Options limited for any WHL return to Nanaimo

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The arena rumblings are happening again in Nanaimo, and while the Western Hockey League would love to return to the Vancouver Island city, options are very limited.

In particular, the WHL’s fallback strategy of expansion to prevent relocation is likely not an option this time around, as 22 teams is likely the upper limit that the league can handle.

Nanaimo’s most recent move on the arena front is a study that highlights two possible locations for a new events center, one that would hold 5,200-5,700 for hockey and up to 8,000 for concerts and other major events. However, the cost, between $63-$82 million, has city officials hesitant to move forward unless they have a commitment from a WHL team to move to the city, and a financial investment from that team in the arena to ensure they wouldn’t be tempted to move away after a few seasons. That, so far, hasn’t happened.

The WHL has wanted a team in Nanaimo since the league returned to Victoria in 2011. One major reason is saving on travel costs, as a Victoria-Nanaimo weekend can be cheaper than a two-game series in Victoria or, on some major travel weekends, even a single game in Victoria. That Nanaimo is the biggest Canadian market west of Manitoba without a WHL team also plays into the league’s interest in the city.

It has been 34 years since the WHL played its single season in Nanaimo. The Islanders played in the fairly-new Frank Crane Arena for 1982-83 after moving to Vancouver Island from Billings, Montana. But the building was too small, as was fan interest, and the team moved on to New Westminster, becoming the second incarnation of the Bruins for four seasons. The team is now the Tri-City Americans, playing their 30th season in Kennewick this year.

Ironically, the Tri-City franchise and its turbulent past play a direct role in the future of the WHL in Nanaimo. Two of the league’s most recent expansion teams, the Vancouver Giants and Chilliwack Bruins, came into existence because the league wanted to prevent the then-owners of the Americans from moving the team into those cities, but wanted teams in those Lower Mainland markets.

In fact, the WHL’s last four expansion teams came about to prevent franchise shifts. The Everett Silvertips were born after an attempt to move the Seattle Thunderbirds north, and the third edition of the Edmonton Oil Kings came into being so that the Oilers would stop trying to buy teams for the purpose of moving them to Edmonton.

Putting teams in Vancouver, Everett, Chilliwack and Edmonton means the WHL now has 22 teams, two more than the Ontario and Quebec leagues. There’s a belief that the WHL has reached its limit on how many teams it can have, simply because the talent pool in western Canada is getting smaller, and teams often have to battle the NCAA for American players. That the NCAA will accept players from Junior A leagues (like the British Columbia Hockey League and Alberta Junior Hockey League) but not the WHL, OHL or QMJHL also cuts into the talent pool, as players in the BCHL and AJHL are looking as much for NCAA scholarships as a shot at the pros.

This puts the WHL in a tough spot. They can’t expand to Nanaimo, but yet the city won’t likely commit to a new arena unless they are guaranteed a WHL team. Plus, there has been no known local ownership group in Nanaimo looking for a team; relocation, with established owners, looks to be the likely path for the league returning to Nanaimo.

Any new WHL team in Nanaimo would likely have to play in Frank Crane Arena for at least a couple of seasons while the new arena is built. The former home of the WHL Islanders is still busy, being the home of the BCHL’s Clippers and just having gone through a needed remodel a few years ago. It seats about 2,400, with standing room likely moving it towards 3,000. Good for a BCHL team, but nowhere near good enough for the WHL in a market like Nanaimo.

Back to the talent pool for a moment…if that wasn’t an issue, could the WHL expand to 24 teams? Possibly. There have been rumblings that the owners of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets and AHL’s Manitoba Moose have looked at possibly trying to add a WHL team to its portfolio. There’s been talk of a WHL-ready arena being built in Lloydminster, Alberta that would hold 7,500. Newish arenas in Penticton, BC and Wenatchee, WA would be tempting to an owner, and both are among the best drawing teams in the BCHL. The move of the Vancouver Giants to suburban Langley eliminated any thoughts, for the time being, of either Abbotsford and Chilliwack being mentioned for a WHL team.

