'The joy of sports': Fort McMurray sports historian Curtis Phillips joins ACAC Hall of Fame

“Sports has given me more than anything I could give to sports, and the ‘thank you’ is being able to watch the athletes these last 36 years with the ACAC,” said sports booster Curtis Phillips.

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When asked why he loves sports, Fort McMurray sports historian Curtis Phillips points to a 2019 basketball game with the Keyano Huskies’ women’s basketball team.

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The team had earned a spot to compete at the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s national competition. The Huskies’ coach, Dwayne Vigilance, ran across the court to hug his father, Compton. The women’s team had also once been coached by Compton.

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“That was just amazing to see how sports can impact people so much. That’s the reward for me,” said Phillips in an interview.

Phillips reminisced about that hug in an interview after he was welcomed into the ACAC Hall of Fame. He is happy to be recognized, adding it’s one of countless honours he’s collected through years of promoting sports in Fort McMurray. But those memories are far more valuable, he said.

“It’s always strange to be recognized for something that is part of who you are,” said Phillips. “Sports has given me more than anything I could give to sports, and the ‘thank you’ is being able to watch the athletes these last 36 years with the ACAC.”

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The enthusiasm that Phillips, who is also president of the Wood Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, has for sports in Fort McMurray goes beyond the ACAC.

His career in sports began in 1982 when he joined the Fort McMurray Today as a sports reporter. His father told him to “treat the athletes like they’re in the NBA or NHL or NFL.”

It was a mantra he continued as a freelance writer, working for the Fort McMurray CONNECT until it closed in 2016 and YMM Magazine. It’s also a philosophy he’s kept while providing coverage and commentary to the ACAC and at countless games, championships and tournaments over the decades.

“I always have respected the athletes and I write the the same type of story I would at an NBA game or a college or high school game,” said Phillips. “It’s just the joy of sports. You see everyone up there trying their best and that’s what’s enjoyable about it.”

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Phillips is spending his free time writing a sports history of Fort McMurray. The book is a tribute to people who have built up sports in the region. They include athletes who have competed professionally and at different levels, and people who also promoted sports in the region.

Phillips says the book is also needed because of the cyclical nature of Fort McMurray. The transient nature of the oilsands and a northern community means there are few people who retire in Fort McMurray and even fewer people who live long-term in the community.

As a result, Phillips has noticed Fort McMurray’s sports community is a cycle. There have been plenty of leagues and teams in multiple sports that have popped up, dissolved and returned a few years later.

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As an example, Phillips says Fort McMurray had a strong cricket and Gaelic football scene in the 1970s and 1980s. Immigrants from countries in South Asia is fuelling a local cricket scene. Flag football has existed as at least five different clubs over the years, said Phillips.

He’s also open to considering esports as a sport. Keyano College has its own esports team and recently opened Alberta’s first esports arena.

“Of course they’re athletes. They’re utilizing hand-and-eye coordination. They have to train their bodies,” said Phillips. “There’s 3,000 sports in the world and the world of sports is changing constantly and drastically.”

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