A rock of the roaring game
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/01/2020 (1160 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If you curl in Manitoba, there’s a very good chance you will know Resby Coutts.
With Resby Coutts
They are familiar faces at events in Winnipeg and around the province, but how well do you really know the people who are the backbone of the local sporting scene? Who are these organizers, coaches, administrators and volunteers who help make the athletic culture tick? In this series, members of the Free Press sports department sit down with some of these dedicated folks for an insight into what inspires them in their work.
The 70-year-old transplanted Winnipegger can accurately be described as the face and voice of the sport in the province, but after decades of involvement as a competitor, reporter, grassroots organizer and high-profile executive, his influence ranges well beyond our borders.
He’s attended many national and world championships in an official capacity and last fall, he completed a four-year term on Curling Canada’s board of governors, including the final year as its chair.
Earlier this month, he was inducted into the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame as a builder, which is precisely what he has been since his first volunteer gig as an intramural organizer at the University of Manitoba in 1970.
Coutts was also a high-level competitor, highlighted by the 1981 season in which he played lead for Murray Nye’s team that lost the provincial final to eventual Brier champ Kerry Burtnyk.
Even in his so-called retirement, the gregarious Coutts is as busy as ever. He can be seen serving as the MC at a curling dinner or heard as the PA announcer at the Manitoba Bonspiel or a provincial championship. Lately, he’s pondering whether to bring his website, thecurler.com, out of mothballs.
Growing up in Elva, a tiny farming community in the southwestern corner of the province, Coutts was immersed in the game. He earned an agriculture degree at the U of M and worked for the provincial department of agriculture before transitioning into radio work at Brandon’s CKLQ in the mid-1970s. The 1982 Brier in Brandon, with Coutts providing analysis for each of Mel Logan’s 13 games, sparked a radio broadcasting career in curling he continues to this day.
He moved to Winnipeg in 2000. Coutts and his wife Kathy have been married for 29 years.
“Yep, my entire life is a series of accidents,” he says, recalling the circumstances of his first job offer out of university in 1971. After meeting Coutts at a job fair, the editor of the Free Press weeklies wanted him to sit down for a formal interview.
“He said, ‘Can you come downtown tomorrow morning for a real interview?’ “ remembers Coutts. “I said, ‘No I can’t.’ He said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘You’re not going to like this answer at all but I have to curl tomorrow morning in the Manitoba Bonspiel.’ He said, ‘Is it more important to you than a job offer?’ ‘No, but I’ll tell you what is.’ There was a rule at the time, you couldn’t start a game without all four players on the ice. I said, ‘I’ve got a commitment to three guys that were curling and I’m not going to leave them for a job interview, no matter what.’ He said, ‘I can really respect that.’ “
Coutts never took the job but the die was cast. Curling was in his blood.
Mike Sawatzky: Have you ever met another Resby?
Resby Coutts: Just my grandfather, a cousin, my second son and a grandson. But only grandfather and I actually used the name.
Mike Sawatzky: Where does the name come from?
Resby Coutts: My great grandmother, while pregnant with granddad, was sitting on a stone bench in a Scottish Presbyterian church. Looked at the name, dropped the ‘P’ and the ‘terian’ and named her kid Resby (laughing).
Mike Sawatzky: Really?
Resby Coutts: No real idea. Family lore was she was reading a book and saw the name and liked it. But no idea what book or what name. With the invention of Google, I found this one, which could’ve been the guy I’m named for: Englishman John Wycliffe; one of Wycliffe’s followers, James Resby, had become the first documented Christian reformer martyred at the stake in Scotland in 1408… He was a bit contrary I’d say, so I kind of like him for the job of namesake.
Mike Sawatzky: Did you play baseball as a kid?
Resby Coutts: Yes, I take great pride in this. I was in the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame before I was in the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame. I was put in the Baseball Hall last June with a team from Coulter, the Red Sox of 1968.
Mike Sawatzky: What did you win?
Resby Coutts: Nothing. I won for the best nomination ever written for a baseball team… What we talked about is we had one very good year. We lost the Manitoba senior final to what was, effectively, a semi-pro team from Thompson in 1968. But we wrote about how important a small-town baseball team was to the pride of the community and they put us in the Hall of Fame on our 50th anniversary, as a team of note.
Mike Sawatzky: What position did you play?
Resby Coutts: Catcher/ first base. I was a slow-running, long-ball hitter. Singles and home runs. I still love watching baseball.
Mike Sawatzky: Did you catch the curling bug early?
