We're not far from the start of Canada's latest Olympic Year, during which we'll be inundated with reminders of the 'swifter, higher, stronger' credo.
And we'll be told that if we're fed up hearing about the plucky Canadian who finished 23rd in the egg and spoon race, we must better fund our elite athletes, who need to 'compete at the highest levels'.
There's that word - 'compete'. The competitive ethic has spread like an oil spill. It was bad enough when people started to judge 'artistic merit' and you had to pray that Elvis Stojko wasn't having a bad hair day. Now you can search the internet to find such dubious innovations as competitive meditation (contestants vie to be the first to reach a state of inner bliss).
The problem is, of course, that for every winner there is at least one loser, and usually any more. Take the NHL (please). The only team that is considered an unqualified winner is the team that walks away with the Stanley Cup. It's a 30 team league, so by my calculations that's a 1 in 30 chance of being a satisfied fan at the end of the year. It starts to make the Leafs' long championship drought sound like a standard statistical deviation rather than an organizational failure.
It's all enough to discourage the average Joe or Sue who just wants the experience of playing a team sport.
That's the fundamental problem of competitive team sports, says Norm Handholder, a junior hockey consultant - the negative impact it has on the average player's self esteem. "Just think how you would feel if your team got shellacked every game," he said. "Your confidence would disappear. You'd never work up enough courage to sell anything to anyone."
In Handholder's view, junior hockey is in need of a major makeover to avoid the waste to society of the talents of otherwise productive citizens. So he has developed a new model which he is calling 'co-operative', or 'win/win' hockey. A lot of people are listening. And things are beginning to happen.
Handholder is consultant to New Hampshire's Granolamuesli County Minor Hockey Association, which is bringing in a rash of new rules this year designed to create a 'win/win' sporting environment.
For example, at the Midget level, every time a goal is scored, a referee's time out is called. For the ensuing 30 seconds, the scoring team must silently contemplate the hurt feelings of the scored-upon team. If a team forges a lead of three goals or more, the scoring team must sing "for he's a jolly good fellow" to the trailing team's goalie.
And even deeper changes are coming for younger players. At the Atom level, officials are grappling with a rule that requires teams to score goals in turns - so that a goal that would give a team a two goal lead simply wouldn't count. "It would keep all the games close," said Handholder, "and avoid crushing defeat syndrome."
And at the Tyke level, the league is experimenting with a system in which every player gets to take a turn scoring a goal. "Our goal is to nuture a sense of self worth", said Handholder. "If you want to be the next Sidney Crosby, go to summer camp."
As you might have guessed, the league will also refrain from selecting all stars at any level. "We don't want to be in the business of choosing who's better than someone else," said Handholder.
Reaction to the changes has been predictable. "It sounds like somethink European," said one prominent analyst. "It gets me hot around the collar just thinking about it."
If he's hot under the collar now, wait until he hears what's in store for the league as a whole. First, spectators can be ejected from a game for ragging an opposing player. Second, no more than one spectator can cheer for a particular player: otherwise silenced spectators are assigned to cheer for players without a designated cheerer. And third, a yet to be voted on proposal before the league calls for the opposing teams to form a circle around centre ice at the end of each game and sing 'It's a small world after all'.
"We are not in the business of tearing people down", said Handholder. "We're preparing them for life by showing them how to value people. If we start with hockey, maybe in 20 years it will change the way politicians behave."
Officials at the offices of the Wellington Dukes could not be reached for comment at press time. And one politician we contacted would say only "what's wrong with the way we behave anyway?". For his part, Wellington Times publisher Rick Conroy stsated that the proposals would have little impact on the ongoing dispute about municipal ward boundaries.
Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.
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