Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Into the 13 Colonies he goes.....

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Child the elder has re-entered the U.S. for the major portion of his 20,000-km bike trip, even as we speak he's cycling in Lake Placid in upstate New York.

He'll be out of Canada for six months, something I'm still trying to get my head around.

He's been met with incredible generosity and trust and welcome since he left Sept. 14 -- the guy in the red Calibre near Steinbach notwithstanding -- so much so that mom and I have decided we'll sign up for Couch Surfers and Warm Shower to take in travellers, just as he'd been taken into so many homes. No, don't even think about it, you have to be from out of town.

A week from now he has a student ticket to see our mighty Maples, bound for Stanley Cup glory, in Boston. He'll be staying in Boston with a close friend of his professor/mentor from Trent, and earlier next week with my PEI cousins in western Massachusetts. I envy him the autumn glory on those back highways.

Along the way he's picking up a lot of people following his on-line journal, about 400 hits a day now overall, and sometimes more than 600 on the travelling days on which he posts updates and photos. You can follow him at http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/cfm2010.

What, you say this doesn't belong in an education blog, any more than my ramblings about soccer? Hang on, I'll mention that we're all awaiting word back on his law school applications for next year. There, an education reference, OK?

Moving along.......

Indoor soccer starts Saturday when I do three matches at Coverall, and just in time comes an offer of some nifty referee-only insurance policies through ArbiterSports and the National Association of Sports Officials in the U.S.

No, I'm not making this up, this is true fact real stuff, sent to me by ArbiterSports, which is an-online system that umpteen sports use to assign referees and umpires to games. You mark in what days and times you're available, how far you can travel, the assigner gives you games, you accept or decline, it's all on-line, and Arbiter even reminds you of all the details 48 hours before kickoff.

The insurance.....

For 22 cents a day, $79 a year, presumably U.S. currency, I can get $3 million liability for personal injury and property damage I cause while officiating. Other than colliding with a kid, I'm hard-pressed to think what could happen -- could I possibly break Coverall?

But wait, there's more.....

My wife and kids will get $5,000 -- total, not apiece, but still five large -- should I die of a heart attack that's officiating-related.

And I not only get $5,000 of medical coverage should a parent or coach or player physically attack me because of my officiating, but I also get up to $3,000 to hire a lawyer to launch civil action against my alleged attacker(s). Yes, you can tell it's American, with the assumption that referees would not have medical coverage.

Finally, I'm protected for up to $50,000 if my officiating-related errors or omissions -- guffaw and chortle and snorts of derision, say I, who could imagine such a thing happening, even as a fantasy? -- cause financial loss but no bodily injury. So if all those coaches and parents who threaten that they'll file a formal complaint about my calls but never follow through, if they ever actually do, and can prove some financial loss over a call about which team gets the throw-in in a nine-year-old soccer match, I would be protected.

Only in the U.S. would someone think of this stuff......

Moving closer to actual education items......

I've said umpteen times that the only way I can be bought is if you tell me that it looks as though I'm losing weight.

So if perennial Louis Riel school board candidate Bob Wilson thinks he'll get his name in my blog by sending me an autographed photo of himself standing in front of a framed portrait of Her Majesty The Queen, he's mistaken.

Pause while the scene fades to black, then the next scene opens with a close-up of my phone ringing at home.......

I got a call at home the other day from a telemarketer, we went through the usual nonsense of is this Mr. X, no, I'm Martin, my wife is X, but for once I started paying attention and being civil when she told me it was for the Memory Project.

I've done stories on it at schools, an oral history project that connects veterans and students. It's a good project.

Which doesn't mean I didn't ask the telemarketer the key questions, such as how much of my money would actually go to the Memory Project, and how much would go to her fundraising company.

All of it goes to the project, she said.

Are you a volunteer?, I asked.

Long pause, then, no.

Are you getting paid?, I asked.

Long pause. Then, yes.

Then my money won't all go to the Memory Project, I said, and hung up.

But maybe I'll think about sending a cheque directly.

Segue.....

Another call, this time at work, from a recent U of M grad, who wanted to tell me about one of his former profs who he said is guilty of extortion.

How so?, I inquired.

Short version, this student asked for a letter of reference for his job-hunting, and says the professor agreed to give him one. But when he arrived at the office, the prof wouldn't hand over the letter until his former student had agreed to go to a career counselling service and learn about how to write a resume, how to prepare for and act in a job interview, how best to present himself, all that stuff. And that's extortion, said the guy, who complained to the prof's department head, and was soon given the letter of reference.

The young man waited for me to tell him that I was writing a front-page story for the next day's paper.

That's it?, I asked. You got your letter of reference?

Yes, he said.

Did the professor ask for money in return for the letter of reference?

No.

Did the professor ask for anything in return for writing the letter, other than you get some career counselling? Did the professor have some pecuniary interest in the career counselling service?

No, and no again.

The recent grad was absolutely dumbfounded that I wouldn't write a story.

No, he didn't graduate from law, but surely someone with a degree understands the word 'extortion'. I think the professor was giving him really good advice, and after talking to him, I figure this kid surely needed to heed that advice. What in the world would an employer think about hiring someone who runs to the media with lurid allegations of criminal acts when he encounters the slightest setback in life?

Sigh.

It brings to mind another U of M student a little while back, who was unhappy with her practicum, and wanted me to write a story denouncing her faculty.

Had she exhausted the appeals process?, I asked.

No, she said, hadn't tried the appeals process yet, but she did have an appointment a day or two later with the associate dean to try to resolve her practicum concerns.

And I'm thinking, even if I lost complete control of my senses and decided this was worth a story, what in the world was she thinking?

Prolonged and drawn-out sigh.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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