The sports community in any town or region is made up of many people.
First and foremost, there are the athletes themselves, the ones who play the games, the ones who run the races, the ones who strive for success by hitting home runs or scoring goals.
Then there are the coaches who help those young men and women develop and improve in their chosen activities. And there are the managers, the officials, the organizers, the sponsors, all with important roles to play if sports are to thrive.
But there’s another vital component. They’re the men and women who report on sporting events in our newspapers, on radio stations and television channels. Without them, without their microphones, tape-recorders and cameras, the wins and losses, the highs and lows of our athletes would never really be known to the public, the people who support and cheer on our competitors.
Some sports participants, especially in professional ranks, might frown upon the works of reporters and broadcasters, but where would the athletes be if reporters never showed up, never wrote stories, never told the results?
Nova Scotia, like anywhere, has had its share of quality media personalities, in my lifetime at least. It has been my pleasure to get to know many of them personally, to work side-by-side with them in press boxes and other locations, whether they were colleagues or competitors.
Take Pat Connolly. The veteran, born into a sports-minded Cape Breton family, where he began his long and distinguished career that included all aspects of sports journalism, was best known for his work in radio. But he could also write as well as any sports reporters for newspapers and other publications.
One of the most rewarding things about my own career was that I got to work alongside Pat for a long, long time. Without trying to date the two of us, our friendship goes back more than four decades. Like myself, Pat has lived in Dartmouth for many years. Our paths crossed weekly, if not daily, in arenas, at ball parks, at press conferences and other places that sports reporters frequent.
The years have passed and Pat is now 84 years old. Health-wise, he has had a rather tough battle the past few years, but always the optimist, always the battler, he has carried on admirably.
Friend and former colleague Joel Jacobson and I get together for lunch at least once a month. Recently, we invited Pat along. I hadn’t seen him for a while, and it was so great chatting with him once more.
Pat’s health has taken its toll. He’s lost a tremendous amount of weight, his face and frame taking on the looks of a man his age. But his voice – so familiar to sports followers through the decades – still has that same distinct tone it always had. And his personality hasn’t changed a bit. He’s still the same friendly, caring guy who made countless friends and admirers through the years.
Another thing hasn’t changed about Pat. His memory of sports events he covered is still as sharp as ever. Who won that hockey championship in 1946? Who hit the winning home run 50 years ago? He answers such questions in a flash – almost always with a personal story attached.
I couldn’t allow his latest trip down memory lane pass without asking him about his experiences covering sports in Pictou County.
In a flash he was reminiscing about old APC Hockey League teams of the 1940s and 1950s, about games he covered in the old arena in downtown New Glasgow, and later at New Glasgow Stadium. He named player after player who performed for New Glasgow, Stellarton and Pictou teams as though they played last week. I think the most interesting thing to come out of the conversation, though, was his recollections of Pictou County sports people and fans in general. He was quick to say that Pictonians from way back were as supportive as fans anywhere.
“Pictou County fans always knew their sports and always supported their teams extremely well,” Pat offered. “And there were always many fine players and teams there.”
No, there’s nothing the matter with Pat Connolly’s memory.
Just imagine the experiences he has had, from a career that began while attending high school in the days of the Second World War.
“I tried to play everything, but couldn’t play anything very well,” he once told me. “As I got older, I sure as hell was no great athlete and there was only one way to hang with it, and that was approaching it from different directions.”
His broadcasting career began when he covered the Sydney Millionaires hockey club in 1949. That launched his many years in radio. “I just knew I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else in my life,” he told me.
There were many chapters to Pat’s career, too many to mention here, but perhaps his best runs were covering Halifax’s American Hockey League teams for 22 years and, more recently, the junior Halifax Mooseheads.
When his radio broadcasting days were over, he became the familiar public address announcer for games at the Metro Centre.
Pat’s work in sports journalism didn’t go unnoticed. He was inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in 1999 and, when you attend events at the Metro Centre nowadays and look way, way up, you see the name in huge letters: “Pat Connolly Press Box.”
He once made this observation to CBC’s Bruce Rainnie: “There are certainly no regrets. How many people get the opportunity to make a living at what they like to do best? It’s been a wonderful life.” And for me, it was wonderful just being there at lunch, sharing some of Pat’s long-time memories of what has truly been a long and outstanding run.
Hugh Townsend, a New Glasgow native and Nova Scotia sports journalist for almost 60 years, can be reached at 204 – 435 Portland Hills Drive, Dartmouth B2W 0A8