Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mary Campbell, 1910-2009

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 25, 2009

Mary Campbell learned to play basketball in a church basement where posts held up a low ceiling. She jived and shimmied around the obstacles, developing quick-stepping skills she would later credit for helping her lead a team of young Canadian women to a world championship.

The basement of St. Giles United Church in the Vancouver neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant offered a rare venue for girls to play sports in the years following the Great War. In those days, when basketball was in its infancy, the game was a low-scoring affair dominated by ball possession.

At age 18, Miss Campbell earned a spot on the varsity roster of the University of British Columbia. Standing just 5-foot-6 and weighing a slight 120 pounds, she relied on guile more than force to score from her position as a forward.

A new gymnasium opened on campus for the 1929-30 season. The basketbelles, as they were sometimes described in newspaper reports, played against amateurs in a city-wide league. They posted a record of eight wins and two losses to earn a shot at the Western Canadian championship against the mighty Edmonton Grads.

Under the guidance of coach Percy Page, the Grads were acknowledged as the greatest women’s basketball team of the age, demolishing all opponents in Canada and around the world. In 1930, the Grads defeated the university squad in Vancouver in a two-game series to determine the Western Canadian championship.

The Grads went on to claim the Dominion title. In the first summer following the stock market crash of October 1929, the Grads were unable to travel to Europe. Mr. Page proposed the university team take their place.

Parents of the players kicked in $300 and the student council donated $1,000. Backed by editorial support from the Daily Province newspaper, a committee of businessmen launched a fundraising campaign that included bakes sales and door-to-door canvassing. Percy Williams, the schoolboy sprinter who won two gold medals at the 1928 Olympics, lent his support. These efforts raised another $4,200.

The journey by train and ocean liner from Vancouver to Hamburg, Germany, and on to Czechoslovakia lasted 17 days. Coach Jack Barberie instituted a strict regimen of exercise for his student athletes aboard S.S. Montclare, according to a 1981 article in the university’s Alumni Chronicle magazine. The team ran a mile on the promenade deck before breakfast and walked 40 minutes after every meal. Candy and pastry were forbidden treats. After the workouts, they retreated below deck to a room they dubbed “Barberie’s torture chamber” for massages.

During practice on the liner’s outdoor tennis court, an errant pass sent the group’s lone basketball over the rail, where it was last seen bobbing on the Atlantic Ocean.

The Canadians arrived in Prague for the International Women’s Games, a quadrennial gathering organized in response to the refusal to allow full participation of women in the Olympics.

Miss Campbell’s squad expected to take part in a tournament, but learned the world championship would be settled in a single game showdown against France, the European title holders.

The women got an even greater shock when they saw the court. Instead of polished gymnasium parquet, it was an outdoor court of cinder.

As well, the rules forbade substitutions except in case of injury, and no rest was taken between quarters.

“The ball was smaller than ours, and the basket a bit higher,” Miss Campbell told me four years ago on the 75th anniversary of the game.

The larger French players tried to intimidate the visitors by using roughhouse tactics.

“They were great big bruisers,” she said. “It wasn’t a basketball game as we knew it. It was just a rugby football game.”

Relying on speed and savvy, the Canadians built a 14-8 lead by the end of the first half. The play got tougher in the second half, as the referee seemed reluctant to call fouls. Gusting winds did not make the playmaking any easier. With 10,000 European fans surrounding the court, the overseas tourists survived the French assault to record an 18-14 win. The victors were presented with ribbons and gold medals, as well as an etched crystal vase proclaiming their triumph as world champions.

A light-hearted return trip included an extended shopping expedition in Paris, where the young women spent so much of their money that they could only afford beans and crackers on the transcontinental train ride from Montreal to Vancouver.

Back home, the newspapers trumpeted the title. The Daily Province published a front-page photograph of the players wearing school blazers under the headline: THEY’RE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD.”

Bouquet-bearing wellwishers greeted them at the train station in Vancouver late in the evening of Sept. 26, 1930. Four days later, the city council played host to a banquet at the Hotel Vancouver, followed by a dance.

Miss Campbell said the cost alone provided motivation for the athletes, many of whose parents had dipped into nest eggs to finance the once-in-a-lifetime trip.

