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Alberta

CFL faces very difficult future

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This is an unpleasant reality: The Canadian Football League faces an extremely difficult future.

In truth, it may not have a future at all.

In the few days since commissioner Randy Ambrosie finally confirmed the obvious that the 2020 season had been only a figment of many imaginations, there has been a rush of both critics and devout supporters to explain at least partially the many reasons for the CFL’s arrival on the edge of final, fatal league disappearance.

Most of the observers are content to point out that large markets such as Toronto and Vancouver lost their way after National Football League franchises were established in nearby Buffalo (the Bills) and Seattle (the Seahawks),creating a painful reduction of several million dollars in gate revenue each year.

If only that were true . . . but it is not.

Much more damage has been done through simple — but very thorough — disrespect of the game by the owners and presidents and general managers positioned to grow Canadian football rather than to destroy it.

At one point, the Canadian brand of football was vastly different from the U.S.-based game although both admittedly grew from the foundation of British rugby.

In the 1950s, after decades of evolution, the biggest obvious disparity remained the difference in on-field lineups: 12 in Canada, 11 in the United States. The extra players provided more blocking and, often, more of a ground attack. Although imports had been approved, there were still more Canadians — many more — on every roster.

At that time, the Americans allowed unlimited blocking on every play; in Canada, no legal interference was allowed more than 10 yards downfield. Blocking on pass plays was a non-no in this country for many years.

This space, and many more, have wallowed in the old truth that Canada once paid U.S. imports more than the NFL did. Witness,for example, all-time Edmonton Eskimo great Jackie Parker; he and other imports signed here because the Canadian dollar had more value on the market than the American buck did.

Former Calgary Stampeders stars Earl Lunsford and Don Luzzi — all-star fullback and two-way tackle — entered the CFL a few years later for similar reasons. They played when the single point had strategic importance. Now, it is considered both unique and insignificant.

Veteran punt returners like 5-foot-8 Gene Wlasiuk of Saskatrchewan boasted wryly that they entered the league as six-footers but shrank when swarmed by tacklers. No blocking on punt returns, back then.

During this general time frame, U.S.- trained coaches and general managers became a majority. Jim Finks in Calgary, himself once a starter at quarterback in the NFL, heard claims that the CFL players were “too small”: to be real football players. He countered by pointing out the NFL had finally followed the CFL in using elusive runners and receivers; he was right. By and large, Canadians didn’t notice.

Hugh Campbell created a dynasty in Edmonton by making sure Canadian players had some ability, and then using them in every situation.

Through it all, import limits grew from a handful to today’s situation where rosters are clogged with more unknown U.S. college kids and pro failures than ever before. Alleged experts present the obnoxious theory that the CFL should openly become a farm system for NFL teams.

Misguided commissioner Ambrosie saluted his entry to the new job by proposing that the CFL should be loaded, as quickly as possible, with citizens from Greece, Germany, Scotland, or any other nation with strong, well-conditioned athletes who might be better than the kids graduating year after year from Canadian universities.

History shows that the CFL has spent so much time emulating the NFL and seeking “gimmicks” to boost profits that the road to any future was lost entirely. The most devastating example of contempt for their own product came when Herb Capozzi, a former B.C. Lions player, wrote a nationally-syndicated weekend column in which he insisted “Canadians Play Lousy Football.”

Later, he operated the Lions franchise and ultimately the entire league.

No further questions needed.

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Alberta

Former world champion Kevin Koe earns third straight win at Tim Hortons Brier event

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CALGARY —
Kevin Koe remains unbeaten at the Tim Hortons Brier.

Koe’s Wild Card 2 rink defeated Eddie MacKenzie of Prince Edward Island 12-5 on Sunday to improve to 3-0 at the Canadian men’s curling championship.

MacKenzie’s squad dropped to 0-2.

Koe, a four-tine Canadian champion and twice a world gold medallist from Calgary,  took control of the match early, scoring three in the second for a 4-0 lead.

Koe’s rink added four more in the fourth end to go up 8-1 before adding three in the sixth for an 11-3 advantage.

Koe rounded out the scoring with one in the eighth, after which the two teams shook hands.

Koe’s takes on Team Canada’s Brad Gushue (2-0) in the evening draw.

In other early action, Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone (2-1) downed Newfoundland & Labrador’s Greg Smith (0-3) 6-3; Quebec’s Michael Fournier (2-1) defeated Nunavut’s Peter Mackey (0-2) 15-1; and Ontario’s John Epping (2-1) got past Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald (1-2) 12-7.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

‘It kind of clicks:’ Text4Hope program helps with depression, anxiety during pandemic

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EDMONTON — Kiara Robillard says she was in a really bad place.

During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, after she was struck by a truck and her spine broke in two places, she moved home to Alberta from California.

“That put a real damper on my life for quite awhile,” says the 25-year-old, who’s unemployed and living in Edmonton.

“I was depressed, anxious, losing touch with reality, and I was desperate for help.”

A few months ago, she says her doctor recommended she subscribe to an Alberta Health Service text-messaging program designed to provide mental-health support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s called Text4Hope.

Participants receive one text message every morning for three months. After that, they can subscribe for a further six months.

Robillard selects a message of hope on her cellphone. “This one’s my favourite: ‘We often think that motivation leads to behaviour. The opposite is also true. Engaging in activities can increase your motivation.’

“I struggle with motivation so just seeing it written out in plain English … it kind of clicks.”

Vincent Agyapong, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, founded the program.

“Text4Hope is a program that allows individuals to subscribe to receive daily supportive text messages to help people deal with stress, anxiety and depression during the COVID pandemic,” he says.

“When people are feeling stressed, anxious and depressed, they become preoccupied with doom and gloom.

“Once you are in this mental state you receive this positive message of hope, which momentarily disrupts your negative pattern of thinking.”

Agyapong says the messages are crafted by psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists.

Another example of a message sent to subscribers: “When bad things happen that we can’t control, we often focus on the things we can’t change. Focus on what you can control; what can you do to help yourself (or someone else) today?”

The idea for Text4Hope came from a similar texting service Agyapong created after a wildfire tore through Fort McMurray, Alta., in 2016. Text4Mood, which was also promoted by Alberta Health Services, sent similar messages of hope to that community’s residents.

Over six weeks with Text4Hope, Agyapong says users reported a 10 per cent reduction in depressive thoughts in comparison to those who didn’t get messages.

“When people switch from being preoccupied with the doom and gloom to thinking more of the positive contents of the messages, which changes their thinking pattern, (it) results in reduced stress, anxiety and depression,” he says.

More than 52,000 people have subscribed to the program since it started nearly a year ago. It is planning to continue for at least two years.

Agyapong says he has also set up a program that will send similar text messages in Arabic for newcomers, starting in April.

Last month, he started a text service for first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and he launched one in British Columbia for residents in Indigenous communities who have had multiple traumas. “They had wildfires, then they have flooding and now they have the pandemic,” says Agyapong.

Robillard says she is getting therapy and on medication, but Text4Hope comes in handy on days when she feels down.

“It’s something that’s like a good addition to whatever regimen you have for taking care of your mental health,” she says.

“It’s there to help me … having a different voice, a different stream of consciousness around me helps.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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