A ‘real culture shock’: friendship first


Interview. Pat Nearing, Director of Athletics at DalTech and vice-president, Nova Scotia Basketball Officials, has officiated at the Coal Bowl for the past four years. He talks with JANICE ACTON and TONY SEED.

THE FIRST YEAR I went, the Coal Bowl was a real eye-opening experience. I’d heard about it, my colleagues had gone before, but I didn’t know what to expect. It’s difficult to picture what it was going to be like.

When we were shown our quarters and I got to officiate my first game, it was a real culture shock, a real change from refereeing a high profile high school boys’ or professional men’s team – but a very positive one. It was positive in the sense that we are not in that adversarial role one sometimes finds, but rather being an equal part of an entire experience with the kids. The atmosphere is excellent and the referees are treated very well. I kind of muddled my way through the first week of my first tournament. I quickly realized that this wasn’t really about basketball, even though it is an event that centres around basketball.

What it’s really about is a quality experience for the youth.

After my first year, as I was thinking back on the experience, and I realized – as the Director of Athletics at DalTech – that what the Coal Bowl people have here is a fantastic experience for high school kids and their coaches. I also thought it was a very well-run, marketable product. When I went back the next year, I approached some of the organizers and asked if they had considered getting coverage from TSN. They indicated that they had already had some interest and that CBC had come in to do some taping.

The more I thought about it, I realized, “Gee, this IS a national tournament in terms of its scope and how they’re running it.” I’m involved with the CIAU national championships: when I had the chance, I cornered some TSN producers at the CIAUs and gave them a spiel about the Coal Bowl, trying to pique their interest. I think the people I talked could see that it would get picked up nationally. There was interest and some good intentions, but so far as I know, the TSN never covered it, not in terms of reporting the scores or anything.

When I went back and met with some of the Coal Bowl’s organizing committee, I talked to them again about TSN coverage. The Coal Bowl people know that they’ve got a great product and they know how to market it but so far they haven’t been able to capture the involvement of the big networks, which is a real shame. It’s a matter of the two hooking up some day. I hope that does happen. That struck me, especially after seeing the big new NIKE high school tournament that took place in Toronto this past year. TSN immediately picked up on NIKE; there was tremendous coverage of it just after one tournament – and here the Coal Bowl has been at it for over 15 years! I know that it’s not that important to the Coal Bowl people, because they are more concerned about what their town does. But as a sports activist, I really think these people deserve the attention of the networks.

One example of the kind of event it is: I flew into Sydney in a torrential downpour, landing at 5:57 p.m. We grabbed my bags and ran to the game. By 6:15 I was officiating. I think that’s a sign of a couple of things: it’s a feat of organizing, and it’s also the kind of event in which they wait for you, instead of just throwing a couple of other officials in if you aren’t there on time.

The small town hospitality is incredible. There’s a reception after the game every night, with food and drinks lined up all night. One night we had five of the Men of the Deeps choir singing until 4 a.m. I walked back to the school with another coach afterwards, and we both mentioned how tremendous an experience it was. Here were people from 20- through 90-years-old singing and reveling together until 4 a.m. After the reception is over, you sometimes go to somebody’s home or to another church hall.

The camaraderie among the players is something that you don’t usually experience among players. You see it happening – suddenly.

You have these “cool guys” coming from St. Pat’s (High School) in Halifax, or from Toronto and, all of a sudden, the barriers begin to fall. Friendships are formed, there’s camaraderie. To see the depth of this, you really have to be at the airport on the Sunday when the players from away are leaving. It wrenches your heart. Everybody is in tears. That’s the depth of appreciation that the kids feel. I know that a number of players who have been involved in the Coal Bowl make their way back in later years. And as soon as you see somebody you’ve met years before at the Coal Bowl, your face lights up. You recognize people right away. There’s that special bond.

The kids have a great experience. There’s no other word for it. A fantastic experience. In fact one of the officials I know, who’s a 15-year-veteran of the Coal Bowl, had his son go. And I hope that someday my son will have a chance to do.

Shunpiking Magazine, February / March 1999, Number 24

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