Resby Coutts: Yeah, I probably started first rocks when I was seven. When I go to conferences, often (there’s the question), ‘Who’s been curling the longest?’ I wait for everybody else and say, ‘Sixty-three years ago I threw my first rocks.’ My dad took my brother and I to the curling rink and we started curling. I played hockey but I was a big, slow kid and the big, slow kid doesn’t play every shift. He sits on the bench a bit and curling just resonated with me. I’ve never not curled in a winter. Sometimes, during busy times, only 20 games (a year) but at the peak probably 150 and I still play four times a week.
Mike Sawatzky: You seem like a natural conversationalist. Ever experience stage fright?
Resby Coutts: Actually, in school as a kid I was the absolute introvert. I was the kid who would stay home and read a book way before I would go anywhere, except to play baseball. And I curled with my dad.
Mike Sawatzky: So these sports were your pathway?
Resby Coutts: Kind of. Honestly, the day the little red light went on in radio changed my personality. Who knows why, but it all grew from that.
Mike Sawatzky: How many Briers have you been to?
Resby Coutts: Not as many Briers as world championships. To be honest, I’ve always liked the world championships better.
Mike Sawatzky: Why?
Resby Coutts: The international feel. I’ve probably been to not quite 40 world championships. The first two were the only ones I actually paid to go see as a fan. The rest of the time, I’ve either been on a committee — I was involved with the worlds in Brandon in ‘95 (as executive director). At the worlds in 2002 in Bismarck, I was a paid marketing consultant to help them sell tickets in Canada. I’ve identified opportunities and monetized them when I could, but as often I’ve been a volunteer.
Mike Sawatzky: How much time do you spend networking at curling events?
Resby Coutts: You mean talking to my constituents, as my wife calls them? (laughing) It’s probably my entire life. I just love talking to people. Completely foreign to the kid that I was when I was this tall.
Mike Sawatzky: Are you better known at the worlds than the Brier?
Resby Coutts: I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m better known. The last four years, being on the Canadian board, has given me a level of recognition I didn’t have previously but I had it at the worlds level much earlier.
Mike Sawatzky: You also still serve as MC and do the PA at a lot of events, right?
Resby Coutts: Oh, I love it. The line I always use is, ‘You offer me a free meal and a microphone and you can get me to do almost anything.’… I recognized I could enhance an event with a pretty simple task, for me.
Mike Sawatzky: OK, rapid fire round now: Who’s the best curler you’ve faced?
Resby Coutts: You’re going to get a long answer (laughing). I have curled against the best of every generation going back almost to the 1900s. I curled against Howard Wood Sr. — Pappy Wood — late in his life in the Manitoba Bonspiel. Greatest thrill of my life, probably. And he beat me… Called the game and saw the game differently than anybody I’ve ever seen. It was like (facing) Wayne Gretzky — it was just a different game. I played against Bruce Hudson in my first game in the Manitoba Bonspiel when he had played in four Manitoba finals in a row… I played Terry Braunstein, played Kerry Burtnyk, played Vic Peters and Mike McEwen. I’m not sure I could say who was the best.
Mike Sawatzky: Favourite curler?
Resby Coutts: Favourite one to interview and talk with and be with — probably Vic Peters. Because he was so genuinely a regular person. All of these guys, necessarily, they become so focused on the game. Vic never did. He’d certainly be on the list.
Mike Sawatzky: Most gifted player?
Resby Coutts: Would people hate me if I said Kevin Martin? There’s so many. The guys who made the most impact on me were Christian Serum and Eigil Ramsfjell, who lost the (world) final in ‘78 in Winnipeg. Bud Sommerville from the United States. Ernie Richardson, who I never saw curl, but I met and is still a magnificent person. I can’t answer that question.
Mike Sawatzky: What about your favourite curling memory?
Resby Coutts: Can I give you two? I can’t remember exactly when. My dad (George) was 78ish, my boys Michael and Matthew were 13 and 15, about that. My dad said to me, I want to curl with you and the boys once before it’s too late. We curled in the Brandon Bonspiel that year, and we created a tradition where we curled at least once a year for the next 15 years. We played in Glenboro, Souris and Brandon. Eventually we curled in Melita. That collection was one (memory) and the next one was this past fall when we played in the bonspiel at the Fort Rouge Curling Club with my son (Michael), his wife and my two grandchildren. It was a family bonspiel, so six-end games, and the two kids Laurel and Austin threw one rock each.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Saturday, January 25, 2020 11:36 AM CST: date clarification