“We didn’t dare come home without winning the championship,” she said.

After graduation, Miss Campbell embarked on a teaching career that would last four decades. She taught physical education at John Oliver High School in Vancouver, creating a local powerhouse in track and basketball. Among those she lured to the P.E. staff was Ruth Wilson (obituary, Nov. 30, 2001), regarded as the province’s finest woman athlete of the 1940s and a brilliant coach in her own right.

In 1961, Miss Campbell joined the teaching staff of the new Windermere High, where she headed the English department, parsing sentences instead of opposing defences.

She trained uncounted young athletes over the decades, few of whom ever knew she had played for a world championship team. The UBC squad was all but forgotten for many years, although university sports historian Fred Hume and others revived interest in the team in the early 1990s. Feminist scholars also found much to admire in young women who travelled halfway around the globe to contest a world sport championship. After all, basketball was not introduced into the Olympics until six years after their victory over the French, while women were not permitted to compete until the 1976 Olympics at Montreal.

Miss Campbell and her teammates on the 1929-30 squad were inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 1981, the university’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, the Basketball B.C. Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame three years ago.

In recent years, Miss Campbell was celebrated for her regular appearances at basketball games at her alma mater. She also created an endowment from which athletic awards are presented to women student athletes.

Miss Campbell was also active in the historical society at her old high school, where a gym is to be named in her honour next month.

Her death leaves a childhood friend, Lois (nee Tourtelotte) Fisher, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, as the last surviving member of the storied 1930 team.

After interest in the team was revived, a hunt was initiated to find the etched championship vase. It was located in an office, where it had served for many years as a flower holder. It is now on display in a glass case on campus.

Mary Elizabeth Campbell was born on Oct. 11, 1910, at Vancouver. She died in that city on March 4. She was 98. She leaves a niece and two nephews.

Spreading the Aloha spirit in the Middle East

Gaza surfers with donated wetsuits. Photo by Michael Scott Moore.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 25, 2009


Grant Shilling arrived at a Gaza Strip border crossing armed with a passport and good intentions.

He did not get far.

“I took my goofy Canadian approach. Just idiot me,” said Mr. Shilling, an author from Cumberland on Vancouver Island. “I told them I was going into Gaza to surf. The guy thought that was hilarious.”

The guard at the Erez Crossing suggested Mr. Shilling take advantage of the surfing possibilities along the Israeli coastline to the north.

The Canadian assured the guard he had already done so. He praised the waves and he praised Israeli surfers. He made a final plea.

“These are my surf brothers,” he said of unseen Palestinians beyond the crossing, “and I want to hook up with them.”

Somehow, the clarity of the argument failed to persuade the guard. Mr. Shilling returned to Tel Aviv.

He was on a mission. He had with him a dozen wetsuits purchased in Victoria and donated by the owner of a surf shop in Tofino. These were to be donated to a fledgling surfing club in Gaza.

He would try again. And again.

Mr. Shilling, 49, came to surfing late in life, only discovering the sport about 12 years ago. “I'm Jewish,” he says, “but surfing is my religion.” He has the convictions of a convert, also saying, “I do believe there is a thing called the Aloha spirit.” He uses “stoked” as a past participle even when not talking about stirring the embers of a fire (to wit, “If you're stoked by surfing, this is something you will understand”). Have board, will travel.

His latest surfing safari took him to a seriously hotheaded place, where he conducted research for a book to be titled, Surfing with the Devil: In Search of Waves and Peace in the Middle East. The title was inspired by a quotation from Dorian (Doc) Paskowitz, the father of Israeli surfing, who once said: “God will surf with the devil if the waves are good enough.”

Twenty months ago, Doc, then aged 86, schlepped a dozen surf boards across the border into Gaza. He had been inspired to make the gift by a photograph of two Palestinians who shared a single board. When challenged at the border, Doc kissed and hugged the male guard while invoking their shared Jewish heritage. The boards were permitted to cross. As a tactic, kissing border guards is a weapon Mr. Shilling has so far not yet unleashed.

