Cleveland baseball team’s name change sparks hopes other teams follow suit

Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team unveiled its new name and logo on Friday, and some Indigenous sports fans hope other teams follow suit.

Curtis Howson is the owner of a sports collectible site. He likes the new name for Cleveland’s baseball team and said the change comes at the right time. (Ashley Tricker)

Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team unveiled its new name and logo on Friday, and some Indigenous sports fans hope other teams follow suit.

“If the pro teams are willing to do it, where there’s billions of dollars at stake because they have to change everything, all their merchandise . . .  it’s going to kind of create that snowball effect with school teams,” said Curtis Howson.

Howson, who is Anishinaabe from Crane River First Nation in Manitoba, owns a sports collectibles store in Winnipeg and grew up playing in Indigenous baseball leagues in the city.

At one point, he used to wear the Cleveland baseball team’s merchandise but said his view on it shifted over the years.

“It was almost like a statement,” he said.

“The Indigenous people — we kind of embraced it at one time. [But] It took some time to understand and it was more or less being ignorant to what it could represent to other people.”

Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team will now be known as the Guardians after spending most of the past year whittling down a list of potential names that was at nearly 1,200 just over a month ago. (Twitter/@BaseballAmerica)

He said he likes the new Guardians name and logo and that he appreciates franchises like the CFL’s Edmonton football club changing its name to the Elks.

“I would like to say that it should have been changed years ago, but people weren’t ready for that kind of change yet,” said Howson.

Name change welcomed

Tara Houska, who is Anishinaabe from Couchiching First Nation in Ontario, is a lawyer and co-founder of Not Your Mascots, an organization committed to educating the public about the harms of stereotypes about Indigenous people, said she welcomes the change. 

She said it’s time for sports fans who are clinging to racist team names to listen to the voices of Indigenous people.

“We are living cultures, not mascots to be used as playthings,” Houska wrote in a Facebook message to CBC News.

“A caricature is not honour and honour is not unilaterally imposed.”

Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director and founder of Illuminative, a U.S. non-profit that aims to increase visibility of Native Americans in American society and challenge negative portrayals, released a statement Friday that Cleveland’s name and logo change is “a major step towards righting the wrongs committed against Native peoples, and is one step towards change.”

The statement also questioned how long it will take for fellow MLB team Atlanta Braves, the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, and the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks to follow suit.

The Cleveland Guardians will wear their new logos at the beginning of the 2022 season.


Whitecaps set to return to Vancouver, join Toronto FC, CF Montreal

Major League Soccer says all three Canadian teams will host August matches in their home stadiums. The Vancouver Whitecaps open August with three straight road games before hosting Los Angeles FC on Aug. 21 and Real Salt Lake on Aug. 29 at B.C. Place.

Vancouver Whitecaps’ Cristian Dajome with the ball against Minnesota United in May. The Whitecaps first home game back has them hosting the LAFC, more than 500 days since their last game at B.C. Place Stadium. (David Berding/Getty Images)

Major League Soccer says all three Canadian teams will host August matches in their home stadiums.

Toronto FC has already held two matches at BMO Field this month with CF Montreal staging one at Saputo Stadium. The Vancouver Whitecaps have continued to play out of Sandy, Utah, because of scheduling conflicts at B.C. Place Stadium.

The Whitecaps open August with three straight road games before hosting Los Angeles FC on Aug. 21 and Real Salt Lake on Aug. 29. The LAFC match comes 539 days after the last game at B.C. Place.

“We are very, very excited to finally return home and play in front of our amazing supporters at B.C. Place,” Axel Schuster, the Whitecaps sporting director and CEO, said in a statement. “A number of our players haven’t experienced the joy of playing in Vancouver with fans, so this will be a special moment.”

An empty B.C. Place Stadium hosts the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC for a game on Sept. 5, 2020. Stadium attendance capacities have not yet been announced for Vancouver’s return. (Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Toronto’s next home game is Aug. 1 against Nashville SC. Montreal host Atlanta United on Aug. 4.

The league says players and staff on teams coming north will have to be fully vaccinated to avoid quarantine. Everyone will have to undergo COVID-19 testing before travel and upon arrival in Canada.

“MLS remains in communication with the Canadian government regarding plans for Canadian teams to host their remaining home matches in Canada pursuant to a National Interest Exemption,” the league said in a statement.

That exemption would allow non-vaccinated players and staff to undergo a modified quarantine in crossing the border.

The league says all three Canadian teams will be allowed fans in the stands “in compliance with all national and regional guidelines.” 

Current public health guidelines for outdoor events in Quebec allow a maximum capacity at 5,000 spectators. Toronto’s attendance was capped at 7,000 for the first match back home, rising to 15,000 last time out. The August matches at BMO Field will also have a maximum attendance of 15,000.

There was no immediate word on Vancouver attendance guidelines.

Montreal also hosts the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 14 and Toronto on Aug. 27. TFC entertains New York City FC on Aug. 7 and the New England Revolution on Aug. 14.

Toronto and Montreal started the season in Florida, based out of Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, respectively.


‘This can be me’: Black participation rising in U.S. gymnastics

The face of gymnastics in the United States is changing. There are more athletes of colour starting — and sticking — in a sport long dominated by white athletes at the highest levels.

Jordan Chiles, left, and Simone Biles of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team pose for a photo during women’s podium training at Tokyo 2020 on Thursday. Biles has five career Olympic medals and continues to inspire new generations of Black gymnasts. (Getty Images)

There’s a phenomenon that happens every time Simone Biles appears on a screen inside Power Moves Gymnastics & Fitness.