But if relocation is needed to get a team to Nanaimo (or any other market looking for a WHL team), the talk usually centers on the Kootenay Ice. The Cranbrook, BC based team has been at the bottom of WHL attendance for a number of seasons, is at the bottom of attendance this season, and ownership has had the team up for sale for years. There was a report of a Cranbrook-based group looking to buy the team in October, but nothing has come of it.  But as long as they are struggling, and for sale, the Ice will be at the top of the list of WHL teams most likely to move. But, as mentioned earlier, unless they and/or the WHL give a financial commitment to a new arena, a move to Nanaimo is nowhere in their future.

Are there any others? Swift Current and Prince Albert aren’t going anywhere despite of small attendance because they are community owned. The Lethbridge Hurricanes, seemingly on the brink a couple of years ago, have righted the ship & look to be out of trouble for now. New ownership has revitalized the Prince George Cougars, and they’re drawing their biggest crowds in over a decade.

If there’s a wild card, it might be the Vancouver Giants. Yes, they just moved to Langley after playing in the Pacific Coliseum (the former home of the Canucks) for their first 15 seasons. But they are having their worst season ever, so far, in average attendance. Part of that may be the smaller building in Langley, but averaging just about 3,800 in a 5,276-seat arena likely wasn’t what they were looking for. In comparison, their worst-season for attendance at the Coliseum was 2003-04, when they averaged 4,956 per game. Last year, they were drawing 5,169 per game in the Coliseum, and that probably does look worse in a 16,000-seat arena (even with the upper level curtained off) than 3,800 does in a 5,276 seat building. The Giants have time, but if the crowds keep getting smaller in Langley, then some hard questions have to be asked.

(If you’re curious, Langley’s BCHL team, the Rivermen, average just 635 fans a game so far this season after having to accommodate the Giants and move from the Langley Events Centre to the much, much smaller George Preston Recreation Centre [formerly the Langley Civic Centre]. That’s 4th worst in the BCHL.)

The Giants’ move to Langley also effectively blocked any WHL team from considering Abbotsford, with its 7,000-seat arena still seeking a main tenant since the AHL’s Heat moved, or Chilliwack, where the BCHL’s Chiefs play in the arena that was enlarged for the WHL’s Bruins. Ironically, the original Chilliwack Chiefs moved to Langley when the Bruins moved into the Prospera Centre, and the new Chiefs moved in when the Bruins moved to Victoria to become the Royals in 2011 (and blocking a likely move by the AHL to put a team in the BC capital to couple up with Abbotsford…it all feels like a circle, doesn’t it?).

It was the Victoria Royals that got the WHL interested in Nanaimo again. Arena talk has gone on for a few years, and it’s taken a long while to even get to the point where a study has taken place. But the slow pace of the arena process, plus the city’s insistence that the WHL and/or a new Nanaimo team have a financial stake in the arena, ensures that it will still be a long time before the league returns. Both sides will want guarantees, and that means long negotiations are still ahead.

However, with 22 teams and expansion likely not viable, it may be the only way for the WHL to get back to Nanaimo. Patience, for the league and for those in Nanaimo, will still be needed.

(Photo of Nanaimo, BC by Ken Walker, via Wikimedia Commons)

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The Monster Hides in the Darkness

The Monster hides in the darkness, always out of sight.
But you know The Monster is always there, day or night.
The Monster is patient, willing to wait things out.
It is always ready to strike, ready for the next bout.

The Monster knows your weaknesses, knows your strengths.
To take advantage of you, The Monster will go to great lengths.
The power of The Monster is strong, for it has the greater might.
The challenge of every day is to defeat The Monster, to win the fight.

The darkness you live in, the fear is always strong.
The time you’ve fought The Monster, it is very long.
There are the battles where you’ve held back The Monster, had it on the edge.
There are the battles where The Monster gets close to pushing you off the ledge.

There are those who say they are willing to help, ready for the bout.
But The Monster has planted that big piece of doubt.
Are you willing to trust? Are you willing to let them come in?
Because The Monster works hard to keep you from the win.

When the battles are won, the excitement is strong.
But The Monster never goes away for long.
And when suddenly things turn for the worse, when another struggle begins,
The Monster comes back and starts the battle again.

You look for help, you see those around you.
You have the hope that there is much that they can do.
But The Monster knows you’re weak, knows it’s ready to atone.
The Monster plants the doubt, that you really are alone.

Some who don’t know, those would rather not care,
Say that it’s all in your head, that The Monster is not there.
But it’s in your head that the battle rages on,
Where you fight to not be The Monster’s pawn.

