a teacher at Silver Creek and Coquihalla Elementary schools.

When I leaf through old copies of the paper, I’m reminded of the local history I’ve helped record and of the people and programs I’ve given a voice to.

I didn’t think I could keep it going, when we moved to Chilliwack in 2004 — but then-editor Simone Rolph wouldn’t let me quit without giving it a try. I’m glad she persevered, as I found I could work most of my stories into my daily commute.

The next challenge came when I retired from teaching in 2014 and found that I wasn’t getting to Hope on a weekly basis. For years, I’d resisted joining Facebook but when I put it to work, the story ideas started to flow. Now, at least 50 per cent of my stories come from my 100-plus Hope Facebook friends, who stretch back to my first year of teaching at Silver Creek, 1976.

Stories come my way, too, so I can catch Hope athletes in action in Chilliwack or further down-valley. Other stories come with the photos provided via cellphones (which have really improved in quality since flip-phone days).

Editor X.Y. Zeng asked me to take a look back at my 50-something stories of 2016 and touch on my favourite six. So, in no particular order, here they are.

May 12: Aussies had their hands full at Hope golf course

The newspaper business is driven by deadlines that don’t have much leeway. By Monday, if I don’t have at least the bones of an idea, panic mode starts to set in. Somehow, I always get my story.

On this particular Monday, I was running on fumes. Nothing had come down the pipe, so I’d have to go looking for one. “Maybe the golf course,” I hoped.

As I drove into the parking lot, it wasn’t looking good: 3 p.m. on a sunny May afternoon and there were only two cars. Staff at the pro shop said there was one group on the course and when I looked out, I saw they were coming up to the ninth — and final — hole.

If I’d arrived ten minutes later, the story would have disappeared.

It was a fivesome of Aussies, stopping in Hope after a trip to the Rockies, where some of the courses had charged them over $100 a player, for a round of 18 holes. On this day, they had paid about $100 total, for three men and two teens to play 9 holes — and they had the whole course to themselves.

I wrote: With the rising waters of the Fraser causing the seventh-hole water hazard to swell, the Aussies had their hands full. “Hole number seven wasn’t good for us,” said Ian Rhode, the others nodding wistfully in agreement.

It’s not all about the game, though. The sun was out, a warm breeze was blowing and Hope’s scenery was polished up to its springtime finest.

“For us to play a round of golf, with a view of snow-capped mountains… it was incredible,” said John Wetemans, a farmer in Victoria (Australia).

March 31: Losing it with Glen Ogren

When ordinary citizens overcome great challenges, their story can be a motivator for others in a similar situation. That’s why I was happy to chronicle Harvey Robinson’s impressive weight loss journey in 2015 — and the echo it got from Glen Ogren, who followed the same Pharmasave-sponsored Ideal Protein program and had cut 180 pounds in about nine months.

Today, Ogren is still a shadow of his former self, for anyone who has been looking for him over the past year. Good on him!

Said Ogren: “I woke up one morning after that and told my wife I was going to go on the program. I started on June 16 and in the first four days, I had lost 6.8 pounds. The following week, it was 18.6 pounds — and then another 18 the week after that… almost forty-four pounds in the first two-and-a-half weeks.

“Even after that, I already felt so much better,” he added. “Now people ask me how I feel and I tell them ‘I feel a lot lighter.’

“Everything becomes more difficult when you’re overweight: walking, standing, shopping — even bending over to pick something up,” said Ogren. “Now, everything is so much easier. I don’t know if it’s related to the program but there’s also a clarity of thought.”

June 23: Cody Leach and Mudd Butt

Hope has a healthy motor sports community, with deep roots in the annual Brigade Days demolition derby — one of the few still in existence in B.C. There are also the Summer and Pumpkin Smash events and 4×4 racing, all working in the revamped Sports Bowl. From this base has grown an interest in mud drag racing.

Laidlaw resident Cody Leach got his start in Brigade Days 4×4 racing and has now poured $50K and hours of effort into his “Mudd Butt” rig, which he races in the NWMRA circuit, as does Katie Fry (featured on July 5).

