Sports ‘n’ Things: Bell tolls for Toller and Banks

"Lots of losses this past week, even one for the Nitehawks on the road."

Lots of losses this past week, even one for the Nitehawks on the road.

The Smoke Eaters’ crumble from a three-goal lead to an overtime loss, all in about eight minutes, was, as if that was needed anymore, the final rivet in the coffin of this season’s promise.

There are still reasons to attend the games here, and I will be, but among them won’t be faint hope of a playoff spot. The entertainment is good value and the team is a local endeavour – supporting local performers is an enjoyable way to, “shop local,” no matter your choice about where to buy your butter.

The Nitehawks are at home Friday, the Smokies Saturday, and it is worth the minimal effort on good roads to get out to the games – and bring your friends along.

• Bigger losses, and more lasting, are the deaths of Ernie Banks and Toller Cranston.

Banks will remain an icon, and his sunny demeanour and, “Let’s play two,” will be part of the baseball lexicon forever.

The first black player on Chicago’s north side, almost a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier and years after most other teams had succumbed to the idea that good players of whatever background deserved a chance in the major league spotlight, Banks was as good as it gets as an all-round player and brightened the game days for long-suffering Cubs fans by being so excellent on offence and defence,  while comporting himself with dignity and enthusiasm in equal measure.

So much will remain of his contribution that he will never really be gone.

• Toller Cranston had even more impact on his sport, and on Canadians.

People will say he never really won anything, but he created modern skating and, with today’s rules (generated from his appeal as a skater) he would have been a many time world and a couple of time Olympic gold medal winner.

Cranston had a combination of athleticism (google his 1975, “Sabre Dance,” routine) and artistry (then google, “Pagliacci,”) that has yet to be matched – although skaters have been trying for decades.

Figure skating when he arrived on the scene was boring. Most champions were decided, essentially in empty arenas, by the first day’s labourious scratching of figure eights. Cranston was not terrible at it, but was never good enough to catch up with the artisans in the free skate – which he almost always won, but not by enough.

Now, of course, the free skate(s) are all that is judged. Cranston, by whom audiences were enthralled, is the reason for the change.

On top of that he was a pioneer on the athleticism side. Cranston threw so many splits, triple jumps and unique spins into his routines that he also enthralled young skaters, who were said to have been, “Tollerized,” and impelled them, too, to maximize their degrees of difficulty.

Without him, and skating likely needs another like him now, figure skating would not have become the big deal, almost, “must see,” world and Olympic event it was for decades.

Without him, such currently dominant figures as Patrick Chan might still be doing those old, boring, routines nobody watched.

With all that, Toller Cranston was more multi-faceted in his pursuits than almost any other athlete, ever. As a teen he paid for his skating lessons and travel by selling his artwork. As a retired competitor, he maintained a pretty good lifestyle bringing art into both skating tours and galleries.

Unique and groundbreaking, he should be remembered and missed forever. For some, he will be. For those who do not remember and appreciate his impact, probably not so much.

Too bad for those latter, because Cranston created awe and joy unlike almost any other performer in any activity and it is sad they missed it.

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