Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Sports teams closer to families in social media age

The Estephan and Gennaro families enjoy the Broncos’ WHL title win.
    It was one of the coolest sights when the Swift Current Broncos won the WHL championship back in May.
    During the post-game celebration, you looked around and saw all the players and coaches had their families on the ice surface with them at the Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current. Everyone was enjoying the moment, and snapping pictures on their phones.
    The vibe was real positive, and the thought that runs through one’s head is, “This is great.”
    For myself the next day, it hit me that the players were really close with their families. That thought had run through my mind on a number of different occasions during the last four sports seasons.
Broncos family members took lots of pictures of WHL title memories.
    That Broncos celebration happened on May 13. Just two weeks later on May 27 at the Memorial Cup tournament in Regina, I was on the ice surface of the Brandt Centre, when the Acadie-Bathurst Titan celebrated winning major junior hockey’s biggest prize.
    The celebration was almost a carbon copy of the one the Broncos had, when they won the WHL crown.
    I believe the strengthened family links is one of the good things that developed from the social media age. Players and coaches are in contact more with their families due to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
Titan family members flooded into Regina for the Memorial Cup.
    In circuits like Canada’s major junior hockey ranks, most players leave their homes to travel to a new centre to pursue their sport. Before social media existed, players’ family members back home didn’t learn about what was happening in that players’ life unless there was a phone conversation or a letter was mailed away.
    I can remember the days when players arrived at WHL training camps in August, and they wouldn’t see their families again until the Christmas break. Often, the news of what was happening in a player’s life was limited.
    With social media, the families back home have instant news about the life of a player, who is living away from home.
Families and friends cheer on the Pats in the 2017 WHL playoffs.
    The communication through social media makes family members more engaged with the life of a player. That engagement creates extra motivation for family members to make road trips to see the player play live.
    During the 2017 WHL playoffs, I worked a large number of games involving the Regina Pats, who advanced to the WHL Championship series that year. I saw the Pats play more than any other hockey team in the 2016-17 campaign.
    I hit a point I was recognizing the family members of the Pats players, when the Pats played on the road. I was impressed how many family members physically followed the Pats from centre to centre through that run.
Hilltops safety James Vause (#24) enjoys a PFC title win with his family.
    I remember one father of a Pats player coming up to me after a game in Swift Current and passing on a thank-you for covering the Regina team’s games.
    My experience was almost exactly the same this past WHL post-season covering games involving the Broncos. I couldn’t believe how many of the players’ families followed the Broncos all over the place.
    In past eras, families were present in the lives of the players but not to the extent I am seeing now.
    When I was a beat writer for the Medicine Hat News covering the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, I remember the families of the Tigers team that won the 2007 WHL title frequently being present in the rink.
    When the Tigers won Game 7 of the 2007 WHL Championship series 3-2 in double overtime at The Arena in Medicine Hat, I don’t remember the players’ families being present on the ice for the post-game celebrations.
The “Chippendads” cheer the Huskies women’s basketball team in 2016.
    I remember interviewing Tigers goalie Matt Keetley and watching Keetley point into the crowd and say how happy he was to see his family in the spot he pointed to.
    At that point in time, Facebook was in its infancy. Twitter wasn’t very well known and Instagram and Snapchat didn’t exist.
    Following that Tigers victory in 2007, it seemed like everyone want to get to the post-game party as quick as possible.
    When the Broncos and Titan won their respective WHL and CHL titles this past season, it seemed like everyone wanted to soak in those moments with their families, and no one wanted to leave the rink. You would also see people racing to post photos of the moment on their Instagram accounts.
The Willoughby family enjoys time together after a Huskies win.
    In both cases, it seemed like all the players on the Broncos and Titan had quickly snuck in and out of their dressing rooms to get their phones during their respective victory celebrations.
    I haven’t just noticed this in major junior hockey. I have covered the Saskatoon Hilltops the last four Canadian Junior Football League seasons, and the Hilltops players, coaches and staff are really connected with their families. The Hilltops have won the CJFL title for the past four straight seasons, and it seems like the family members have been present every step of the way including road games and team practices.
    I see it with teams in U Sports. During each of the past four seasons, it was common to see family members of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s and women’s hockey teams sitting all over the Rutherford Rink at every game.
Kianna, left, and her mom Kim Dietz enjoy the Stars SFMAAAHL title win.
    The fathers of the players of the U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team have become mini-celebrities at games sitting together court side and becoming known as the “Chippendads.”
    During my time at the University of Regina in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I remember players from U Sports athletic teams always being pumped to go out and party after the Saturday night game, which usually closed the action for the weekend. Now players in U Sports head off to spend the post-game doing something with their families.
    In the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, players’ families follow teams on that circuit in droves. The parent and family groups that back the Prince Albert Northern Bears, Saskatoon Stars and Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats are outstanding.
Roughriders DL Jordan Reaves, right, with dad, Willard.
    Even during my limited interactions with the CFL, it seems the families are more present. I remember interacting with members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2005, and it seemed the players couldn’t wait to go out and party after the game was done.
    There was a lengthy period of time in the late 1990s to the middle of the 2000s where I would always see members of the Roughriders or other CFL teams out for a party after games.
    During my interactions in the current day, players on the Roughriders are more focused with meeting up with their families after games and going out for a post-game meal at a nice restaurant.
    In pretty much all cases at each of these levels of sport, the families that are supporting the players are all awesome. They are all great and positively supportive of the players.
    I’ve had experience with bad parents and families during my time covering sports, but almost all the experiences in recent years have been outstanding.
    I hope players, coaches and staff members of sports teams can remain as connected to their families in the future similar to what I have seen in the present and at least in the past four years.

Back in the Express with FIBA tourney advancer

Nolan Brudehl, left, and Michael Lieffers celebrate and OT win last year.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with an advancer story for the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters basketball event.
    For the second straight year, a FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters basketball stop is being held in downtown Saskatoon. Last year, the local Team Saskatoon entry advanced to the tournament final before falling 21-14 to Team Ljubljana.
    The Team Saskatoon squad containing Michael Linklater, Michael Lieffers, Nolan Brudehl and Steve Sir will be back for this year’s tournament, which is set for July 21-22 in downtown Saskatoon to be held in conjunction with Taste of Saskatchewan. 
Michael Linklater (#4) drives into the open for Team Saskatoon.
    Linklater, Lieffers and Brudehl were all members of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s basketball team that won the U Sports national title in 2010. Sir is based out of Edmonton, Alta., and travels to join the other three.
    The tourney features teams from around the world, and it drew big crowds last year, especially when Team Saskatoon hit the court. It is expected big crowds will turn out again this year.
    My story on the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters basketball even can be found right here.

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