Then comes the moments, when the battle reaches its peak,
When The Monster goes in for the finale, hoping you are meek.
You feel lost, you don’t know what to do, you have that deep fear.
You try to fight off The Monster, fighting for everything you hold dear.

The battle never ends, The Monster always is ready to fight.
The battle never ends, you have to go with all your might.
Even when there seems to be no hope, when all might go away,
You think about what might happen, then you try to find a way.

Because when you are weak, that’s when you have to be strong.
You have to beat The Monster, it doesn’t matter how long
It takes, because the battle is one that is always about to start.
You and The Monster are never that far apart.

And when it is all at its darkest, when you feel long you can go on,
That’s when you have to say, the conclusion isn’t foregone.
Because The Monster wants you to feel that, wants you to have no hope.
You have to resist that final act, to fight it off, to say, nope.

Otherwise, The Monster wins.

Endless rejection & never-ending hope: The great roller coaster ride that was 2013

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(Wikimedia Commons photo of the Space Needle at New Year’s by “X-Weinzar”.)

That 2013 was a massive roller coaster ride for me would be a great understatement.

Professionally, it was as bad as I’ve ever gone through. Personally, I’m sure I’ve not gone through a year quite like it. As a sports fan, it’s as good as I can remember.

(And, yeah, I haven’t been here in a while. Meek explanation to follow.)

I think the last time I went through an entire year without a full-time job was when I was 21. I had just come back from spending time in Minnesota, where nothing went as planned. My mother said I should take some time off and regroup for whatever happened next. Soon after I turned 22, I was working full-time in a library and starting to plot my return to college. So the break turned out pretty good, in the long run.

I’m hoping something like happens this time around. Between applications, interviews, classes, a gazillion resume revamps and reformats, endless cover letters and wondering if I’d ever see a workplace again, it’s currently as bad as my professional life has ever been. I’ve been agonizingly close to a job on numerous occasions, while at other times I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get past a specific point of an interview process or even get contacted. Frustrations have been high, and sometimes it got to the point where I wondered how much more I could take. How many times can I handle getting the emails saying thanks, but no thanks, about a job? How many times can I not get a return phone call, or a return email, about a position? How many times can I impress in the interview, but not enough to get the job? Yeah, the frustrations are great. But all I can do is grind, to keep applying, to keep hoping. Because at some point, I’ll get that job, whatever it is, and all will be fine again. All I can do, is hope.

I did get to start writing again. I have been writing a weekly column for Soccer Newsday, a site that covers many levels of soccer around the world. My focus has been on the Portland Timbers, and I haven’t been short on things to write about. No, I’m not getting paid, but I am writing regularly, and it gives me a bit of a schedule to work on. It’s been fun so far, and it’s even allowed me to add on some followers on Twitter.

(And that’s why I haven’t written much on here lately.)

Speaking of sports…2013 has likely been the best year I’ve had as a sports fan in many, many years. First, there was the run to the Super Bowl by the San Francisco 49ers, and coming so close to actually winning it. Arsenal made the UEFA Champions League again, and finished 2013 on top of the Premier League. The Portland Trail Blazers are stunning the NBA by being one of the best teams so far in the 2013-14 season, shocking a lot of pundits (and fans) in the process. Washington State’s football team made their first bowl game in 10 years, but, being the Cougs, they lost the game after blowing a big lead late.

Then there are the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their run into the MLB playoffs, and getting that first winning record in 21 years, brought my interest in baseball back to the levels of my youth. After so many years, I could say that I was a Pirates fan and not have people give me strange looks. Yeah, they lost to St. Louis in the playoffs, but just being there was amazing. I haven’t screamed at a TV as loud as when the Bucs beat Cincinnati in the wild card playoff. That was fun…baseball, fun! That hadn’t happened in so long, at times I didn’t know how quite to respond. That 2014 could be better makes me smile, and that the Pirates are now contenders rather than afterthoughts is incredible.

Speaking of going from afterthoughts to contenders, may I present the Portland Timbers. What Caleb Porter and the club did in 2013 was nothing short of miraculous. Being one game away from the MLS Cup Final, qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League, being the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season, beating Seattle in the playoffs…things that only could be distant dreams after a horrendous 2012 season. But, that’s what happened. Will Johnson and Diego Valeri became favorites, the ol’ stadium in Portland was rocking like it hasn’t in a long, long time and hope now springs eternal. That was some season, and I can only hope that 2014 can bring more of the same, and maybe take another step or two forward.

