My journalism Dream Team, all-star selections

There have been hockey Dream Teams and basketball Dream Teams. Well, now I am naming my own Dream Team. This is a different concept. Stay with me on this.

This is my small-town journalism Dream Team, and Dream Team I is exclusive to my home town of North Bay, population 54,000.

You don’t think there are enough journalism stars from North Bay to make a Dream Team? Well, you may be surprised.

And Sudbury was pushing hard to demonstrate its star power. In fact, there are enough talented journalists from the hard-rock city that they will make up my small-town journalism Dream Team II.

I hope I don’t miss any journalists/broadcasters from North Bay who made it big in a major North American market. If I do, I hope they will speak up. I am not including people in the public relations or advertising field, although I greatly respect their skills.

My Dream Team II consists of journalists/broadcasters from Sudbury, population 160,000, who made the jump to a major North American media market as a big-time journalist/broadcaster.

I’m willing to bet that there are other journalists from small towns elsewhere in Canada who have blazed their way to the big time. Maybe there are other Dream Teams out there.

My rule is that there must be at least five members to form a small-town Dream Team and hometown populations must be 150,000 or under (Sudbury squeaked in). Canadian markets only.

For example, I know of two strong Toronto journalists from Kamloops, B.C.

Alex Ballingall is a reporter at the Toronto Star and James Mirtle covers hockey at the Globe and Mail. If there are three more big-shot journalists from Kamloops, we may have to create small-town journalism Dream Team III.

I find it interesting that so many stars in this business came from small towns, and it’s a little puzzling why such talent was allowed to escape. Of course, eventually, these journalists were going to follow the money trail to Toronto and New York and elsewhere.

The American story is a little different. When I read about the great writers at the New York Times or Sports Illustrated or the New Yorker, I find that the best and brightest are homegrown and not from small towns at all.

That’s why the Canadian small-town journalism story is so fascinating to me.

It is, however, worth mentioning that Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter hails from Trenton, Ont.

I’m looking for current journalists who grew up in small-towns in Canada. Not people who came from big cities, worked in small towns and moved back to the major markets.

I know there are world-famous authors who are from small towns in Canada, but that’s not the theme here.

After I name my journalism Dream Teams, I am also going to name my all-time personal and professional all-star teams. Again, I’m sorry if there are some important people I’ve overlooked.

Here then is my North Bay Dream Team. Of course, since I created the team, I’m putting my name on the list. But I’m putting it at the bottom because the other names are so much bigger. But there’s no particular order.

North Bay Dream Team

  • Jim Rankin, reporter/photographer with the Toronto Star and eight-time National Newspaper Award nominee
  • Dan Ralph, hall of fame CFL writer with The Canadian Press
  • Pierre LeBrun, acclaimed hockey insider and writer with ESPN and TSN
  • Kevin Frankish, popular co-host of Breakfast Television
  • Global TV veteran broadcaster Susan Hay
  • Curtis Rush, sports writer with the Toronto Star

Sudbury Dream Team

  • Tony Van Alphen, retired Toronto Star journalist
  • Linda Diebel, an award-winning political reporter with the Toronto Star
  • Joe Schneider, well-travelled writer and now legal editor at Bloomberg News in New York
  • Bryan Oliver, ex-MCTV reporter, who went on to Global in Toronto
  • Murray McCormick, who covers the CFL for the Regina Leader-Post
  • Joe Bowen, who did Sudbury Wolves radio broadcasts and became the voice of the Leafs
  • Award-winning Toronto Star photographer Steve Russell
  • Ken Campbell, longtime senior editor at The Hockey News

All-star teams from career and life

As I continue my countdown to retirement (42 days remaining), here are my favourite memories, largely made possible by my personal all-star team, consisting of people who had major impacts on my sporting life and my 40-year journalism career.

Favourite newspaper memory: My wife leaning up against the Teletype machine in 1977 and being transfixed by the great clatter of world news revealing itself to her word by word as I sat nearby and finished up my story late at night for the next day’s Sarnia Observer.

My first role model: The late Bob Gage, who covered university sports for the London Free Press.

