St. Albert’s eye on sports honoured

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Gazette's Jeff Hansen enters Alberta Sports Hall of Fame

He’s been the voice of sports in St. Albert for 25 years. Now, he’s been immortalized as a member of Alberta’s sports hall of fame.

The Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum announced Monday that Gazette sports reporter Jeff Hansen had received the 2017 Bell Memorial Award.

The award recognizes members of the media who have made significant contributions to amateur sports in Alberta, and comes with a ring and a spot in the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.

Hansen was one of the 12 people and teams added to the hall Monday, including Edmonton Oilers star Ryan Smyth and women’s baseball pioneer Betty Carveth Dunn.

Hansen, 52, says he literally shed tears of joy earlier this month when he got the news about the award. It was bittersweet, though, as the man who nominated him, long-time St. Albert football coach Larry Olexiuk, was in hospital battling cancer.

“It’s very heart-warming,” he says of the award.

“I feel very honoured and truly blessed.”

Gazette publisher Brian Bachynski described Hansen as the consummate professional who has garnered many industry awards over the years.

“Jeff takes covering the local sports scene very seriously and he attacks his job with enthusiasm. When you think about St. Albert sports, you can’t help but think of Jeff Hansen. He is most deserving of this recognition,” Bachynski said.

Sports desk, Jeff speaking

Known for his Hawaiian shirts, love of beer and encyclopaedic knowledge of St. Albert athletics, Hansen is a 25-year veteran of the Gazette’s sports department.

His citation notes that Hansen has raised the profile of and instilled confidence in many St. Albert athletes.

“Jeff’s been amazing to St. Albert sports,” says Olympic gold medallist curler and St. Albert resident Marc Kennedy. He seems to be at every sports event in town.

Three-time Paralympic gold medallist and former St. Albert resident Jennifer Krempien says Hansen has covered her entire 20-year career in wheelchair basketball, and done much to raise the profile of the sport.

“He really captured it as a sport,” she says, and focused on the blood, sweat and tears shed on the court rather than the disabilities involved – an approach that was revolutionary at the time.

Hansen says he grew up listening to the triumphs of Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr on the radio on a farm near Moon Lake between Entwistle and Drayton Valley.

While he wasn’t much of an athlete himself (“I partied more than I went to school,” he jokes), Hansen says he dreamed of becoming a big-time radio announcer like Rod Phillips, who was the 2014 Bell Memorial Award winner.

Although he got a few radio gigs soon after graduating from Drayton Valley’s Frank Maddock High in 1982, Hansen says the low pay (“I was barely making enough to buy beer,” he quips) led him to get his journalism degree from what is now MacEwan University in 1988.

Hansen came to the Gazette in 1991 after brief stints at three other papers. While the job has let him meet and befriend superstar athletes like Jarome Iginla and attend national tournaments such as the Brier, he says the best part of his job is covering high-school sports.

“Those are the grassroots sports everyone in the community can relate to.”

Having Hansen at your game is huge for a young athlete, Kennedy says.

“Just seeing him makes you feel like your event is important.”

Hansen is just as enthusiastic about sports on the job as he is off, and shows tremendous respect for those he interviews, Kennedy says.

Krempien says Hansen really connects with the athletes he covers. When he called her soon after the team’s loss to Team USA at the 2004 Summer Paralympics – her first loss in 12 years on the national team – she says it was like talking to a friend and teammate.

“He felt the pain of our team and our loss and helped put it in perspective.”

Hansen credits the “good vibes and good people” created by St. Albert’s dedicated athletes and volunteers for bringing him out to game after game. Residents also really appreciate the work he and the Gazette do, with many athletes telling him that their parents clip his stories to put up on the fridge.

“That’s the ultimate compliment, really. When your story gets put on the fridge, that’s huge.”

Hansen will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame on May 26.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.