Yeah, there was some bad spots in my sports world. That was mainly reserved for the Edmonton Oilers, who at times made me really question why I support them after all of these years. That I love hockey so much probably saved me from going completely AWOL from the Oilers, but maybe someday they’ll be good again. But that doesn’t look like that’ll happen anytime soon.

But, throughout it all, I just keep living. My wife has been my rock, the calming influence when I’ve just about reached the breaking point. Having good friends, those who keep encouraging in spite of my situation, has also been a big help. Someday, I hope to repay them in some way. Then again, for as much as my wife has gone through with me this year, I don’t know if I can repay her enough. She puts up with my extreme lows and my hopeful highs. I can’t say “I love you” to her enough.

So, 2014 is almost here. All I hope for is that it’ll be better than 2013. That there’s a job in my future, that I can be a good friend and a better person.

The line that sticks in my mind is this: “Believe Beyond Reason”. Because, no matter how bad things get, if you still believe, if you still hope, then things will get better.

To you and yours, a great 2014. Let’s hope for good things, for all of us.

And, maybe, believe beyond reason.

How TV rating systems shortchange some sports

I was reading an article not long ago about how Major League Soccer still lags behind in TV ratings, with smallish numbers compared to other sports, and it got me wondering.

Can TV ratings ever be accurate for sporting events?

At this point, I don’t think so. That’s simply because the viewing habits of sports fans have been changing drastically in recent years.

One has to remember that those ratings only count those watching an event from home. While that’s a fairly accurate way to gauge how many watch a comedy, drama or some other recorded event, it’s not an effective way to figure out how many people are watching a specific sporting event.

The first problem is that the rating systems don’t count televisions outside of the home. With a growing amount of people opting to head to bars, pubs, restaurants or other establishments to watch games, that means a large number of viewers will never be counted towards the ratings. This especially hurts the ratings for sports such as hockey and soccer, where fans tend to prefer being at gatherings to watch games with friends instead of being home by themselves. The games have become social events, but the ratings will never show that.

Another issue is that some fans are increasingly watching games online, whether on a laptop, a mobile device (phone or tablet) or a desktop. Some of these sites do count how many viewers they have at specific times, but those figures are not part of the ratings that executives with television and cable networks are concerned with. It’s still the ratings connected with home viewing.

This affects the bottom line with leagues and networks, as advertisers still rely on the ratings to help determine where they should purchase time to promote their products. The effect is that an advertiser may see that a game in, for example, MLS had around 200,000 viewers according to the published ratings based on home viewing, but the actual number may be many times more than that if those watching in bars and other establishments were able to be counted. But they aren’t, and the advertiser is left with a ratings number that is quite skewed.

This doesn’t just affect the “smaller” sports, either. Imagine what the ratings for the NFL would be if those who watch the games in sports bars and restaurants were counted. Weekly records could easily be set, because the the NFL’s fanbase is so massive. The real viewing number for Sunday night’s 49ers-Seahawks game could be 30 percent more than the already-high published ratings, simply because of where people watched the games.

There’s no real solution to the issue, of course. Until Nielsen or some other company develops a way to count the TVs in a sports bar set to specific games, the ratings for a live sporting event will always be lower than the real number of viewers. Occasionally, for some sports the number will likely be much lower than reality.

But money is connected to those ratings. Networks rely on revenue from advertisers to pay for the contracts with sports leagues. Ad buyers will see the ratings, see that some are low, and then look for another show or event to advertise on.

It’s not a big deal to football and baseball, but it is to hockey and soccer. And nothing can be done about it.

Courage, inspiration in the toughest times

When I was younger and struggling to get my career going the way I had hoped, there was a phrase that I would tell myself to try and convince myself things weren’t as bad as it could be.

“It could always be worse.”

At times, as I have been looking for a job over these past seven months, it has felt like that statement has been a challenge to my state of mind. Could it be worse? At times, I’m haven’t been sure.

But two events over the past two weeks has seemed to bring myself out of the doom and gloom that occasionally has overtaken me as the job search has dragged on. Both involved maybe the worst thing of all: death.