Mr. Paskowitz, who was born in Galveston, Tex., first arrived in Israel to join the army during the Suez Crisis in 1956. He eventually returned to his homeland, where he and a growing brood of children led a peripatetic life in search of the perfect wave. In 1972, he founded a surfing school in the family's name in San Diego.

Doc has spread the Aloha spirit around the globe. In Israel, he joined fellow surfers Arthur Rashkovan and Kelly Slater, a world champion, in a group called Surfing for Peace. You can see Mr. Slater on YouTube guiding children on surf boards, some of the girls wearing two-piece bikinis, others in far more modest hijabs.

Thus inspired, Mr. Shilling calls his own efforts “Boards Not Bombs.” Ralph Tieleman of the Long Beach Surf Shop in Tofino donated a dozen Xcel wetsuits, which Mr. Shilling transported to Israel.

The wetsuits got as far as the border crossing.

Mr. Shilling is persistent. As a writer, he has gone from producing an oddball newsletter called Baseball Complete With Spelling Errors (a ragged-looking sheet that not only lived up to its title but inspired a prominent American newspaper columnist to describe it as “funny, quirky, thoughtful”); to publishing the Gulf Island Gazette newspaper on Salt Spring Island; to contributing to The Globe; to completing The Cedar Surf (New Star, 2003), an evocative history of surfing in British Columbia.

He may be a dreamer, but he's no flake.

“Some people see me as being terribly naive for doing something like this. You can't bring peace through surfing, but you can create moments of peacefulness.”

As for waiting for the politicians to end the strife, he says, “We've had 60 years of political process and it's got us bupkis.”

Back in Israel, he tried a second time at the Erez crossing with the same outcome. He made his third attempt from Egypt, a backdoor approach that provided him a third wipeout.

“I was pretty thoroughly bummed I didn't get in,” he said.

But he gave a handful of suits to a photographer, who managed to cross into Gaza and deliver four to a fledgling club. When he saw his friend's photos, he thought, “These guys look like kids at Christmas.”

Mr. Shilling returned to Vancouver Island earlier this month and is already planning a second expedition. After all, he has yet to catch a wave off Gaza. And he still has eight wetsuits to deliver.

“Surfing for that moment gives the absolute feeling of freedom. In a place like Gaza, freedom is hard to come by.”

Call it painless waterboarding. Unless you fall off.

2009 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dutch treat

Leon Boyd celebrates. Photograph by Reuters.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 11, 2009


It has been quite a week for Leon Boyd.

On Saturday, he threw the final pitch in one of the greatest upsets in baseball history.

On Sunday, he celebrated his first wedding anniversary.

On Monday, he threw a fat pitch over the middle of the plate. The ball was smacked into the outfield, Puerto Rican runners raced around the bases and thousands of jubilant, delirious fanaticos in the grandstands at San Juan erupted for a drum-beating, whistle-blowing, flag-waving celebration.

On the mound, Mr. Boyd, 25, tugs his orange cap low as to almost cover his eyes. He wears the black shirt of the national baseball team of the Netherlands, which is an accomplishment for a kid born in Vancouver and raised in White Rock.

By Tuesday morning, he was the last Canadian playing in the World Baseball Classic, a seven-city, 16-nation showdown to determine global baseball supremacy.

Turns out British Columbia exports logs, fish and the occasional pitcher. He is No. 44 in your program, the guy with a tattoo of a maple leaf and the tri-colour Dutch flag.

When he was about nine months old, his mother, the former Wilma van Zandvliet, returned to her Dutch homeland to visit her family. She included her son on her passport, a decision that a quarter-century later made him eligible for a passport of his own, as well as a spot on the national team.

That is good both for the Dutch and for Mr. Boyd.

In Canada, he is regarded as only a so-so pitcher. In Holland, he is among the best honkballers.

So, an athlete all but unknown back home has wound up in playing for the Netherlands in Puerto Rico, where his wife and his parents cheered him on from grandstands filled with fans wishing for his failure.

"It's a madhouse," his mother said yesterday from her San Juan hotel room. "The noise is incredible. When the rest of the stadium goes quiet, that's when we pipe up. Hol-land! Clap, clap, clap! Hol-land! Clap, clap, clap!"

