October 30, 2015 ath

Oct 31st…not just Halloween

As a young kid, Oct 31st was one of the best nights of the year. Dressing up in your favorite costume was the coolest thing to do and nothing beat endless free candy and getting a chance to stay up late. During my teenage years I will never forget hopping on the bus to Chinatown to buy illegal firecrackers in a back alley or heading to one of those temporary stores and spending all of my paper route money buying the biggest and loudest fireworks I could. It was all about trying to one up your buddies.
Then after high school it was all about the house parties or nightclubs. Ah good times.

But in 1998, Oct 31st changed for me… forever. After a 3 1/2 year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, my Dad passed away on that day. I remember it like it was yesterday. The early morning phone call, the reaction on my Mom’s face, seeing my Dad for the last time. Moments that will stay in my mind forever. It was the toughest night of my life. A day of pretend suddenly became all too real.

Two things always bothered me. My Dad would never get to meet my future wife and kids and he would never get to see me do what I really wanted to do, work in sports broadcasting. He missed the broadcasting part by less than a calendar year.

In 1999, I was on the 12th hole at a golf course in Vancouver on Labour Day Monday and I got a call from Barry Macdonald. He had read my resume and was looking for some part-time help at a show called Sports Page. This wasn’t just any show, this was Sports Page!

The #1 sports TV show in BC. Every night at 11pm, hundreds of thousands of sports fans across the province would watch Global TV every night for the show. The fastest 30 minutes in sports television and at that time the ONLY place to watch ALL your sports hilites featuring local and professional sports teams. I knew guys who ended dates early so they could get home to watch “The Page”!

“BMac” asked me if I would be interested in helping out on the show. After playing it all cool and not sounding too anxious, I agreed. I proceeded to spray my next 3 shots off the tee. I couldn’t focus. I would be working at Sports Page! Man my Dad would be proud. He always said make sure you are doing something you enjoy doing. This would be it!

During my early tenure on the show, I would work on both the early sports cast which ran on the 6pm news and then on the big show at 11pm. Archiving, scoreboard writing, working on graphics and doing dinner runs to Wendy’s were all part of my role. I was a deer in headlights at first but quickly fit in with the guys. I knew my stuff, had a good sense of humour and liked to have fun—three things I was told you had to have to stay in this business.

However, I found out quickly, things weren’t all fun and games every night. During my first month at “The Page” I learned how a show which prided itself on fun had to handle tragedy. On Sept 25th, recently crowned US Open Champion golfer Payne Stewart had died. It was a shock to many. Such a well known athlete in the prime of his sport, gone after his private plane lost cabin pressure and eventually crashed. Two weeks earlier NBA Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain had died too and “Sweetness” Walter Payton lost his fight with liver disease in early November.

Despite these black marks in sports nothing will compare to what happened on the afternoon of Oct 31st, 1999.
It was already a tough day for me. The 1 year anniversary of my Dad’s death. Trying to keep my mind on things was difficult but what made it easier was I was working that day. Doing what I loved to do, working at Sports Page.

As usual, on a Sunday, we had our early sportscast on the news plus our regular show at 11pm. Several of the guys working on the show would often arrive early on the weekend to watch games. We had a US satellite setup at work so it was a perfect opportunity to watch football and hockey games for free. Sunday’s was also a day we would keep our eyes on on the track. That’s because BC boy Greg Moore would be racing. It was a big day for Greg as it was his last race competing for the Players Racing team. He was moving to the highly acclaimed Penske team the following season. A huge move for a local kid who had made it big!

Greg quickly became a sports icon in British Columbia. His journey to the top level of auto racing had been followed closely. Similar to Steve Nash’s rise to the NBA, everyone knew who Greg was in this town. He was the kid with glasses from Langley who once raced go carts, His Dad owned a car dealership. He was one of our own and when he was behind the wheel the province would be rooting for him. We also thought Greg was cool too because he use to tell the guys he would watch Sports Page whenever he was in town.

Since we had 2 TV’s in our office, we were watching football and the Indy Car race in California at the same time just to keep an eye on Moore’s final race of the year. Unfortunately, what turned out to be the final race of the year, turned out to be the final race of his life.

In a matter of moments, Greg Moore lost control of his car coming around a turn and crashed. It was a bad crash. Our room went silent. We could tell from the moment his car hit the concrete barrier it wasn’t good. The preparation had already begun. We knew this could be a tough night so we started preparing right away. Not long after, an announcement was made, Greg Moore had died. We couldn’t believe it. Even in a sport that was so dangerous, how could this happen to Greg. Just 24 years old with his entire life and career in front of him.

Whether it’s news or sports, when something “big” happens, good or bad it was all hands on deck. Our entire staff, some on a day off came in to work on this story. We went around town to get comments from race fans, we interviewed former coaches, got reactions from other drivers, took in press conferences, heard from medical staff, you name it we did it. We were the only show in town so we did everything we could to tell the story and give a tribute to Greg that he deserved including a report summarizing his great yet shortened career.

I will never forget sitting in the control room just after 11pm, watching the show and thinking to myself, how could this have happened. I thought of my Dad, on the same day a year earlier passing away. I had to wipe my eyes.

After the show that night we were all drained. The shock had become a reality. In the 20 years Sports Page had been on the air, the guys said it was the hardest show they had ever done. Less than 2 months into my broadcasting career it was the hardest show I had ever done.

For many years Oct 31st was never the same. I always skipped the parties, didn’t wear costumes and passed on the candy. Each year I just wanted to hang out at home, drink in hand and remember.

That all changed in 2011. Ironically, on the day I dreaded the most, on Oct 31st, my wife gave birth to our daughter. On a day that was always remembered for tough times, it could now be remembered for something great.

Those two years in the late 90’s will never be forgotten but at least something good came out of Halloween.

John Horn