As if flipping a switch, the young women of colour on the gym’s competitive team spring to life, fuelled by the jolt of adrenaline that comes watching the reigning Olympic champion test the limits of their sport.

“They just get this motivation that’s just unreal,” said DeLissa Walker, who co-owns the gym just outside New York City with her sister Candice. “And we’re like, `Wow, they’re really inspired.’ … They’re like `This can be me.”‘

Maybe because more and more, it is.

Half of the U.S. women’s Olympic delegation that will walk onto the floor — Biles, Jordan Chiles and Sunisa Lee — at Ariake Gymnastics Center for Olympic qualifying on Sunday are minorities. Biles and Chiles are African American; Lee is Hmong American.

More than half of the 18 women invited to Olympic Trials in St. Louis last month were women of colour. While numbers are still low on college teams, there is progress. Black women account for nearly 10 per cent of the scholarship athletes at the NCAA Division I level, an increase from 7 per cent in 2012. More than 10 per cent of USA Gymnastics membership self-identify as Black.

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WATCH | How Simone Biles’ Yurchenko pike is changing gymnastic:

CBC Sports commentator and Olympic champion Kyle Shewfelt explains how Simone Biles landing the Yurchenko double pike changes the Olympic playing field. 8:10

And while the current athletes at the top level of the sport were already involved when Gabby Douglas became the first Black woman to win the Olympic all-around title in London in 2012, the rise in participation among athletes of colour since Douglas’ golden moment at the 02 Dome is real, one amplified by Biles’ unmatched brilliance.

“Simone has opened the eyes to so many women of colour saying ‘Hey, you can do this, too,” said Cecile Landi, who has served as Biles’ co-coach along with her husband Laurent since the fall of 2017. “It’s not just little skinny white girls that can do it. Anyone can do it. And then it’s a black-owned business, so I think it attracts its own families that way.”

Even if it’s not exactly what Nellie Biles had in mind when she opened World Champions Centre in the northern Houston suburbs. Yet over the last six years, WCC has become a mecca of sorts. All six members of the club’s elite team are Black, and the diversity sprinkled throughout the program — from the elite level all the way down to the recreational kids who spend a few hours in the gym to burn energy — struck Gina Chiles the second her daughter moved from Washington state to train at WCC in 2019.

“I remember calling my husband and saying `Bruh, you will never guess,”‘ Gina Chiles said. “At our home gym, Jordan was the only one. It was refreshing to be able to see people of all colours. But to see the amount of little Black girls doing gymnastics, it just did my heart so good. It’s hard to explain. It just felt like `Wow.”‘

Spike in interest following Douglas’ Olympic success

It’s a moment Derrin Moore saw coming the second Douglas climbed to the top of the podium as the Star-Spangled Banner blared. The sight of a Black woman standing atop the sport in front of tens of millions in the U.S. provided an immediate spike in interest from families in the predominantly Black neighbourhoods surrounding Moore’s gym in suburban Atlanta.

“It was huge,” Moore said. “Our phones were ringing off the hook.”

Yet getting Black kids into gymnastics is one thing. Keeping them is another, one of the reasons Moore founded Black Girls Do Gymnastics in 2015. The foundation is dedicated to providing “scholarships, coaching, training, and other forms of support to athletes from underrepresented and marginalized groups.”

While Biles and her U.S. teammates head to work in search of helping the Americans win their third straight Olympic title on Sunday afternoon in Japan, nearly 7,000 miles away, a group of 100 Black and brown gymnasts will converge at Grambling State University as part of the foundation’s annual conference.

Fierce Mode: Activated 🔥#TokyoOlympics


The timing with the Olympics is coincidental. The venue is not. Grambling is in the exploratory process of becoming the first Historically Black College and University to offer women’s gymnastics.

“Our university leadership is looking at young gymnasts in our community and realizing and understanding the path from toddler gymnastics tumbling to the Olympics for a Black and brown gymnast is arduous.” said Raven Thissel, the marketing and public relations director for The Doug Williams Center, located on Grambling’s campus. “How can we make it a smoother one?”

The conference isn’t just focused on athletic development. There are also workshops planned for parents to educate them on what it takes to rise if their athletes want to graduate from entry-level programs to the NCAA/elite level. It’s an element that Moore believes can get lost for members of the Black community.

“It’s just giving families a little edge,” Moore said. “We want to give them information so they can step into the gymnastics arena and be confident and advocating for their girls.”

The Walkers, both board members at Brown Girls Do Gymnastics, are already starting to see the results. The business they started in 2012 in a space so small it’s now a barber shop is thriving. They moved to a warehouse in 2015 before opening at their current location in Cedarhurst, New York — on Long Island, about 20 miles from Manhattan — last August.

Even as they’ve grown, the majority of their clientele has remained athletes of colour. Eight members of Power Moves competitive team will be at Grambling this weekend to participate in the Isla Invitational, an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. The Walkers view it as the next step in the growth process for girls — and their families —eyeing a long-term commitment.

Chiles, pictured during a training session at the Tokyo Olympics, started training alongside Biles two years ago. (Loic Venance/Getty Images)

It’s a commitment that requires a significant investment of both time and money. Some members of the competitive team put in five to six hours a day several times a week. The Walkers estimate their monthly dues are about half of what other gyms in the area charge. They offer discounts for siblings and promote fundraisers.

Moore’s gym limits the number of competition leotards her athletes use and believes her coaches are willing to work for less because they view their mission as more of a calling than a job.

They are preparing for another spike in interest among Black communities that is likely in the offing as Biles steps onto the world stage once again. The Walkers, both former competitive gymnasts, are encouraged by what they see, but work remains to be done.