First came the passing of a friend whom I never met, at least in person. Shonda Kearns and I spoke to each other on countless occasions, griping about our favorite college teams (she was a Kentucky gal, I a Wazzu grad). speaking lovingly about our families and always curious about what the next thing for us would be. We talked on Twitter, messaged each other on Facebook and even had brief conversations on LinkedIn. There were times when we tried to actually meet, which on the surface wouldn’t seem that hard. She lived in Mill Creek, while I was down the road in Lynnwood. But when we actually tried to plan it, something always came up and it never happened.

That can no longer happen. Early last week, Shonda lost her fight with colon cancer. She faced that cancer with determination, courage and a sense of humor. She was always more worried about the effect on her kids than on her. At one point, it seemed like she had won the battle. But cancer always seems to have one final attack, and when they found those last tumors a couple of months ago, we all knew it was a matter of time. The courage that Shonda had in facing down cancer inspired many of us, and she was in good spirits right to the end. She was a woman of faith, and that faith helped her right to the end.

When I heard Shonda had crossed over, I was hit with sadness, but also relief in that she no longer suffered. But the pain that Lee (her husband), Andrew (her son) and Rachel (her daughter) must feel, I can never imagine.

The last thing Shonda posted on her Facebook page was a photo, taken from her hospital room in Everett. It was of a rainbow, with the end coming down in Possession Sound just off of the Everett waterfront. It seemed fitting, as Shonda touched so many lives. She was that rainbow to many, and it showed her optimism, even as it seemed the end was near. Less than a month after she posted that photo, she was gone. But Shonda’s impact was massive, and she will never be forgotten by anyone who came in contact with her. Even those she talked to, but never met. Like me.

The second was from someone who many know. Scott Simon is a host and reporter for National Public Radio, but for the past week he has been the loyal son. His mother was in a hospital, drifting towards death, and on his Twitter account he shared some of the moments of her final days, as he went to Chicago to be by her side until the end. It was a mix of sadness, humor and admiration for the nurses who took care of her until the end. It may be as human as Twitter gets, as he mentioned his fears, her quips and their special moments. Simon always has been a master with words, and for the past week, he was at his best in what may be the toughest moments of his life.

The sadness that everyone who followed his Twitter account felt when his mother passed on was joint. You could see the sadness in Simon’s words, along with pride of being his mother’s son.

It also hit a nerve with me. I never got that final moment with my mother. She died suddenly on New Year’s Day, 2006. By time my wife & I made it to Portland from Spokane, my stepfather already had her cremated. That I never got that final moment with my mother, who was the most influential and inspirational person in my life, has haunted me since. I can still hear her voice on some nights, and wonder what my last words would have been to her, and hers to me. So, in a sense, I was a bit jealous of Simon, because he got the moments with his mother that I never got with mine.

Death is the final act of this life. After that, there is no more. But even when the final act has happened, the courage shown by those who pass on inspires all touched by that person who has crossed over. It is a life well lived.

Can it always be worse? It can. But drawing strength from those who have faced the end with a smile, and from those who were supported them to the end with love, is the inspiration to keep going and to live life as well as it can be lived.

Because it can be worse. We can no longer be here. And that, above all, is the worst fate we can get.

Enjoy life and be kind to others. We don’t know how long we have to make an impact.

Remembering the chaos while watching from the sidelines

For once, I didn’t flinch. And it felt a little strange.

When word came of the Boston Marathon bombing, I was doing some work in my home office. Suddenly, Twitter went crazy, my news feed went nuts and suddenly an average Monday was changed forever.

It hadn’t been all that long ago when a major story had me in the middle of a newsroom as the adrenaline would increase and the controlled chaos (and, at times, almost uncontrolled chaos) would take over. It’s something that could make an observer, unfamiliar with the process, dizzy from trying to keep up with it all.

The assignment desk becomes like air traffic control, taking in information from seemingly everywhere (phone, email, text, newswires, etc.), trying to find out more and giving it out to whomever needs it. Producers frantically send info to reporters while writing and trying to put together a quick newscast, sometimes on just a moment’s notice. Managers plan on the fly, often changing those plans and making sure everyone has what they need, and they’ll make sure they have it if they don’t. Web producers are rapidly updating web pages as they get new information, going through photos and videos to see which ones they can use and which ones they can’t, keeping an eye on Twitter and Facebook to see if there’s anything being retweeted or posted that is vital information and trying to police the comments section in case someone is saying something inflammatory (or mentions info that may need to be relayed to a reporter or the assignment desk). Editors are watching for video (if for TV) or audio (if for radio) that may need to be edited quickly, often in a manner of minutes.

