Why? Why do I write (let alone, for whom)?
The other day I was asked why I continue to write – not just my book but these chapters in the Editorialog. Might even have questioned my occasional letter to the editor of the local daily paper (although it actually isn’t a daily any more, having first dropped the Sunday edition a few years back, and more recently the Monday edition has been discontinued). I have always been known as a bit of a loud mouth (both figuratively and literally) but that doesn’t bother me all that much. Does mean that sometimes, something that I’ve said gets carried beyond the bounds of the nearby listener but I’ve learned to live with that. It’s this relatively new question: why write? that has renewed a reflective moment. Ironically it was said just before I received word that another long-time friend and colleague had passed away.
So before getting to the original question, let me take some time to talk about Jim Donlevy. I first met Jim when I was in the broadcast booth at UofA Student Radio doing play-by-play for Golden Bear football on CKUA radio autumn Saturday afternoons. He was an Assistant Coach then, but he always had time for my questions and always gave good comments. He moved up the coaching ladder and I moved out of the booth and on to student government and then grad school in the States. But after returning to Canada, our paths occasionally crossed (especially if I went to UofA football games) and we’d chat – not just about the good ole days, but about what we were doing going forward. He was a visionary and I always enjoyed hearing what he was thinking about college sport and young athletes.
It was after he left football that our conversations seemed to increase. I had run into him somewhere and we had lunch. We got talking about an old subject – the lack of proper athletic scholarships at Canadian universities. I had even written a major paper on this subject while at the U of Minnesota and had shared it with him. But now he was much more animated about the topic. He talked about what he was doing with the Tier 1 teams in the Western Hockey League and how he envisioned a scholarship plan that would counteract the approach that the USA had forced on kids when it barred anyone who had played in Tier 1 hockey from ever accepting a scholarship to an American college. That policy had meant that many kids stayed playing Tier 2 so they would be eligible for such scholarships and Jim didn’t think that was fair. I agreed with him but thought his idea was such a better way of helping kids than simply trying to change the policy.
As I became more involved in college teaching after my consulting days, I actually contacted Jim for more information on his program. He gave me materials (including DVD’s, etc.) that I could share with students and with interested parents. He also gave me up-dates on how his efforts were having impacts beyond the WHL to the OHL and Q which basically meant Major Junior players across the country now had a real opportunity to go to good Canadian colleges or technical institutes after their playing days and get an education. But there was a second benefit: Canadian college hockey was getting a great deal better too. The best example was the 2005 Telus Cup played at the UofA. The games were all good; but the final was simply superb (and staged in the old Edmonton Colisium in front of 11,000+ people) . The UofA vs. the U of Saskatchewan – both teams were filled with former Tier 1 players, all enjoying the benefits of Jim’s scholarships. It was better than the Memorial Cup. The next year was more of the same… A couple of years later I was able to attend the same tournament hosted in Moncton NB and it was even better (as more teams were recruiting Tier 1 players).
When in the latter part of the last decade, I was teaching a number of ethics & leadership courses at the UPEI in both the Faculty of Education and the School of Business, another aspect of Jim’s influence came onto my radar. I had a couple of students who were on those scholarships from Ontario and western Canada. They were good hockey players, but more importantly they were good students. So my classes were better for their presence. At the same time, the quality of UPEI hockey was enhanced so much that I enjoyed going to those games rather than the local Tier 1 team. And as an aside, the materials that Jim gave me turned out to be excellent resources for some of my education students who were doing research it improving educational access.
Jim was a bright, innovative and caring individual. I liked him a lot. And this opinion was validated this past week by a comment from another long time friend from that era at the UofA. This individual had hosted/billeted a number of Tier 1 players in her home. What had impressed her were two things – the manners & deportment of the players themselves, and the frequent visits by Jim to make sure that they were doing well, especially if they were also taking classes. It wasn’t enough for Jim to simply create a program to help students – he always was wanting to make sure that it was working, that it was achieving the intended goals, and that the people impacted were the better for it. Jim was a special individual – there are countless people who benefited from his scholarship programs, but there are even more who continue to enjoy a higher calibre of college hockey in Canada because of the students who realized that pro hockey wasn’t their best option and instead returned to school at a Canadian institution and made that team a great deal better.
And now to the why I raised at the outset. Let me simply say that I don’t really know why I write. Partly it’s because I enjoy the process, partly because it makes my brain have to work. If I reflect a bit it’s doubtless because I want to get people thinking, maybe even respond (although I’m quite happy if people just talk about any of my ideas within their own circles). But then a day like today comes along and I realize I also want to honour people like Jim who made my life better, more interesting, and more enjoyable. These people often did so, doing something for someone else and that ended up touching my world in surprising ways. And maybe that’s what makes it all so special – we just never know who we meet that might come back to make our lives happier or more fulfilled. When I reflect on all the people who crossed my paths and left a mark of one kind or another the number is staggering: the farmers who taught me to work a little harder, the teachers who didn’t accept half-way measures in my assignments, profs who actually took pride in their lectures and got me thinking, colleagues in high school or college who helped me achieve interesting things or more importantly helped others exceed their normal capacities and thus made life for all of us better, people who worked for governments who by their efforts enabled some of us to accomplish far more than we would have done on our own, friends who drifted away and then returned at the most amazing moments to help provide insights into life that made the next part of the journey so much clearer, people I knew who never intended to cross my path but by their own professionalism, their own commitment to getting to better, actually made my path so much more intriguing.
I am thankful for Jim. You should be too. He’s a model for all of us. Do what really is your passion and your influence will be boundless, even if people wait to share their appreciation after you are gone.