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PLAYING FIELD: Mulling Barrie Sports Hall of Fame's future

'A local sports hall of fame probably should have a physical presence of some sort,' says sports columnist
2019-08-07 Barn Burner RB 4
Barrie native Matt Beleskey would be an obvious choice for induction in the Barrie Sports Hall of Fame, says columnist Peter Robinson. | Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday file photo

Like all organizations trying to remain relevant, the Barrie Sports Hall of Fame is staking out its place moving forward.

“We are at a crossroads,” said chair Tom Ewles.

The hall, a mighty presence in the local sports community for four decades, is like many organizations — assessing where to find its path forward in a world where the future screams digital. That same world is ever changing in other ways, post-pandemic.

“We have to rethink how we’ve done things in the past and how we are going to do it in the future,” said Ewles.

No one doubts the place or validity of honouring local sports heroes. There is never any shortage of candidates and it’s almost impossible to keep pace with enshrining everyone who deserves it.

“We eventually get there,” remarked Ewles. “In (some cases) it takes time, years even.”

The bigger issue is it requires physical space, which is a finite resource. Other sports halls have faced a similar dilemma: the Canadian Football League and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame are two examples that migrated from their bricks-and-mortar homes to virtual-only over the years. It doesn’t diminish the achievement of being enshrined. In fact, it could be argued it represents progress.

But those two examples are national. A local sports hall of fame probably should have a physical presence of some sort. The problem is the current home at the Allandale Recreation Centre is rapidly running out of space.

The pandemic cancelled two years of in-person inductions until this year’s event at Allandale. It was an encouraging sign that it was well attended, to see Barrie Baycats execs David Mills and Paul Marley, late Eastview Secondary School football coach Martin Carl, and combat sports/arm wrestler Gary Goodridge take their much-deserved places.

Georgian College volleyball coach Reid Saxby was honoured with the coach of the year award.

One way to re-engage the community is to encourage nominations. The obvious one is Matt Beleskey, the longtime NHLer who played 514 games with three franchises, mostly the Anaheim Ducks.

Retired CFL football players Kyle Graves and Jake Piotrowski, Carl’s son-in-law, are two others, as is Andrew Hotham, who was a standout amateur hockey player and had a solid run as a pro below the NHL.

Among women, hockey player Jessie Eldridge just helped Canada win gold at the most recent world championship, which is typically the threshold to earn automatic induction. Sevens player Kaili Lukan, whose sister, Megan, is already in after winning bronze at the 2016 Olympics, is the most notable of a few local rugby products who are worthy of entry.

Barrie’s growth and evolution present other challenges. How many residents who were brought up elsewhere but have spent a huge swath of later life in Barrie do you induct? Do you create a separate category or, for expediency, grandfather in a bunch all at once to recognize the contributions of those who move here later in life and what they bring/brought to the community?

Moreover, how to encourage Barrie transplants who grew up elsewhere to become involved? Sometimes the best ideas come from just such a fresh perspective.

Ewles wants to engage the community in a more direct way. That sounds easy but in a world that is migrating increasingly to in-home, remote access in virtually all facets of life; it’s anything but.

Ask yourself how often you see, in person, people you consider friends and not just on your phone as you scroll through Instagram or Facebook?

A centrepiece of any new strategy, according to Ewles, is to get feedback from the more than 100 Barrie sports organizations.

The next big step is the hall’s annual meeting Nov. 30 at 7 p.m, which is open to the public, at Allandale. Ewles is encouraging anyone with fresh ideas to turn up.

“You’ll be heard,” he said.

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Peter Robinson

About the Author: Peter Robinson

Barrie's Peter Robinson is a sports columnist for BarrieToday. He is the author of Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto, his take on living with the disease of being a Leafs fan.
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