Lack of diversity at top levels of USA Gymnastics

Even as the number of Black and Brown athletes rises, diversity among coaching, club ownership, judging and representation at the top levels of USA Gymnastics remains very much a work in progress. While more than half of the athletes at the Olympic trials were women of colour, the overwhelming majority of the coaches and the judges on the floor were white.

“We have a role to play in making sure that we are intentionally diverse in that aspect,” USA Gymnastics President Li Li Leung said. “And then the hope is as the athletes pave the way. That the ecosystem that supports the athletes also becomes more diverse from a coaching standpoint, also from a club ownership standpoint. That we’re hoping to see that as well.”

Biles has vowed to remain in the sport long after the Olympic flame in Tokyo is passed along to organizers for the 2024 Games in Paris. Three years for now, perhaps some of the young Black girls who entered the sport in the afterglow of Douglas’ victory in London will be the ones in the mix to represent the United States in France or scattered across NCAA gymnastics programs across the country, maybe even at historically Black colleges and universities.

“Representation does matter,” Gina Chiles said. “And Simone has put her foot in it. She’s definitely set that path in a lot of ways. Whatever level you go to, you can be excellent at that level. And a lot of Black girls see that. And a lot of Black girls now want to be that.”


Vikings assistant coach Rick Dennison quits over COVID-19 vaccine

Veteran NFL assistant coach Rick Dennison has left his job with the Minnesota Vikings after refusing to be vaccinated for COVID-19, ESPN reported Friday.

Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach Rick Dennison left his position with the organization Friday, after refusing to be vaccinated for COVID-19. The NFL requires all Tier 1 staff, including coaches and team executives, to be fully vaccinated. (Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Veteran NFL assistant coach Rick Dennison has left his job with the Minnesota Vikings after refusing to be vaccinated for COVID-19, ESPN reported Friday.

Dennison, 63, had been offensive line coach/run game coordinator for two seasons. He is believed to be the first position coach to leave a team over vaccine regulation.

The NFL is requiring that all Tier 1 staff, which includes coaches, scouts, equipment managers and team executives, be fully vaccinated. Players do not have the same rule, but will be under restrictive COVID-19 protocols if they are unvaccinated.

Dennison played nine seasons at linebacker for the Denver Broncos before beginning his coaching career in 1995 as a Broncos offensive analyst. He served as offensive coordinator for the Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills and Broncos, and designed the offence that Peyton Manning led to a victory in Super Bowl 50.

The Vikings report to training camp on Tuesday.


When will Canada win its first medal?

CBC Sports’ daily Olympic newsletter pinpoints Canada’s best chances to get on the board in Tokyo, possibly as early as Saturday morning.

The 3m synchro diving duo of Jennifer Abel, left, and Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu should be among Canada’s first medal winners in Tokyo. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening at the Tokyo Olympics by subscribing here.

Let the Games (officially) begin

A full year later than they were supposed to happen, with many people still wondering if they should happen, and with no fans allowed to watch them in person, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games finally, officially started today with the opening ceremony.

The show was pretty standard Olympic-ceremony stuff: self-serious, a bit confusing and, at times, pretty impressive-looking. Other than all the empty seats at Japan’s Olympic Stadium, the biggest difference from ceremonies past was the sparse Parade of Nations. Only 30 of Canada’s 370 athletes marched in. As previously announced, veteran women’s basketball player Miranda Ayim and longtime men’s rugby sevens team member Nathan Hirayama shared the role of Canadian flag-bearer. Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron. Read more about the show, see photos and watch highlights here. You can watch a replay tonight at 7 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network.

Basketball’s Miranda Ayim and rugby’s Nathan Hirayama carry the flag as Canada enters the Tokyo Olympics. 1:36

There will be medals tonight — but when will Canada’s first one arrive?

Now that the opening ceremony is behind us, we can get down to the actual sports. Competition began a few days ago (softball, soccer and rowing are among the sports already off and running) but the official Day 1 of competition starts Saturday morning in Japan — Friday night in Canadian time zones.

That means there will be medals tonight. The first ones of the Games will come in shooting and will be decided around 9:45 p.m. ET with the women’s 10m air rifle final. By the time much of Canada rolls out of bed tomorrow morning, athletes will have also won medals in archery, cycling, fencing, judo, taekwondo and weightlifting before Day 1 wraps up around 10 a.m. ET or so.

Canada’s best medal hope on Day 1 is cyclist Mike Woods. The 34-year-old from Ottawa is competing in the men’s road race, which starts at 10 p.m. ET and typically takes about six hours to complete. Woods pulled out of this year’s Tour de France, which ended on Sunday, after the 18th of 21 stages. But not before he briefly wore the polka-dot jersey as the leader of the so-called King of the Mountains sub-competition through stage 14. Woods finished 55th at the 2016 Olympics, but he won bronze in the road race at the 2018 world championships.

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The favourite to win Olympic gold is Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar, though his tank might be empty after winning his second consecutive Tour De France title just a few days ago. The fact that Woods is fresher than a lot of riders after skipping the last few stages of the Tour could boost his podium chances. Read more about Woods here.

If Woods doesn’t make the podium (still the more likely outcome), there’s a good chance Canada’s first medal arrives on Saturday night/early Sunday morning in Canadian time zones via a water-based sport. Swimmer Sydney Pickrem took bronze in the women’s 400m individual medley at the 2017 world championships and should be in the Olympic final Saturday at 10:12 p.m. ET. The first swimming relay final of the Games, the women’s 4x100m freestyle, goes at 10:45 p.m. ET. Canada took bronze in this event at the 2016 Olympics and the 2019 world championships, with Penny Oleksiak, Maggie Mac Neil, Kayla Sanchez and Taylor Ruck swimming the final at the latter.

