Caruk: OJLL season provided a sense of healing

Brenden Boyle of the Burlington Chiefs in 2021 Ontario Junior Lacrosse League action. (Photo credit: OJLL)

Lacrosse is back, and nature is healing.

Those were the words Pat Gregoire said to me as we finished our Ontario Junior Lacrosse League (OJLL) Futures’ Division Final broadcast (a 13-10 win for Peterborough Lakers win over Burlington), my final game providing play-by-play. It wasn’t until then I realized, after 18 months off, how much I missed live games, and how much I needed them back.

Over three weekends, as part of the JVI Sports Network, we streamed 47 games to over 200,000 viewers. I personally called 26 – 20 in the OJLL, including both incredible semi-finals, and six in the thrilling Futures division. I was in the building for all 47 Junior games doing various jobs for JVI. But this post is not about me.

It’s about the over 500 players who were able to retake the floor, some for the final time in their careers. The opportunity to break the mental monotony of an 18-month long pandemic; the opportunity to exercise; the opportunity to see old friends and teammates while making new ones; the opportunity for extra eyes to view their craft just over a month ahead of the NLL entry draft. Thank you to Lisa MacLeod, Ontario Minister of Heritage, Sports, Tourism and Culture Industries for green-lighting the event.

This article is about the small army of employees and volunteers from the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre who kept the facility clean and safe for participants and spectators alike. Thank you Nick Rose and company. Additionally, the internet speed in the building is the best I’ve seen anywhere (even rivaling OHL arenas). When you see the clarity of broadcasts, it all comes down to this, and the TRAC is unrivalled.

These words are about the incredible team of broadcasters – in front of and behind the camera – I was able to work with. When JVI was formed in 2012, we never wanted to compromise the look of a broadcast just because it was online. Gary Morrison steers a mighty big ship – from coordinating equipment to recruiting and scheduling crew. He and Ryan Harkness do not get nearly enough credit for what JVI has become. Our directors were Rachel, Andrew and Alex. Our camera operators were Darrien, Chris, Corrina and Nicole. You need to know their names because they are all tremendous.

Lance Winn joined us on commentary, less than a week after working for CBC covering the Olympics (and while still on Tokyo time …), as did Alan Corkum, cutting a vacation short. Pat Gregoire is top notch. It was a pleasure to partner on a broadcast again. And, what a grind calling the Final game after coaching all weekend. I consider it a privilege every time we get to work together. He makes us all better. And the guru himself, Brian Shanahan, provided his expert analysis for the Final game. Put them together, hashtag wagon. Thank you all.

Near the end of the Iroquois Trophy Final I told Mark Grimes on air I was excited when he was named OJLL Commissioner. Commissioner Grimes brings a rolodex (I’m sure he’s got one somewhere) overflowing with contacts in the sports and business world. He is a relationship builder. He has ideas, and he knows how to put them into practice. And if you don’t think all of those things are what the sport needs right now, you haven’t been paying attention. I’m thankful for his leadership this weekend, but also inspired, energized and excited by his plans for the future. His team included Fiona and Bob Cleveley and Bill Greer who must be included here.

Jeramie Bailey was everywhere doing everything, but when is he not? From clarifying rules for our broadcast team, to running water and food to referees, he even pulled on a jersey to officiate a game himself. When he wasn’t taking headshots of every player and coach in the league. Because, of course.

Colleen Grimes will tell you all these people mentioned worked harder than her and are better than her. That’s simply not true. Following a tournament full of long days both weekends, and many more hours during the week, she shifted focus to implement not just the Futures tournament, but the upcoming Rising Stars showcase as well. The OJLL is lucky to have her. The OLA is better because of her work. The sport of lacrosse is lucky to have her, and is better because of her.

Thank you to everyone involved, and to everyone who watched.

Nature, indeed, is healing.

Lacrosse is back.