Her voice was hoarse from two days of chanting and cheering. A small contingent of Dutch fans, all dressed in orange, are driven to Hiram Bithorn Stadium in a bus with an escort of motorcycle policemen.

She was working as an administrator at a school for the children of oil company executives in Rotterdam when she met Sean Boyd, a Halifax-born hockey player who played professionally in Europe and who moonlighted as a substitute teacher.

She had learned English at school, he took a crash course in Dutch. After marriage, they moved to Canada's West Coast. A daughter was born, then a son.

At the age of 14, the son convinced the father to take him to a major-league baseball game in Seattle so he could watch his childhood idol pitch. That's the closest he has come to the big leagues.

As an older teenager, Leon Boyd pitched for the amateur White Rock Tritons, where his catcher was Brent Swanson. The pair next wound up at playing for the Treasure Valley Community College Chukars in Ontario, Ore.

"He doesn't have overpowering stuff," Mr. Swanson said of his former batterymate. "There's no magic potion. He just keeps the ball down and gets people out."

Major-league baseball teams draft 1,500 players per year. In the late rounds, distant relatives are selected as favours to the coaching staff. Mr. Boyd did not get a sniff. At first, even the pro teams in the Netherlands ignored the 6-foot-5 hurler. Only after playing in Belgium was he discovered by the Dutch national coach.

On Saturday, the Netherlands faced the Dominican Republic, a powerhouse team whose roster features such big-league all-stars as Jose Reyes, Miguel Tejada and the fearsome slugger David (Big Papi) Ortiz. The Dutch parried with minor leaguers, a washed-up former major leaguer looking for a job, and one eager but obscure right-handed Canadian pressed into service as a closer.

Some described it as David vs. Goliath, but it was more like David's little brother vs. Goliath.

Mr. Boyd watched most of the game from the bullpen down the left-field line. He couldn't help but admire the pitching of Pedro Martinez, the childhood hero he had once seen in Seattle. Mr. Martinez mowed down Dutch batters like so many orange-and-black tulips.

Then, in the ninth inning, with the Netherlands nursing a 3-2 lead, Mr. Boyd was assigned the unenviable task of getting the final three outs.

It was messy, but Mr. Boyd struck out Jose Bautista to end the game. The pitcher jumped up and down on the mound.

"We danced on the mound, oh did we dance," he wrote later on his blog at his Canadutch World Baseball Classic Experience blog. "I was swarmed and pummelled and hugged a lot." In the stands, he saw his mother and his wife, Jeana, nicknamed Shorty, crying in happiness.

Forty-eight hours later, he returned to the mound in a similar circumstance, the Dutch leading Puerto Rico, 1-0, late in the game. The outcome was not good for Mr. Boyd; he surrendered two hits and the Dutch lost. It meant the Dutch had to play a rematch against the Dominicans.

They needed to prove their one-in-a-million upset was really more of a two-in-a-million upset.

Then, last night, the impossible happened. The Dutch scored two runs in the bottom of the 11th inning for a 2-1 victory. The winning pitcher? A Canadian who looks good in orange.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

No sequels for this Rocky

John Temple

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 4, 2009


Another morning dawns today without a fresh edition of the Rocky Mountain News.

A newspaper is dead five days now, and still the publisher speaks of his column and his staff and his newsroom in the present tense.

Even after attending your own wake, it is hard to believe you are gone.

On Friday, John Temple became the final publisher of a newspaper known affectionately as The Rocky, a Denver newspaper first printed in the gold-rush boom of 1859 and last printed in the credit bust of 2009.

Mr. Temple, who turns 56 next month, got into the business to produce newspapers, not to bury them.

His first job was delivering the morning broadsheet in his Vancouver birthplace.

“My route went from Larch, Elm, Trafalgar,” he said, “between 37th and 41st.” Those Kerrisdale mornings have become grey and misty in memory. Of all the editions he delivered, the front page reporting Bobby Kennedy’s shooting is the Province he remembers best.

When his brother was busy, he would take over his afternoon Sun route. Back in the 1960s, the papers had rival owners.

Mr. Temple had a roundabout route to the newsroom front office, not getting his first full-time reporting job until age 30. Eighteen years later, he was publisher of The Rocky.

