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The benefits of reading

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There’s no secret how I came up with the story about the provincial executive of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society censuring president Pat Isaak — I simply read a lot.

You can learn all sorts of things by going on websites and reading agendas and minutes. It’s a lot of slogging through housekeeping, mundane stuff, that leads to story material.

As part of that story, I contacted MTS, and Isaak chose to respond and talk to me. I also noted from the minutes that the rest of the members of provincial executive had designated one teacher on the executive to speak for them, so I put in a request to talk to that teacher.

The process was that I was to email the teacher with a list of the general areas I wanted to cover in an interview, and the teacher would email back with a phone number, so I could call and conduct an interview. That was yesterday, and so far, I haven’t heard back.

Meanwhile, this morning my web reading included the executive minutes of the Manitoba School Boards Association’s November meeting which included a retrospective on the school boards’ elections, and this one line: "poor media coverage in the Free Press".

Would the trustees care to elaborate?

Our coverage kicked off with a full-page story in a Saturday paper, much of which involved an extensive interview with MSBA executive director Carolyn Duhamel.

There were roundup stories of both the city school board candidates, and of rural Manitoba. We covered the only all-candidates’ meeting held anywhere in the city. And we covered the actual vote, and for our post-election rural roundup relied on the MSBA website for those handful of rural boards that didn’t get acclaimed.

I’ve acknowledged before that most of the coverage was on-line, including regular blogging. I suggested and designed the web survey we offered to more than 100 candidates running in the city, to tell voters about themselves and answer a series of questions, some of which allowed candidates to write as much as they wanted about their top operating and capital priorities.

Notwithstanding Bob Wilson, I heard barely a peep out of candidates brining up campaign issues or looking to draw attention to themselves.

Yes, in an ideal world we would unleash a team of reporters on every ward in every school board, and lay out the life stories of each and every candidate. But we don’t have the space or the staff resources to do that.

So, MSBA, our coverage was poor, you say, and who’s to argue with you without sounding like a whiner — though, admittedly, I’m very good at whining. The next election is less than four years away, you know my phone number, let’s sit down and talk about where we fell short and how you think we can improve our coverage in 2014.

And to segue seamlessly.......

I got a terrific email offer from Kalyn W, location of home office unknown, telling me how I can make big bucks from some scheme that involves sending out mass emails from home.

Ms. W — or may I call you Kalyn? — I would have been far more impressed, had it not been for the three references to ‘buisness’ and one use of ‘buisiness’ in your proposal.

And shifting gears again.......

Not as many exotic adventures in indoor soccer this season.


Last weekend I have yet another team showing up at Coverall with only outdoor balls, and I’m wondering why on earth an 11-year-old girls’ recreational team wouldn’t have a single indoor ball. Anyway, I tell the coach he can’t even warm up with outdoor balls at Coverall, and he blows up in selfrighteous exasperation.

Coach tells me that all of this has FINALLY!!!! been settled, and that revered Referee Supervisor A has told him that teams can henceforth play with outdoor balls at Coverall. I counter with a directive from Revered Referee Supervisor B that lists the fields at which outdoor balls are forbidden for both warmup and games, including Coverall.

Alas, he had nothing in writing from Revered Referee Supervisor A, while I had printed out the directive from Revered Referee Supervisor B. And since he was the home team, I could have awarded a forfeit because the coach didn’t have an indoor ball, but instead asked the visiting team for an indoor ball, and that coach was a decent guy who complied immediately.

So after I do my three matches, the next ref allows both teams to warm up with outdoor balls, and when I ask him about it, he says that Revered Referee Supervisor B told him it was now OK.


I also had a match involving 15-year-old premier girls, not only highly-skilled and super-fast, but I knew from years of watching child the younger that competitive girls can be even rougher than boys of the same age, even if they’re not maddened by testosterone.

So the ball’s near the boards, one girl fouls another, I blow my whistle and duly signal the foul and free kick, life is about to go on, when out of the horde of parents desperately clutching their styrofoam coffee, comes a man’s bellow telling the foulee to "Go over there and give her a good smack!"

So I have to stop the game, go over, and in the general direction of the bellow I lay down the law about not telling these girls to hit each other, and telling the culprit what will happen and the implications for sitting out in the parking lot if I have to come back over again with the coach and the referee liaison.

Comes halftime, and the parents dispatch an envoy. The two girls are friends, the father in question was actually telling the foulee, his daughter’s friend, to smack the fouler, his own daughter, it was supposed to be a joke, and I along with everyone else in the building was supposed to know it was a joke.


Meanwhile, the more episodes I watch of Boardwalk Empire, the more that blue chip gangster prospect Al Capone looks like the closest thing to a normal human being in the entire cast.

And meandering again, how did I end up on a mailing list that just sent me a news release in Italian about a gourmet restaurant/jazz club? Why am I asking you?

Yes, good eye, I lifted that last line from Blazing Saddles, wherein Hedley Lamarr does a soliloquy and then puts that question to the audience.

Sorry, most of the educational stuff that’s happened to me this week involves complaints from various institutions and bodies, most of which it wouldn’t be expedient for me to share with you. As if I haven’t had enough grief this week, I’m refereeing again this weekend, and come late Sunday afternoon, I’ll be wearing green at the Grey Cup dinner we’re hosting.

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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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