Having known Leach from his early days, I was impressed to see his transformation into a focused, well-spoken young man — now married and with a baby boy on the way.

If we get any more whiteouts this winter, you might consider asking Leach to help guide your car home. He said, “We wear goggles — and in Merritt we were getting blinded by half-way. You just keep going and you know you’re done when you’re out of the mud.”

School-based sports

My last class of Grade 4 students are only in Grade 7 now, so I don’t feel like a stranger when I arrive at Hope Secondary to shoot a basketball game or ref a soccer game.

Community coach Jeff Kuhn took over the reins of the senior girls’ team when Pat Weins moved away and he has become the key campaigner for the sport, pushing the Steve Nash program for elementary aged kids — and heading up a fundraiser to buy a shooter-tutor machine for the school.

Kuhn said recently, “The fans are awesome.  Our community is one of a kind.” Very true… but a community and school needs leaders to step up and get things pointed in the right direction.

Track and field coach Jason Fisher and soccer coach Jeremy Smith have also been showing that leadership since coming to the school. Fisher served as the school’s athletics coordinator for a number of years but Smith has taken on the job this year.

Soccer is Smith’s favourite sport and he rebuilt the girls’ program when he came to the school. Now he’s added the boys to his plate.

Last spring, Smith organized Hope’s first-ever girls’ tournament and last October, he invited eight teams to town for Hope’s first-ever boys’ tournament.

It was pretty daring, to arrange an outdoor tournament in the worst-ever October for number of days with rain (28) — but the first day was absolutely gorgeous and Saturday’s rain didn’t get serious until the final match.

My doing double-duty as ref and sports reporter has its advantages. I know exactly how the game went and the game notes in my little book tell me when the scores came and who made the plays. (I just have to refrain from commenting on the quality of the officiating.)

Another thing I can’t do is shoot and ref at the same time. Smith’s dad, Randy, helped out on the Friday. I gave him a quick lesson and he used my camera to shoot the action. He did well!

Mountain Centre clears road

July 14: Hope is blessed with natural beauty, though much of it was untapped until the past few decades when program director Kelly Pearce and other members of the Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning took up the torch and started building, reestablishing and promoting trails and offering programs to invite locals and visitors into the outdoors.

This is a non-profit group and much of the work they do is unpaid.

In about 1990, I hiked half way up Mount Hope to the peak, with my sons Sean and Patrick and members of the Hope Outdoors Club. The road had been disabled by tree falls and slides, so we had to park well down the road and walk the rest of the way.

The good work last summer, of the road repair contractors and volunteer HMCOL brush-clearers has made the access road 3 kilometres longer, shaving hours of effort off the hike, with savings on the Wells Peak hike as well.

I hope to get back up there this summer — perhaps for an overnighter. If I do, you’ll read about it here.

July 14: Hope is blessed with natural beauty, though much of it was untapped until the past few decades when program director Kelly Pearce and other members of the Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning took up the torch and started building, reestablishing and promoting trails and offering programs to invite locals and visitors into the outdoors.

This is a non-profit group and much of the work they do is unpaid.

In about 1990, I hiked half way up Mount Hope to the peak, with my sons Sean and Patrick and members of the Hope Outdoors Club. The road had been disabled by tree falls and slides, so we had to park well down the road and walk the rest of the way.

The good work last summer, of the road repair contractors and volunteer HMCOL brush-clearers has made the access road 3 kilometres longer, shaving hours of effort off the hike, with savings on the Wells Peak hike as well.

I hope to get back up there this summer — perhaps for an overnighter. If I do, you’ll read about it here.

Lordco manager goes to Daytona

July 28: One of the key organizers of local motor sports is Scott Medlock, manager of the Hope Lordco store and a third-term councillor for the District of Hope. When I heard — via my Facebook peeps — that he had won a company-sponsored trip to the Daytona Speedway weekend, I dialed him up and he delivered some great quotes and a photo of himself on the steeply-banked track (no — not during a race.)

From the story: “The 400-mile race lasted three to four hours, despite the cautions, when they drive about 50 miles an hour,” explained Medlock. “We were joking that they could drive from Vancouver to Kamloops and back in that time.”

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