Pictou Advocate sports

The gals keep making waves


I don’t recall ever watching a major tennis event on television. I usually wait to see the highlights on the sports channels. Yet there I was, in the early afternoon two Saturdays ago, awaiting the U.S. Open final with Canada’s Bianca Andreescu up against none other than Serena Williams, the greatest player ever on the women’s side.

I’ve certainly appreciated how good Williams has been, no question about that. I’ve enjoyed reading about her in media articles, especially the many in-depth features in Sports Illustrated. I can safely say I know quite a bit about her.

But I must confess, until this year, I knew absolutely nothing about the 19-year-old challenger from Mississauga, Ont.

And so, well before the big showdown at Flushing Meadows, I was comfortably nestled into my La-Z-Boy in front of the home screen, anxiously looking forward to watching a sport I never watch.

Just one problem. An even more publicized opponent — hurricane Dorian — was heading directly at Halifax-Dartmouth. Surely, I thought, it would stay away until the tennis match was completed. No such luck.

For the record, I’m one of those guys who forever supports the Blue Jays in baseball and the Maple Leafs in hockey. In more realistic terms, I’m the old journalist who’s never discouraged by losing efforts, even if those failures continue year after year, decade after decade.

So there I was, on that Sept. 7 afternoon, ready for some tennis, though knowing Dorian was getting closer.

At 10 minutes after two o’clock, the intruder reached our Portland Hills subdivision in Dartmouth. Faster than Superman could solve cases in our youth, Dorian began attacking anything involving electricity.

In an instant, there were no lights. No television. No computer. No e-mail. No telephone. No elevator service in our complex.

All we could do was hope Nova Scotia Power would rectify the blackout within three hours.

Bottom line: no tennis.

Recovery didn’t come to our street for two days, two hours and 55 minutes. At 5:05 on Monday — long after Andreescu beat Williams — my two shih tzu partners and I were able to begin getting back to normal.

I accepted the fact I still hadn’t watched tennis.

The outcome, for sure, was wonderful news. Our gal not only won a Grand Slam title, she had beaten the super Serena.

It was a grand triumph for Bianca, a grand victory for Canadian tennis.

Meantime, there was something else very good about the outcome. Another woman athlete had made headlines, not just here in Canada, but across the United States where everyone had been cheering for Serena.

The Andreescu win is the latest evidence that, finally and at last, women are receiving attention — from fans and the media — that was so long overdue.

Giving more attention to girls and women athletes is something I’ve been striving to support more and more in recent years. It’s something that was always being overshadowed by what the boys and men were achieving in sports.

When I think back 50 and 60 years, to my days covering sports in Pictou County, I spent much of my time writing about men’s hockey, baseball and softball, about sports being played by small boys and grown men.

Other than occasional events in bowling, golf and curling, I seldom had a chance to attend competitions involving girls and women. It was a media weakness of our times. Spectators weren’t an exception.

Hockey was an example. Players in novice, atom, peewee, bantam and midget were pretty much exclusively boys. The same was true on grammar school and high school rosters.

It was a male sport.

Fast-forward to the 1980s. We were living in Cole Harbour, my two sons were playing in the Cole Harbour Minor Hockey Association. In fact, I was manager of some of their teams and, throughout their years in the game, I was a chauffeur driving to rinks near and far.

Boys hockey, that’s what it was.

Our daughter never played hockey while growing up. Neither did her friends. Instead, the girls played ringette.

Fast-forward again, this time to 2019. Two granddaughters, now 13 and nine, are in the midst of hockey tryouts for the new season. Both began playing the sport in Cole Harbour when they were four years old. They’ve both been doing well, both been loving the game.

Years ago, I wasn’t a fan of girls hockey. Heck, I thought, how could they be exciting after watching boys and men playing the sport all my life?

How naive I was.

Things have changed — definitely for the better. I’ve been watching the two granddaughters since they first stepped on the ice. I’ve been learning a very good lesson, too — that girls can be just as competitive, just as exciting, as their male counterparts.

Yes, female hockey has improved dramatically — and that’s just one example.

At least since the turn of the century, we’ve seen many advances in female athletics, none more noticeable than our Olympians.

Pictonians hardly need to be reminded.

In 2014, there was the great Olympic comeback by Canada’s hockey gals when they beat the United States for gold in Sochi. That’s when Canada’s assistant coach was none other than Lisa Haley, the Westville native who made Pictou County folks proud.

Then, in 2018, Stellarton’s Blayre Turnbull was part of Canada’s Olympic story in Pyeongchang. Her profile also includes a Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship with Calgary.

Advances in women’s sports don’t start and end with hockey or the Olympics. There are many other examples – such as basketball and rugby, particularly at the university level. In many sports, doors are opening to women athletes, coaches and officials..They’re being welcomed with open arms.

Now Bianca Andreescu has beaten the very best in tennis and can look ahead to a very promising career.

Me? I just wish Dorian had taken a few more hours to reach Dartmouth.