Vancouver has a history of sending journalists off to stardom. Pierre Berton, whose working career began behind orange-crate desks at the perennially broke News-Herald, left for better-paying gigs in Toronto. Bob Elson, a tyrannical Province editor notorious for his nervous habit of eating scraps of paper, became managing editor of Life Magazine and wrote a two-volume history of Time Inc. (Once, he chewed to pulp a scrap of paper on which had been written a banner headline. On election night. On deadline.) Some paperboys even did better than that. Jimmy (Baby Face) McLarnin learned to box to defend his turf selling the Province on the waterfront. He became world welterweight champion.

Mr. Temple’s parents survived the Second World War in Hungary, even as German troops occupied the family home on a hill in Budapest. Other family members perished. His parents later fled the Communists by being smuggled into Vienna inside oil drums driven by a Russian in whose hands they entrusted their fate, as well as a bribe. Canada eventually accepted the couple as Displaced Persons, his father’s immigration papers describing him as a tailor though he had likely never sewn so much as a button.

The father found work at Jones Tent and Awning before beginning a career in the foresty industry, while his mother worked as a waitress before becoming a civil servant. His maternal grandparents arrived in the 1950s. They opened a delicatessen in which the grandmother was presented as “the hostess with the mostest.”

Newspapers were a staple in the Temple household staple. The boy clipped articles about the B.C. Lions football team, pressing them into a scrapbook.

Mr. Temple left home at 18, working as a treeplanter and a seaman on a small oil tanker, as a carpenter and a crafter of log cabins, as a fruitpicker on a kibbutz in Israel and as a vendor at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. He tarred a roof during a Prince George winter and he drove a cab on the midnight shift on Toronto’s slick streets.

The deckhand job convinced him of the need for a skill, he once wrote, so he could “call my own shots in life.”

While studying architecture, he helped produce a small publication, which revived the newspaper bug. Armed with an English degree, he fired off applications. Alas, newsroom jobs were scarce in the recession of the early 1980s. The hopelessness of his circumstance was summed up when his application to the Parry Sound (Ont.) North Star did not even merit a rejection letter.

He wound up in graduate school in the United States, where he found work at the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette. The Toronto Star later hired him as a reporter before the Albuquerque (N.M.) Tribune lured him away to be city editor. He rose to be managing editor before moving to Denver in 1992.

The inaugural issue of the Rocky Mountain News was printed on presses delivered by oxcart, the inky pages pushed into the mud streets of what was then a settlement in Kansas Territory, only 20 minutes ahead of those of the rival Cherry Creek Pioneer. The newspaper was housed in the attic of a saloon.

One hundred and fifty years later, the Rocky was once again in a death struggle, this time against the Denver Post.

Mr. Temple’s paper won its first Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for photographic coverage of the Columbine massacre, repeating with another photography Pulitzer in 2003.

Four years ago, James Sheeler, the paper’s obituary writer at the time, began following an officer whose duty it was to aid families of fellow Marines killed in Iraq.

Mr. Sheeler said Mr. Temple contacted him at all hours about story structure and word selection. In a meeting, Mr. Temple addressed the editors and designers who were to handle the special project, which included the touching photographs of Todd Heisler.

“There’s a point in this story where Sheeler describes the care the Marines take when folding the flag for the last time,” Mr. Temple said. “I want each of you to take the same care with this story. That’s how much it means to me.”

The poignant stories went on to win a Pulitzer for feature writing.

Those triumphs were recounted in the paper’s final edition last Friday. The E.W. Scripps Company, owners since 1926, were closing the doors just weeks before the paper’s sesquicentennial.

It was not the ending the publisher envisioned.

When the closing was announced, he spoke a few words while standing inside the newsroom’s U-shaped news desk.

He spoke in the projected cadence he had learned while hawking programs and lottery tickets at The Ex.

“I still use that voice to talk to my newsroom today,” he said.

He paused, as what he said sunk in.

“I don’t have a newsroom anymore.”

And a big city has one less voice.

The sad truth is that today’s economic climate is for newspapers similar to the influenza pandemic of 1918, which felled the young and healthy. These days, even a newspaper bleeding black ink is threatened.