Friday, June 14, 2024

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame had strong 2024 class, but not a single woman

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By Martin Cleary

The Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame proudly inducted three athletes, two builders and two teams into their family of athletic greats Tuesday night in the Horticultural Building at Lansdowne Park.

Let’s give them one more round of applause: athletes Mike Bullard (hockey), Luke Richardson (hockey) and Lyndon Hooper (soccer), builders James Duthie (media) and Dr. Mark Aubry (medical) as well as the 1999 Ottawa 67’s hockey team and the 1974 Ottawa Sooners football team.

Read More: HIGH ACHIEVERS: Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame welcomes 3 players, 1 doctor, 1 media member, 2 teams

But there was something seriously missing.

There was not a single female athlete or builder on the induction list.

At the start of the induction ceremony, Dave Best, the chair of the hall’s board of directors, made reference to the absence of female inductees and promised to do better in the future.

It was a concerning blemish on a wonderful night to celebrate the achievements of athletes and builders, who have added something significant to the history of Ottawa.

But it wasn’t the first time the hall’s board of directors elected not to honour a female athlete, builder or team. Since the hall opened in 1966, there have been 26 years when the hall did not welcome a female athlete or builder.

After figure skater Barbara Ann Scott and alpine skier Anne Heggtveit were inducted in the inaugural class of 1966 and golfer Alexa Fraser-Stirling and equestrian rider Shirley Thomas were welcomed in 1967, there was a stretch of 15 years from 1968 through 1982 when no woman was added to the hall.

Since 1983, the hall has regularly inducted a female athlete or builder, but during that 42-year period, when women’s sports was starting to climb in popularity, there were 11 years of no female inductees. The last year without a female hall entry before this year was in 2017, when the hall honoured the five founding members of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group.

The Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame membership stands at 245 men, 45 women and six teams.

But to the hall’s credit, there have been two occasions when three women were inducted into the hall in one year, and 12 times when two women were honoured at a ceremony for their lifetime achievements.

Figure skater Isabelle Duchesnay entered the hall with her brother Paul as an ice dance team and she was joined by squash player/coach Heather Wallace and track and field high jumper Mary Haydon-Provos in 2003. The other time three women were called to the hall was in 1998 with track and field’s Ann Peel in race walking and Dr. Glenda Reiser in middle-distance track running as well as figure skater Lynn Nightingale.

But today’s sports world is far different from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Girls and women can participate in every sport imaginable and, by doing so, have turned opportunities into the realization they can be high achievers.

The number of athletes competing at Olympic Games is now equal between men and women. Men’s and women’s champions at major tennis championships receive the same amount of money.

At the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, which were held in 2021, Canadian women won 18 medals while the men took 6. They were almost dead even at the 2022 Winter Olympics as the men and women had two gold and four silver each, but the men had a 6-5 advantage in the bronze column.

Women are driving much of the success of Canadian sports today, whether they were part of the inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League season or winning medals regularly at all kinds of World Cups, world championships or Olympics.

Watching women’s sports is becoming increasingly popular, whether it’s hockey, basketball, soccer or rugby.

Women’s sports have reached a point where it’s now on par with men’s sports and ahead of the game in some disciplines.

So, when it comes time to honouring athletes and coaches after their careers, it’s vitally important to treat men and women as equals. If a hall of fame is planning to induct two or three deserving men, that should be balanced with two or three qualified women and vice versa.

For an athlete or builder to be inducted into the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame, he or she must have reached a high level of greatness in their sport and be nominated by an individual.

As a past member of the hall’s nomination committee and a former chair, candidates who deserved to be considered for the hall weren’t always considered because an individual or group didn’t step forward to complete the nomination form.

I haven’t been a part of the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame organizing committee for several years, but I’m sure they have a list of qualified women to consider for the future.

But just in case, here is a list of female athletes who aren’t in the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame, but over time should be making the walk to the podium for their award.

· Erica Wiebe, 2016 Olympic women’s 75-kilogram freestyle wrestling gold medallist, and a two-time Commonwealth Games champion (2014 and 2018).