Best sports editors: Jon Filson, who hired me from the continuous news desk to be a sports writer in 2013, allowing me to come full circle from my early days as a sports copy editor in 1981; Steve Tustin, who showed faith in me by approving my proposal to cover the French Open in Paris in 2000 and who fed my tennis-writing passion; Phil Bingley, who played a big role in my transition from editor to writer; and Jennifer Quinn, who has been generous with her time and has thrown her support behind most of my story proposals as I wrap up my career here.

Best business editor: John Honderich, Chair of Torstar’s board of directors, who as business editor allowed me the freedom to both edit and write stories for him.

Most gracious colleagues: Joe Fiorito, Mark Zwolinski, Kevin McGran, Paul Hunter, Donovan Vincent, Tony Van Alphen, Jim Coyle, Rob Ferguson, Josh Rubin, Barry Brimbecom, Scott Colby and the late Randy Starkman of the Star; Paul Hendrick of Leafs TV, and Murray McCormick of the Regina Leader-Post. At various times over my career, they took time to point me in the right direction when I felt lost and always had a kind word for me when I wrote something they liked.

Best assignment editors: Scott Colby, Barry Brimbecom and John Sakamoto. They pushed me to heights I never thought I would reach, and never once did they use a heavy hand or cattle prod. They could write the book on how to get the most out of a reporter without shattering his or her confidence.

Funniest journalists: Peter Edwards, who shouldn’t be as funny as he is considering that his specialty is writing about biker gangs and mob hits; former Star columnist Chris Zelkovich, who would be great as a humour columnist.

Best storyteller: Star Wheels editor Norris McDonald, who, like all great raconteurs, remembers everything and everybody, and each story from the glory days usually ends up with everyone, including him, laughing hysterically. He’s a newsroom treasure.

Best overall editors: Tony Bembridge, former features editor at the London Free Press, who put an unknown journalism student on the front page in 1974; Alison Uncles, now of Maclean’s magazine, and city editor Irene Gentle, who believed in me when I proposed a massive series on PTSD among police. Once the idea was approved, they stood back and let me write; Graham Parley, who a few years ago offered me the job as police reporter, which was a daunting portfolio; former bosses Mary Vallis and Erika Tustin, who were inspiring and creatively brilliant when I was cutting my teeth on the Continuous News Desk.

Shiniest Former Stars : Former colleague Linwood Barclay pointed the way to success after the Toronto Star. He worked as a copy-editor and desk chief at the Star, then turned to humour writing, and now is an internationally acclaimed novelist; and Ernest Hemingway, and I don’t have to explain how well he did after leaving the paper.

Best media relations director: Eric Holmes, former communications director for the Toronto Argonauts. Professional in every respect. Always returned calls and emails promptly. No one is better.

Best coaches: Bill Colcock, Dick Stewart, Bill MacFarlane, Frank Cosentino, Darwin Semotiuk, Larry Haylor, who all were instrumental in putting me in the best position to succeed on the track, basketball court or on the gridiron.

Best football arms: Don McCuaig, Jon Sickle, Gary McLeod, Bill Robinson, Jamie Bone, who made it easy for me as a wide receiver. I stuck out my hands and the ball would arrive on target and on time.

Best leader in football: Claude Riopelle, hall of fame defensive lineman at Western who turned me around when I was ready to turn my back on football. And he’s responsible for my being inducted last year into North Bay’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Best supporting cast: College roommates George Garner, Rick Glazier, Randy Greenall, Craig Maxwell. They formed my personal football cheering section and they put up with some crazy football parties at our house. They also bought me cowboys boots when I was drafted by the Edmonton Eskimos in 1975 and didn’t ask for them back when I got cut.

Best life supporting cast: My late mom, Minnie; my sister Kim, her husband John and my brother Brad and his wife Helen, who have always lent an ear or given me wise career advice; my wonderful nieces and nephews; and my long-time girlfriend Colleen, who has been there for the stretch run, lending valuable support in this critical decision to retire early and helping me celebrate the final chapter of my career as a sports writer.

This is my daily countdown of stories and memories from a 40-year career of writing and editing at the Toronto Star, the Sarnia Observer, Edmonton Report, Edmonton Journal and Toronto Sun. I will retire at the end of April. I will be 63 and ready to reinvent myself. Into what I have no idea yet. Suggestions welcome.