If the swimmers fall short, Canada has an even stronger-looking podium chance a few hours later with the women’s 3m synchronized diving final at 2 a.m. ET. Jennifer Abel and Mélissa Citrini-Beaulieu took silver at each of the last two world championships, in 2017 and ’19.

After winning gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 with Synchro partner Émilie Heymans, Abel knew she wanted to stand on that podium and hear the anthem play again – but this time only for her. 1:41


A few more things happening tonight or tomorrow morning that you should know about:

Swimming gets started. Remember the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when NBC convinced the IOC to flip medal races to the morning local time so American viewers could watch Michael Phelps go for eight gold medals in primetime? Tokyo is in a similar time zone, so that’s happening again (the network has this clout because the IOC earns three quarters of its revenue from broadcast rights, and half of that comes from NBC). The qualifying heats begin around 6 a.m. ET on Saturday. Canadian contenders in action include Maggie Mac Neil in the women’s 100m butterfly (she’s the reigning world champ), Sydney Pickrem in the women’s 400 IM, and the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay team. You can stream the heats live on CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports’ Tokyo 2020 website, and they’ll also be shown on the Olympic Games Morning show on CBC TV. We’ll take a deeper look at the exciting Canadian swimming team and its medal chances in tomorrow’s newsletter.

The Canadian women’s soccer team returns to the field. Their 1-1 draw vs. host Japan in Wednesday’s opener was a solid result, but still disappointing given Canada was minutes away from pulling off the upset before giving up the tying goal. It also may have been costly in that goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé suffered a rib injury when she took down a Japanese attacker early in the second half. Labbé stopped the ensuing penalty shot but soon left the match. She said she’s “optimistic” about starting Saturday’s match vs. Chile, which Canada is heavily favoured to win. If Labbé can’t go, capable young backup Kailen Sheridan will step in again. Read more about Canada’s outlook for the rest of the tournament here. Watch the match vs. Chile on Saturday at 3:30 a.m. ET on CBC TV, CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports’ Tokyo 2020 website.

One of Canada’s top gold-medal contenders hits the sand. The women’s beach volleyball duo of Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes plays their first match tonight vs. a Dutch team. Pavan and Humana-Paredes are the reigning world champions and are currently ranked No. 2 in the world, behind Brazil’s Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa. Read more about the Canadian pair and everything else you need to know about the Olympic beach volleyball events here. Watch Pavan and Humana-Paredes’ opener at 11 p.m. ET on CBC TV, CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports’ Tokyo 2020 website.

Two of Canada’s tennis entries play their opening-round matches tonight. Leylah Annie Fernandez faces Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska in women’s singles, while seventh-seeded Gabriela Dabrowski and Sharon Fichman take on Brazil’s Luisa Stefani and Laura Pigossi. Both matches are at 10 p.m. ET. The other Canadian in the Olympics is men’s No. 9 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime. His first-round opponent is Andy Murray — winner of the last two Olympic men’s gold medals. Sounds tough, but the Great Britain player is now 34, hasn’t been relevant on tour in quite some time and has fallen to 104th in the world rankings. Canada should also have an entry in the mixed doubles event, but the pairings for that don’t come out until next week. The biggest stars in the singles events are Japan’s Naomi Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony, and Novak Djokovic, who’s trying to complete the so-called Golden Slam. If he takes gold, he’ll join Steffi Graf as the only players to win all four singles majors and the Olympic title in the same year. Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal all bowed out of Tokyo. Read a full preview of the tennis events and Canada’s medal chances here.

3×3 basketball makes its Olympic debut. Anyone who’s played ball on the blacktop at their local park will recognize the core rules: halfcourt, take the ball out past the arc when you gain possession, baskets worth 1 or 2 points, first team to 21 wins. “From the Streets to the Olympics” is the marketing slogan from basketball’s world governing body, which is going for a youthful, “urban” vibe with this version of the game. It’s played outdoors, with a live DJ spinning hip hop and a style of play-by-play commentary you might recognize from those old And1 Mixtape Tours. The tournaments should be more competitive than the traditional ones, which the U.S. dominates. NBA stars weren’t eligible because none of them have competed on the global 3×3 circuit, and the U.S. actually failed to qualify a men’s team. It has a women’s squad though, made up of WNBA players. Canada did not qualify a team in either tournament. Read and watch a full 3-on-3 explainer here. Games start at 9:15 p.m. ET tonight and you can stream them live on CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports’ Tokyo 2020 website.

How to watch

A variety of live events are being broadcast on TV on CBC, TSN and Sportsnet. Or choose exactly what you want to watch by live streaming on CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports’ Tokyo 2020 website. Check out the full streaming schedule here.

Have your say

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You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.


‘It’s a fight’: The centre position in water polo is no easy task

Wrestling for position in the water. Grabbing of swimsuits. Errant kicking. The odd cheap shot. It’s just a day in the life of a centre forward in water polo. The centre or the hole position is not for the faint of heart.  

Canada’s Emma Wright, seen here at the 2019 Pan American Games, says she feels ‘like I was made for a centre’ despite the challenges the position poses. (Silvia Izquierdo/The Associated Press)

Wrestling for position in the water. Grabbing of swimsuits. Errant kicking. The odd cheap shot. It’s just a day in the life of a centre forward in water polo.  

The centre or the hole position is not for the faint of heart.  