· Waneek Horn-Miller, 2000 Olympic water polo player, 2001 world championship bronze medallist, and a three-time Carleton University women’s athlete of the year.

· Dawn McEwen (Askin), 2014 Olympic gold medalist in women’s curling as lead for the Jennifer Jones rink, and a two-time world champion (2018 and 2008).

· Sherraine Schalm, the University of Ottawa grad won silver and bronze medals at the 2009 and 2005 world fencing championships respectively (the best-ever results by a Canadian woman), competed in four Summer Olympics, and captured two silver and one bronze medals at the Pan-Am Games.

· Francine Villeneuve, a thoroughbred horse racing jockey who retired in 2012 as Canada’s winningest female jockey with 1,001 wins and 3,065 top-three results, and winner of the Avelino Gomez award in 2004.

· Lise Meloche, a pioneer in women’s biathlon skiing, earned four World Cup gold medals, competed in more than 200 World Cup races, and participated in two Winter Olympics (1992 and 1994).

· Elizabeth Clark, an International Skating Union judge for many years, served on the judging panel at two world championships, two world junior championships and one world team trophy championship.

· Joyce Potter, one of the top senior and masters curlers in Canada, winner of nine Ontario championships at various levels, collected two gold, two silver and one bronze medals at the Canadian championships, and was the 2005 world senior championship silver medallist.

· Dasa Lelli, founder of the Kanata Rhythmic Sportive Gymnastics Club in 1975, and coached young athletes for more than 40 years.

· Joyce Henry, a retired provincial, national and international rugby referee, officiated at World Cups, European championships and world university sevens for men and women.

· Courtney Pilypaitis, a former basketball player for St. Peter High School, the University of Vermont (2006-10) and Canada, played professionally in Lithuania, was a silver medallist for Canada at the 2013 FIBA Americas women’s championship, and played as a guard in the 2012 Olympics, reaching the quarterfinals.

· Diane Palmason, started competitive running at the 1976 Ottawa Marathon, ran 77 marathons and set Canadian masters records in five different age groups as well as national and world records on the track, and is a member of the Canadian Masters Athletics Hall of Fame, 2010.

· Joanna Brown, competed in the women’s and mixed relay events at the 2020 Olympics, won the bronze medal at the ITU world junior championship, was a member of the Canadian national team from 2011-21, won the bronze medal at 2012 world U23 championships, captured her first three World Cup medals in 2017, and was the bronze medalist at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

· Lijuan Geng, a four-time world table tennis champion while living in China, won four gold and two silver medals representing Canada at the 1995 and 1999 Pan Am Games, participated in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, owns numerous Canadian singles and doubles titles, and established the Geng Table Tennis Academy.

· Doris Piche, competed for Canada at the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics in badminton, earned the Canadian women’s singles title in 1992 and women’s doubles title in 1990 and 1992.

· Michelle Buckingham, a member of the Canadian national judo team for nine years, competed in three Summer Olympics (1992, 1996, 2000), won six national weight-class titles, was the 1997 Pan-Am judo champion, and was the silver medallist at 1995 Pan-Am Games.

· Sandra Greaves, competed in judo on the Canadian national team from 1984-92, earned six Canada Cup titles, participated in three world championships as well as the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, captured two Pan-Am championship silver medals, and was the gold medallist at the 1987 Pan-Am Games.

· Marilyn Thompson, coached many figure skaters for many years at the Minto Skating Club, including national champions Lynn Nightingale and Kim Alletson, who represented Canada in women’s singles at the 1976 Winter Olympics.

· Lynn Marshall, an active masters swimmer who has been in the top-10 world swimming rankings every year since 1986, holds many Canadian and world records, was the second Canadian inducted into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame, and is a member of the Masters Swimming Canada Hall of Excellence.

· Karen Butcher, a long-time figure skating judge, who was on the panel for pairs and team competitions at the 2014 Winter Olympics, is a Nepean Wall of Fame member, has served as a skater, official and administrator for more than 50 years, and is president of Skate Canada, 2021-25.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 51 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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