Honestly, it’s rather crazy. Everything you’ve had planned for the day gets changed instantly. It’s a rush that’s hard to describe, other than that one is near exhaustion at the end because so much energy has been used while everything was happening.

I’ve been in a newsroom when that has happened. I’ve rushed to my former station in Spokane at 6 a.m. as a sniper was on the loose in north Idaho. I walked into my station in Seattle at the exact moment word came of the shooting that killed four Lakewood police officers in 2009. At that point, you just do. Your thoughts are only on making sure everyone has the information they need, the websites are updated, the right people are called for updates, the right video is in and ready to be used, reporters and photographers are where they are supposed to be and needed interviews are lined up. That part of it, I’ve enjoyed immensely, even when I wasn’t enjoying it at that moment. It’s the rush, almost like a drug.

But with all of that, there are the parts that make one want to pound their head against a wall. There’s often conflicting information, which can lead to reporters being sent to wrong places, bad info going up on a website, a wrong graphic being made or used in a newscast or a wrong number being given for an interview. Sometimes, one manager gives one set of instructions and another gives a conflicting set. Equipment can fail, including computer crashes, video cameras losing power or a needed cable gets misplaced.

Then, there are the complainers. Everyone who works in the media experiences them, and they always seem to have bad timing. These are the ones who call the station, in the midst of a major breaking news story, and complain that a program that they were watching (or wanted to watch) wasn’t on. They’re the ones who will spend 5-10 minutes telling you that whatever news story you’re covering isn’t important, no matter the scale, and that if you don’t put their soap opera back on they will never watch your station again. They’re the ones who email you, griping about something that was said and saying that it was completely wrong or someone was lying (usually because the statement didn’t fit into their particular political mindset). They’re the ones who will use that moment to make judgments on someone’s outfit, or to say how much they hate a particular anchor or reporter, while you’re trying to set up an interview or get a vital piece of information that a reporter or producer needs. And if you have to cut them off, they’ll call later in the day, or the next day, and rip you up and down because you were “rude” to a “loyal viewer”.

If I was still in a newsroom on Monday, or out working remotely, I would have been trying to figure out what I needed to so, what someone else needed help with and where I needed to stay out of the way for a bit (a vital skill in those situations, too). I would’ve probably gone on a long as I was needed, only leaving or shutting down for the day when I was no longer of use to anyone. I would’ve collapsed on the couch when I got home, but happy.

But, I’m not in a newsroom at this time (though going back wouldn’t be a bad thing, if someone hires me). So, when the bombing happened, my news feeds went crazy and my Twitter feed started resembling a stock ticker, I barely moved. I started watching things unfold on Twitter and on various websites. I briefly felt like I needed to do something. But I didn’t flinch, and for this occasion, I was just another reader, taking in the information and processing it all in my head. But I also imagined what it had to have been like in the newsrooms around Boston, in my old stations in Seattle and Spokane, and at stations where I knew people who likely had to change from one story to another in a second.

And, yes, not being in the middle of it all felt strange.

Flashbacks to a lot of snow, and a lot of pain

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(photo of the Spokane suburb of Liberty Lake during the December 17-18, 2008 storm, courtesy of Flickr member Bruce Cran)

Watching the coverage of the blizzard in the Northeast on Friday night brought back memories of one of the more unique experiences in my life.

It was one of the most painful, too.

In early December of 2008, I was in Spokane. Although I had been laid off from KXLY-TV six weeks earlier, I was back at the station, filling in on the websites in the afternoons for a couple of weeks. The plan was for me to come in, post items from the evening newscasts and then head home, only working about four hours a day.

But, as usual, plans are meant to be changed. On December 17, I woke up and saw that it was snowing heavily. Soon after, I got a phone call from Jerry Post, the news director at KXLY, asking me if I could come in early and help on storm coverage. I agreed, but asked how I was going to get to the station. He said that he would send one of the photographers out in a 4×4 to pick me up and bring me in.