If you’re new to water polo, the centre is the player trying to get open in front of the other team’s goal. It’s often where the water is turbulent, like a washing machine, which is almost what playing in the hole feels like.  

“I would probably say it’s a fight. The whole thing is a brawl, if I’m being honest,” said co-captain Emma Wright on a recent call from Morioka, Japan, where the team was training ahead of Tokyo. 

“You’re not actually fighting, obviously, but it’s a very physical position. You need strength and anticipation, you have to be able to read your defender, you have to read where the ball is going to go. It’s kind of a mix of being able to anticipate the next move and just using your whole body to try and keep position. It’s pretty tough.”

As the Canadian women’s water polo team embark on their first Olympics in 13 years, the team will be without the woman who occupied the position so fiercely for more than a decade, Krystina Alogbo. Three herniated discs in her neck and the year-long delay of the Games accelerated her retirement plans. With her departure, the reins have been handed to Elyse Lemay-Lavoie and Wright, a converted driver.

Though Wright has played centre here and there in her career due to her size — she’s one of the bigger, stronger women on the team at almost six feet and 185 pounds — as a driver, she would typically play on the outside and take opportunities to drive to the goal. It’s about having speed, running plays and knowing where the ball needs to go. 

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“The best way to describe the centre, you’re in the middle of the play and if you can get position, it’s kind of a way to allow the offence to actually happen,” explains the Lindsay, Ont., native, whose sister Claire is a goalie on the team. 

WATCH | The Olympians: Women’s water polo:

What a relief for the women’s water polo team to obtain their olympic qualification for the first time since 2004, especially for veteran Joelle Bekhazi, because she has been waiting for this moment for 15 years. 1:35

If a centre can get in position, they draw the defence’s attention back and that allows the rest of the team in the water to move, pass the ball or make shots or look inside to pass to the hole if the player is open. 

Lemay-Lavoie started the sport at age 15 after leaving competitive swimming. Unlike Wright, the 23-year-old has almost exclusively played in the middle. 

“I came to my club [CAMO], they saw me and said ‘you’re pretty tall, you’re pretty big, we’re going to put you there,’ so I started right away playing as a centre,” said the 26-year-old native of Montreal who stars for the University of Hawaii. “I started learning about water polo from [that position] and it wasn’t until after years playing national team and doing national junior, I got the chance to play other positions.” 

It’s been about six years that Lemay-Lavoie has been back as a full-time centre and like many athletes on the national team, she was greatly impacted by Alogbo. 

Krystina Alogbo ‘an idol’ for Lemay-Lavoie

“She took me under her wing. When I first came into the national team she really helped me build the player I am today,” said Lemay-Lavoie. “I have my own style but I learned a lot of what I do in the water from her and what she told me. She was an idol for me when I came in.” 

Water polo itself has a reputation as a rough and tumble sport and the centre position is the epitome of it. 

“There’s a lot of wrestling face-to-face, lots of pushing, lots of legs, lots of grabbing with the suit, lots of hits. You’re going under the water, over the water. Usually as a centre, our neck gets pretty sore because we’re getting jumped on. There’s always someone over our shoulders or over our head getting very aggressive.” 

Despite the bruises and the black eyes, playing centre is still a lot of fun. 

“I feel like I was made for a centre,” Wright said with a laugh. “I feel super comfortable. I think I was made to fight. I’ve always been kind of a bigger girl and that has sometimes been a disadvantage because drivers are usually smaller players so I’ve been kicked out a lot for being too heavy, just being a bigger person in the water. 

“Now, as a centre, just being able to use all of my strength and not being penalized for that … it’s been nice. Water polo is a tough game, but I like it.”   

Canada kicks off the Olympic water polo tournament Saturday against Australia (2:30 a.m. ET) before meeting Spain on July 26, South Africa on July 28 and the Netherlands on Aug. 1. The top four teams in each of the two groups advance to the quarter-finals. 


At Tokyo 2020, paddle will be passed to next generation of Canadian table tennis athletes

When Jeremy Hazin competes in Tokyo at his first Olympics, he’ll represent the next generation of Canadian table tennis. The son of a Palestinian father and second-generation Chinese-Canadian mother is exactly what the sport in Canada has been missing for so long: a homegrown star.

(Thorsten Gohl/Table Tennis Canada)

Eugene Wang and Mo Zhang are ready to move on. 

The two Olympians have dominated Canadian table tennis for more than a decade, sitting at or near the top of the Canadian rankings since they emigrated from China in the early 2000s. They’ve already reached the apex of their careers, and as they head into what could very well be their final Olympic Games, they’re hoping to pass the torch.

“I really want the new generation to take over my sport,” says Wang, 35. “In my heart I want to produce some players from Canada who can actually shine for the country, shine themselves on the world stage.”

The story of table tennis in Canada is one of immigration. Historically, the sport has been dominated at the highest levels by first-generation Canadians like Wang and Zhang. Only six of Canada’s 20 Olympic table tennis athletes were born in Canada and 10 of the 14 immigrant athletes were born in China.

All in a Day8:55Ottawa-trained Table Top tennis player heads to Tokyo Olympics

We speak with Olypian champion Eugene Wang about his road path this summer’s Olympic games. 8:55

That is changing, though, and Jeremy Hazin, a Canadian-born 21-year-old, is proof.

When Hazin competes in Tokyo at his first Olympics, he’ll represent that next generation. The son of a Palestinian father and second-generation Chinese-Canadian mother is exactly what the sport in Canada has been missing for so long: a homegrown star.

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For years, the notion of someone like Hazin dominating Canadian table tennis was almost unthinkable. When Adham Sharara, the president of the Canadian Table Tennis Federation, first arrived in Canada in 1968 as a young man from Cairo, table tennis in this country was more of a game than an organized sport.

