By Josh Aldrich
Sports columnist Terry Jones has come a long way since his day of writing for the Tiny Tribune, but on Wednesday afternoon he was back at Lacombe Junior High School regaling students with stories from his life in the industry.
He was brought in as part of a Lacombe Extraordinary Citizens series started by math and science teacher Rory Whitbread, in which famous locals are brought in to talk to a classroom of kids.
The Edmonton Sun writer is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. The first sports writer from Alberta to receive the George Gross Award — the International Sports Press Association’s Canadian lifetime achievement award — he has covered 16 Olympics, soccer World Cups, Stanley Cups and just about every major sporting event in the world.
Still it was a special moment for him to be able to come back to his hometown and talk with kids at the same age he was when he figured out being a sports writer was what he wanted to do with his life.
“It is so cool,” said Jones, 65, whose mother still lives in Lacombe.
“This was such a special town, not just in my life, but it was like the sports capital of Western Canada in a small town sense, and I can’t drive around here without coming up with a memory.”
For the students, it was an opportunity to see what the life of one of Canada’s most decorated reporters has been like, beginning with a history lesson of sports in Lacombe to talking about deadlines and technology to rubbing shoulders with some of the most famous people in the world.
“One of the things I think the kids really enjoyed was hearing all of his stories about meeting the famous athletes and famous people, meeting the Queen and Prince Philip,“ said Whitbread.
Jones fell in love with writing when he was 10 years old. He entered a Remembrance Day writing contest through the Legion and won $10. He helped create the original Tiny Tribune, the school’s newspaper.
When he was in Grade 7 he started covering the local sports scene for the Lacombe Globe and in Grade 10 he started stringing for the Red Deer Advocate, where he was paid 10 cents per inch of copy.
He was hired as a sports columnist for the Edmonton Journal in 1967 and was lured away by the Edmonton Sun in 1982 where he has been ever since.
The landscape is much different than when Jones came into the industry. Now technology is king and has completely changed the way reporters carry out their jobs.
“I hated (the changes) at first, I get caught yelling and screaming going into any new direction like any guy my age, but mostly I’ve embraced it,” he said.
“I hate giving stuff away for free on the Internet, I still don’t understand why the newspaper industry has gone that route, it has hurt our product and sales at the boxes and subscriptions, because they’ve already read the thing. But you can see, it’s starting to come into focus.”
One of the classes he spoke to on Wednesday is part of the school’s newspaper program. The last decade has been particularly difficult for the industry as it continues to struggle to adapt to a new media world.
But he believes brighter days are ahead for young journalists.
“Newspapers, that was the sports media when I was a kid and throughout most of my career,” he said. “It’s going to be different with the Internet and I think there’s still going to be as much opportunity and maybe even more. But with the kind of profiles and the stuff that I’ve enjoyed, I don’t think they’re necessarily going to be the same.”
His own future is another question. After 47 years of covering sports, he is certainly on the Back 9 of his career, but he has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“(I’ll keep going) as long as they’ll let me, or I can climb up to the press box; that new rink in Edmonton is going to help with elevator,” Jones said with a laugh.
“It’s my daily fix, getting up and whether there’s a game to cover that night or a practice to cover or I get up with that blank ‘What the heck am I going to cover today?’ It’s a challenge every day, you’re doing something different most days — it’s fun.”