A few years and what seems like hundreds of news stories and columns, I covered the Red Deer Rebels hockey team.
I loved it. I was definitely a fan of the Red Deer Rebels, first and foremost, sitting in the sometimes almost empty stands, cheering, stamping my feet and yelling, not acting at all like the impartial reporter I was supposed to be.
In the end, win or lose, and it seemed it was mostly lose, I would join the other reporters and the radio guys behind the stands where we would interview the coach.
With pens and tape recorders we would quickly engulf him, sucking out any personal space the poor guy would struggle to hang onto, firing hard questions at him, relentless like pistols — “What is wrong with your team, tonight, or really, this season?” “Do you have any new strategies planned?” “What about cuts? Trades?” “Tell us something we don’t know.”
I would brush the popcorn of my jacket, make sure my pen was not out of ink again, smooth out my crumpled notebook and humbly trail in behind the other “sports guys” who seemed to know a lot more about sports than me, probably because they did.
That was when I met Jesse Wallin.
I liked him immediately.
I liked him because he treated each and everyone of the media with professional courtesy regardless of whether the Rebels won or lost. And it seemed they lost lots that year, not even making it to the playoffs.
And I liked him because over and above his professional courtesy, he was always kind. He took the extra minute to answer the last question hanging in the air, voiced by a reporter, (that would be me), who was more than a little intimated by the “big guys.”
So when I read the headlines in the Red Deer Advocate that said in bold, black print, “Rebels coach fired” I thought back to those days when I used to trail the other sports guys to that place behind the stands where Jesse was put on the hot seat and fired at by us media type people every week.
I understand he took the media for lunch after the big announcement of his firing to say thanks for the way they treated him in all his years of coaching.
And I think to myself what goes around comes around.
In his article, Advocate sports editor Greg Meachem said Jesse Wallin remains a class act.
I liked that.
And Jesse, himself said I am not my job, though I love hockey and will always be a Red Deer Rebel.
And, I liked that, too.
Jesse’s own hockey career was cut short when he suffered a concussion in his first game with the AHL in the Lowell Lock monsters after being acquired by the Calgary Flames in the summer of 2003. Prior to his concussion he made his NHL debut, playing a single game for Detroit Red Wings.
He received the CHL and WHL Humanitarian of the Year Award in 1997 and the WHL Humanitarian of the Year Award in 1998.
In my lifetime, I have been lucky enough to meet what I would call a few class acts — many of them in the field of sports.
And, as with Jesse, these class acts know what it’s like to bask in the illusive warmth and glow of fame and glory. But, more importantly, they know how to lose.
And that’s when “class” is no longer an act.
It’s who they are.