“At that time, it was really almost non-existent. There was almost no participation in international events,” Sharara said. 

For decades, Canadian table tennis careers typically ended after university. There were so few table tennis clubs that Sharara often found himself seeking out one of the international students from Hong Kong to rally with him.

Zhang eyes the ball while playing table tennis against Brerta Rodriguez of Chile during the 2011 Pan American Games. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Immigration landscape changed

Then, in the mid-90s, the Canadian immigration landscape completely changed. After years of East Asian immigration coming almost exclusively from Hong Kong, immigration from mainland China soared.

Between 1995 and 2005, more than 300,000 Chinese citizens arrived in Canada. They brought with them their cultures, traditions, cuisines and sports. Today, first-, second- and third-generation Chinese-Canadians make up between 70 to 90 per cent of the table tennis population, Sharara said. It’s created a pipeline of talented young players who compete in hundreds of clubs that now exist across the country.

“If it wasn’t for the Chinese immigration there would not be a Jeremy,” Jeremy’s father, Sam, said.

When Sam immigrated to Canada in the late 70s, he was forced to give up the sport he had grown up playing in Bethlehem, Palestine. After university there was just nowhere to play, he said. For two decades he stopped playing the sport entirely, as he was unable to find anyone who he could compete against.

You can say this about any other table tennis athlete that grew up in Canada. Had they grown up somewhere else, by definition they would be better.– Sam Hazin on developing talent

In 2009, that changed. A parent at Jeremy’s school convinced Sam to come to a local Chinese table tennis club. Back then, Jeremy used to hang around his father a lot and table tennis seemed like a way to keep Jeremy occupied after school and on weekends.

It was clear right from the start that Jeremy possessed the innate skills to become a table tennis star. Young players typically smash the ball back across the board, using all their strength to crush the weightless ball like a baseball. Jeremy, however, understood the finesse required to properly play the sport. He was always able to return the ball on the table, Sam said.

Jeremy remembers the older Chinese men at the club used to call him over to rally with them. They liked playing against the young boy and wanted to encourage him to keep improving. At first, Jeremy would lose. He couldn’t figure out the tricky spin more experienced players like to put on the ball. Within months, though, he’d figured it out. He swiftly started beating the older men, and with each win more competitors were ready to challenge him.

“That’s the first moment I realized maybe I have some talent in the sport,” Hazin said. “I started beating them after a few weeks or months without any professional training.”

Wang returns a ball as his partner Zhang watches, on their way to winning gold against Brazil’s Gustavo Tsuboi and Bruna Takahashi in the mixed doubles table tennis final at the 2019 Pan American Games. (Rebecca Blackwell/The Associated Press)

Lack of development system

The problem for Hazin has simply been the lack of an organized developmental system in Canada. In China, on the other hand, there are boarding schools where talented children can train to develop their skills. Wang and Zhang would spend six or seven hours a day playing table tennis, trying to earn a spot on China’s national team, quite possibly the toughest team in the world to make. For Jeremy, there was almost no structure. He and his family had to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to support their son’s athletic career.

“He simply grew up in the wrong place,” Sam said of his son. “I know … he could have been a lot better. I mean, you can say this about any other table tennis athlete that grew up in Canada. Had they grown up somewhere else, by definition they would be better.”

Still Canadian table tennis has come a long way in the past decade. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, participation had hit record numbers with more clubs than ever before.

The goal for the Tokyo Olympics is for Wang and Zhang to medal in mixed doubles, Sharara said, adding it’s doable if they don’t draw China too early. But as Wang and Zhang step aside in the not-too-distant future, Sharara is optimistic for the next games in Paris and Los Angeles, and more broadly, for the future of the sport in Canada. He envisions a group of very talented Canadian-born players that will soon be pushing for spots on the national team.

For the first time in Canadian table tennis history, there should soon be home-grown competition for table tennis supremacy. For Hazin, his family, and Canadian table tennis, that’s something to look forward to.


NHL prospects, scouts prepare for 2nd virtual draft after unusual year

Pandemic restrictions limited options for many junior hockey players and leagues this season. With the NHL set to hold its second virtual draft on Friday, prospects Owen Power, Brennan Othmann and Luke Hughes share their experiences of the past year.

Canadian defenceman Owen Power is expected to be the top pick when the NHL conducts a virtual draft for the second year in a row on Friday. (Gints Ivuskans/AFP via Getty Images)

Between online classes and strict COVID-19 restrictions, Owen Power’s freshman season wasn’t exactly what he expected.

Now the No. 1-ranked North American skater is set to miss out on a normal NHL entry draft experience, too.

Power, a six-foot-six, 213-pound defenceman from Mississauga, Ont., is expected to be the top pick when the league’s draft is held virtually for the second year in a row on Friday.

The Buffalo Sabres have the first selection, followed by the upstart Seattle Kraken, who’ll be making the first pick in club history. The Vancouver Canucks will be the first Canadian team on the board, choosing ninth.

Power believes he has what it takes to be drafted first overall, but he hasn’t committed to making the leap to professional hockey next season. After an unusual first year at the University of Michigan, the 18-year-old said he’s considering going back to school in the fall instead.

“I think that’s probably one of the big parts of why I want to go back to school, to just be able to experience the true college experience, especially at Michigan with the fans there,” Power said. “Playing in front of them, I think would be pretty special. Just actually going to class and not doing it online, just being able to do stuff other than go to the rink and home I think would be something that I would like to do.”

While there have been many challenges in the last year, there have been some special opportunities for Power, too.

