SPORTS

Russell: Breathing life into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

10/22/2014 06:58 EDT | Updated 12/22/2014 05:59 EST
Halls of fame are generally associated with sport.

In Canada every province has one, many sports organizations have one, and myriad smaller communities across the country boast their very own sports halls of fame.

While business, music, art and other of life’s worthwhile and essential endeavours have come to embrace the notion of the hall of fame, it is sport that got things started in the first place.

We have always associated sport with definitive acts of winning, losing and titanic struggle. Sport has provided many moments which have staying power in our collective memories.  The people of sport and those who emerge as champions are, for whatever reason, the ones we inevitably cling to.

Their exploits, internationally, nationally and sometimes a lot closer to home resonate, and in many cases, these figures ascend to iconic status in the folklore of our country.  It’s because the greatest of our athletes, both male and female, have become inextricably entwined with our concept of national pride.

It would seem that sport and those who enter its halls of fame matter to many people.  Perhaps it’s because they’ve come to embody our potential as well as our ambition to be great.  

“They are the best of Canada,” said Michael Medline, the President of Canadian Tire Corporation as eight new inductees to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame were introduced in Toronto.   “They are the best of the best,” he said of the Class of 2014.  

Canadian Tire sponsors Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and for a company that deals in sporting goods, this seems like good business, plain and simple.

Their due recognition

But as I listened to the words of the Class of 2014 and considered the breadth of their talent, the impact they’ve made as a group, I came to understand that sometimes it’s good to recognize the best and brightest among us who have given our country so much reason to celebrate.

There’s Kathy Shields, a university basketball coach who inspired many of her players to follow in her footsteps as well as Horst Bulau, a ski jumper who soared above all other Canadians at four Olympics not to mention Geraldine Heaney, the highest scoring defender in women’s hockey history. 

Tim Frick is a builder in the field of Paralympic sport and as coach led the Canadian women’s wheelchair basketball team to three gold medals at the Games.

“It’s a feeling of reverence, pride, humility, disbelief and perspective,” Frick said just before he slipped into his hall of fame jacket for the first time.

Gareth Rees becomes the first rugby player from Canada to enter the hall of fame.  One of the best international performers of his generation, Rees played at four rugby World Cups and was feared by his rivals just as he was beloved by his teammates.

“I hope the values of rugby come to light,” he modestly declared in accepting the honour.  “I hope people see the respect that we have for the game and for the opposition.  We are part of a community that respects sport and values the opportunity to compete.”

Prompting a new generation

The amazing Pierre Harvey who represented Canada at four Olympics as both a cross country skier and a cyclist has become a pioneer while prompting a generation to follow in his tracks.  His son Alex has since carved out a career which has included a world championship victory in cross country skiing.

“It’s the inspiration that brings you there,” Harvey estimated. “To see that sport could be translated to the rest of my family is a gift for me.”

The late Sarah Burke, the superstar freestyle skier who lost her life while training for the sport she loved, was represented at the induction by her father Gordon.

“She played the game with love and happiness and respect for other people,” he proudly said.

One fleeting Manley moment

Finally there is Elizabeth Manley, the diminutive figure skater who captured a nation’s undivided attention at the Calgary Olympics in 1988 when she produced an unlikely and thrilling silver medal for Canada. 

She gives definition to the essential ingredient to any hall of fame.  She created the one fleeting moment, the famous act that somehow has the power to endure for all time.

“When I’m long gone it’s such an honour to know that my legacy and my story are here forever,” Manley said.  

Halls of Fame are just buildings and the artifacts that are collected inside tend to gather dust.

On induction day it’s worthwhile celebrating the real treasures of sport. 

They are, of course, the people who breathe new life into any hall of fame. 

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