Adding to the situation was the strong pain I was feeling in my abdomen. It was a pain like I had never felt before, and it had me worried. I asked my wife if I should try to get out of working because of the pain, and she suggested that I go ahead and go in. She said that if it got worse, I would be a lot closer to a hospital being at KXLY, which is located just north of downtown Spokane, than from our home in east Spokane.

As things turned out, she was quite right.

After being picked up by Ernie Vela in one of the station’s 4×4 vehicles, I was dropped off at the station and Ernie went to pick up other reporters who needed to get in. A storm like what was happening meant “all hands on deck”, as Jerry would say, and it was a full newsroom when I arrived. And the pain was getting worse.

Once I took off my coat, I warned Jerry about the pains I was experiencing. I told him I was going to try and stick it out, but wanted to give him a heads-up. He told me to warn him if I needed to take a break.

I set up at the computer where I could edit video for the website, and there was a lot to come in. The other person working on the websites, Colleen O’Brien (now a reporter and weekend anchor at KXLY), looked at me and asked if I had taken anything for the pain. I hadn’t mentioned it, but she said the look on my face indicated that I was hurting pretty bad. I told her that I had taken some Advil, and that I hoped to be taking more again in a bit. Then, I got to work cutting and posting video.

But the pain was getting worse, and after about 30 minutes I told Colleen that I was going to get up and walk around for a bit, so I could try and get comfortable. She said that it was probably a good idea, and I got up and started to walk around.

The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back on the floor of the station conference room. Jerry noticed that I had woken up, and said that he had called for an ambulance to get me. I said thank you…and then I think I passed out again, because the next thing I saw was the paramedics coming in and unloading equipment to start work on me.

I’m not sure how much time passed during that. Somehow, I had called my wife and told her I was heading to the hospital, and she started to call her friends who had 4×4 vehicles to try and get there to meet me. But, eventually, I was loaded up on a stretcher and wheeled out of the station.

While all of this was happening, the snow kept falling. The KXLY parking lot was quite icy, and the paramedics had a tough time scooting the stretcher, with me on it, across the lot and into the ambulance. Once they had me secured in, we were on our way to Sacred Heart Medical Center.

The trip was one of the wildest adventures I can ever remember. Sacred Heart is located on Spokane’s South Hill, and the roads leading to the hospital were in horrible shape. The ambulance didn’t have very good shocks, and every bump, patch of ice and snow pile was felt by all of us inside the vehicle. It didn’t make my situation any better, as the pain got worse.

I arrived in the emergency room, and soon after the staff got an IV in me and some serious pain medication was starting to get inside me. After maybe an hour, I finally started to feel a little relief, and by that time my wife had arrived, accompanied by a couple of her friends (one of whom drove her to Sacred Heart).

After a bunch of tests were done on me over a span of a few hours, a doctor came in to discuss what I had. As it turned out, I had a double hernia, and on any other day, they would have taken me into surgery right away, I was told. But the doctor explained that he was the only ER doctor who had been able to make it to Sacred Heart on that day (we decided that he made it because he went to college in Minnesota and had interned in Buffalo, so the snow wasn’t a big deal), and since his specialty was surgeries where cancerous tumors would be removed, that he had never done a hernia surgery, and he had to be available for everyone else who was being brought in to the ER, there would be no surgery for me that day.

As it turned out, the storm became the worst snowstorm in Spokane’s history. It dumped over 17 inches of snow in one day, and by time it finally stopped, about two feet had fallen. It was part of the snowiest month Spokane had ever seen, with around five feet of snow being measured for all of December. It was something few will ever forget.

It turned out to be another month before I had that double hernia surgery, and I still have the mesh in my abdomen from that procedure. But it wasn’t the last time I worked at KXLY, though, as I was asked to fill in on the assignment desk for one night in the summer of 2009, just before I moved west to start work in Seattle. I agreed, and it felt like old times.

But there was one other reason I agreed to work that night. I didn’t want my last time working at KXLY to have ended with me being hauled out to an ambulance. I was going to leave under my own power, much like all of the other nights I had left the station, to venture into the midnight darkness after an 11 p.m. newscast. And once the newscast was done, I finished up some final work, talked with a few people at the station, then left to meet my wife.

No ambulance needed.