He was selected to the Canadian national team for the men’s world hockey championships in May and turned heads with three assists in eight games en route to Canada’s gold medal win.

“I think the world championships was good for me to kind of see where I was at when playing with pros or playing against pros. So I think it gave me a bit of a better idea of how ready I was to play pro hockey,” he said.

General manager Ron Francis will make the second overall pick in Friday’s NHL draft for the expansion Kraken. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Lost opportunities

Unlike Power, many prospects in this year’s draft class haven’t seen game action recently.

COVID-19 restrictions limited options for many junior hockey leagues. The Ontario Hockey League scrapped its season, while the Western Hockey League went with an abbreviated campaign and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League saw repeated interruptions due to positive tests and ever-changing government rules.

Trent Mann, chief scout for the Ottawa Senators, felt bad for the young players and their lost opportunities.

“But that’s their reality as well. For us, it just makes the job that much harder. The reality is that right now, there are players that have not played a game since February of 2019,” said Mann, who’s team holds the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft.

The Calgary Flames will pick 13th, the Winnipeg Jets have the No. 18 selection, the Edmonton Oilers are slated to choose 20th and the Montreal Canadiens will go second-last on Friday with the 31st pick.

The Toronto Maple Leafs dealt their first-round selection to the Columbus Blue Jackets in April for forward Nick Foligno and won’t pick until midway through the second-round on Saturday.

Mann said Ottawa is better prepared for a virtual draft after going through the process for the 2020 iteration in October. The group knows what to expect this time around, he said, like the complications involved in making a trade.

“There’s not as much time,” he said. “[General manager] Pierre [Dorion] can’t walk over to the table and get something done that quickly. It just doesn’t work that way. I think there’s some little intricacies of the day itself that we’ll be able to improve upon because we’ve been through it.”

OHL winger Brennan Othmann, right, says he has learned a lot from veteran players and coaches playing in Switzerland since the OHL season was cancelled in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Looking for work overseas

The Senators’ scouts have used a number of different tools over the past year, including video, analytics and scouting reports, but they can’t replace the experience of watching a player live or meeting with them face-to-face, Mann said.

“That’s the piece that’s just the scary part about it all is just that if you don’t see it, it’s just a little bit more of a gamble, I guess,” he said. “And we have to live with that. But it doesn’t make you feel any better, to be quite honest.”

Players have been adapting, too. When news spread that some North American leagues were cancelling or condensing their seasons, some athletes looked overseas for opportunities to hone their skills.

Brennan Othmann, a left-winger for the OHL’s Flint Firebirds, ended up playing for a team in Olten, Switzerland. The six-foot, 175-pound Toronto native registered 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 34 games.

“I learned a lot from the older guys there. I learned a lot from the different coaches we had on the team. I think it’s really going to benefit me and my personality as a person and a player,” said the No. 8-ranked North American skater. “I can’t wait to show that at the next level.”

Othmann felt for his OHL teammates, though, knowing many weren’t able to secure similar opportunities.

“I had lots of buddies I played with and played against, and they can’t showcase themselves. That’s just disappointing for them and for me to hear that,” he said. “We’ve worked our whole lives to get drafted in the National Hockey League. I wish some of my other peers got to play the game and showcase themselves a little bit more.”

For one prospect in this year’s draft class, the pandemic presented a unique opportunity to learn from some of the game’s up-and-coming stars.

Hughes trio cherish time together

Luke Hughes’ older brothers came back to their family’s home during quarantine, providing ample time for the budding defenceman to pick their brains on making the most of the draft process.

Jack Hughes was picked first overall by the New Jersey Devils in 2019 and the Vancouver Canucks selected Quinn Hughes seventh in 2018.

“I think quarantine was unbelievable for me to just hang out with my brothers. Jack was at my house for like, nine months,” Luke Hughes said. “Just to spend that time with him, we probably won’t have that time together as a family ever again, so that was awesome, just to train with them in the summer, live with them and watch hockey together. So that was awesome.”

The youngest Hughes brother enters the draft as the No. 4-ranked North American skater after spending last season with the U.S. National Team Development Program. A six-foot-two, 184-pound blue-liner, Hughes plans on playing at the University of Michigan in the fall.

Both Quinn and Jack Hughes were drafted in person and heard their names called from the stage as applause roared around them. They each walked to the front of a packed stadium and shook hands with their new team’s brass before donning a fresh jersey.

It’ll be a much different experience for Luke Hughes and the other NHL prospects picked this year.

They’ll gather with family and friends, watching the draft play out on TV. A phone or webcam will record reactions when their name is called. The only hugs and handshakes will come from those in the room.

While he knows his draft will be a more subdued affair, Luke Hughes has still taken some valuable advice from his brothers.

“They kind of taught me going into the year that you’ve got to be ready for everything, you’ve got to stay level minded and you can’t get too high or low going through the year,” he said.

“And I think that really applies to me this year because with all the COVID implications and getting shut down and quarantine at numerous times throughout the year, I think you’ve got to stay level headed and can’t be too high or too low.”


Yogi Muise, cornerstone member of Cape Breton’s Men of the Deeps, has died

Yogi Muise performed with the choir of former Cape Breton coal miners for over 50 years.

Yogi Muise (left) performs with Men of the Deeps. (Submitted by Jenn Sheppard)

Yogi Muise, a longtime member of Cape Breton’s Men of the Deeps, has died.

He performed with the choir of former coal miners for over 50 years.

Muise, who was 85, is being remembered for his love of music as well as being a big, gentle man who loved to listen to people’s stories.

Stephen Muise, his son and the musical director of the Men of the Deeps, said his father was “a great man.”

“If you had a story to tell, he would sit and listen, a song to sing, he would sit and listen to you,” said Stephen Muise.

Yogi Muise had no shortage of his own stories to tell. His son said when the choir would get together after shows, his father and Jim (Big) MacLellan would entertain the group for hours.

“He had no trouble commanding a room,” said Stephen Muise. “If there were stories to be told, Yogi would not fall short.”

Yogi Muise worked as a coal miner in his younger years starting when he was a teenager, but he didn’t stay in the profession forever.

He was also a teacher in the New Waterford area of Cape Breton for over 30 years.

Jenn Sheppard, his daughter-in-law, first met him when he taught her science in Grade 9.

Yogi Muise as a young man. (Submitted by Jenn Sheppard)

She said her first impression was that he was a bear of a man and had a way of drawing you in.

“Anybody you talk to will say, ‘He gave me a bear hug and changed my life’ or, ‘He sat and listened to me and he gave me a piece of advice,'” said Sheppard.

“He was just like a dad to pretty much everybody he met.”

He was also a well-known volunteer that sat on many committees including Glace Bay’s Miners Museum.

Sheppard said before he left the miners museum board, he made sure he had a good replacement and that the position was in good hands.

Yogi Muise is pictured with Cape Breton singer Rita MacNeil. The Men of the Deeps were well known for their performance of MacNeil’s song ‘Working Man.’ (Submitted by Jenn Sheppard)

Mary Pat Mombourquette, executive director of the miners museum, said she remembers when the Men of the Deeps went to Kosovo and Muise wrote everything down to tell people about it when he got back home.

“He was just such a thoughtful, kind person to do that, like go out and have these remarkable experiences and then come back and share them,” said Mombourquette.

He spent many years as the business manager for the Men of the Deeps, making all the arrangements when they travelled the world.

with files from Mainstreet Cape Breton.


Alex Trebek honoured with Geographical Society grant program for emerging explorers

The late Alex Trebek, who began his career at the CBC and hosted the iconic game show Jeopardy for 37 years, is being honoured with a grant program that aims to award $400,000 annually to emerging Canadian explorers, scientists, educators and photographers.

Alex Trebek, the longtime host of Jeopardy who was born in Sudbury, Ont., and would have turned 81 this week, died in November 2020. A new grant program called The Trebek Initiative will help emerging Canadian explorers, scientists, educators and photographers. (Colin Rowe/Canadian Geographic)

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society in Canada and the National Geographic Society in the U.S. are honouring the late Alex Trebek with a special grant program named after the longtime Jeopardy host.

Trebek, who grew up in Sudbury, Ont., began his TV career at the CBC in 1961 and hosted several game shows before joining Jeopardy nearly four decades before his November 2020 death. He would have turned 81 on Thursday.

During his lifetime, Trebek had been involved with both geographical societies, so in honour of his birthday, The Trebek Initiative was launched.

The grant program aims to promote emerging Canadian explorers, scientists, educators and photographers, said David Court, chair of The Trebek Initiative, “to help them to tell their story with a goal of igniting what we call a ‘passion to preserve’ in all Canadians.”

Jean Trebek said she’s heartened to see her husband’s memory and philanthropic legacy honoured.

Alex was incredibly passionate about geographic education and exploration, believing it to be critical to understanding our planet and the impact of a changing environment.– Jean Trebek

“Alex was incredibly passionate about geographic education and exploration, believing it to be critical to understanding our planet and the impact of a changing environment,” she said.

“As such, lending his name to this initiative to help support the work of emerging Canadian explorers was a natural extension of his belief in the power of lifelong learning.”

The program will provide $400,000 to $500,000 a year in grants to support expeditionary work. Between 10 and 12 grants will be handed out each year.

Court said there are similar grant programs in other parts of the world, including the U.S., “just not in Canada.”

He said the funding — at least for the first three years of The Trebek Initiative — is from 18 families from across Canada.

Word of the grants spreading already   

Applications are coming in already.

“People have started putting in inquiries, making early applications, so they can work on them over time. And we are expecting that we will have some things up and going even this year,” Court said.

He said some of the submissions they’ve already received are “all over the map” in terms of topics and categories.

“An example would be we’ve got one that’s looking at exploring underwater caves in British Columbia; we’ve got scientific research on Canadian wildlife. There’s some things on Canadian deer. There is wilderness and water. We’ve got one we’ve been talking to that is dealing with water scarcity in northern communities or we’ve got also photography.”

Court said it’s important to have such a program in Canada.

“I don’t think Canadians know enough about their country and they have an incredible thirst to know more.”

He said there are a number of young or emerging explorers doing fascinating work, but the details of those efforts aren’t getting out to others.

“Between the funding we can provide — but maybe equally, or if not more importantly — is getting them connected to National Geographic, which is one of the great storytelling organizations there is, we can get these stories out to Canada,” Court said.

Grants aim to ‘ignite the passion’

“Great storytelling can change the world,” said Alex Moen, chief explorer engagement officer for the National Geographical Society.

“Through The Trebek Initiative grants and the explorations to come, we want to ignite the passion to preserve our environment and the planet in every Canadian,” said Moen.

“Our mission with The Trebek Initiative is to inspire Canadians to make lasting, positive changes for the health of our planet,” said John Geiger, chief executive officer of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

Up North8:05Trebek Initiative launches

A new fund in honour of the late Alex Trebek has been launched today, on what would have been his 81st birthday. We spoke with David Court about how the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the National Geographic Society in the U.S. teamed up to create the Trebek Initiative. 8:05