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MARTIN CLEARY: My half-century of Ottawa amateur sports storytelling

By Martin Cleary

Somewhere in my family DNA, there must be a gene for job longevity.

My father had it and I inherited it.

For 49.5 years, my father, Murray, weaved his way through the streets and expressways of Toronto to put in a solid eight hours of work every day at Business Systems, which later became R.L. Crain.

I asked my dad why he didn’t work just a tad longer and celebrate 50 years. His answer to his son, who was just breaking into the world of full-time employment with plenty of energy and motivation, was simple.

“I just wanted out of there,” dad said straightforward. He also knew he had to retire back then at age 65, which was the magic number to step aside.

As my father eased into retirement, I was working all kinds of weird hours at The Ottawa Citizen newspaper. I started as a summer student May 12, 1973, writing in the news and sports departments and working mostly nights from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Following an enlightening summer program and a three-month stint dealing with people’s consumer issues in the Action Line department, I was hired to fill a vacancy in the sports department.

I felt I had won a major lottery at a time when lotteries were still two years away from making their debut in Ontario.

I hadn’t planned to work 50 years in Ottawa sports journalism, but that is about to happen on Friday. The Citizen was my home away from home for 39 years, two months and 20 days before I took a buyout in July, 2012.

Martin Cleary is an Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement Award winner for Sports Media. File photo

On my final day as a full-time sportswriter (July 31, 2012), the sports editor asked me if I would continue to write sports stories for the paper as my departure would leave no one to cover the Ottawa amateur scene on a regular basis.

I gave it some thought and returned with the idea to write a biweekly amateur sports column called High Achievers. It ran from January, 2013, to March, 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic tossed the world upside down and halted my freelance writing for The Citizen and Sun.

A month later, I was finding all sorts of Ottawa sports news items on the Internet, even as competitions were shutting down. I started to use my Twitter account as a news service to write about what was happening with Ottawa’s talented athletes.

Dan Plouffe, the founder of the Ottawa Sports Pages newspaper, liked that I was still churning out local sports content.

Dan and I have known each other for many years as our focus was the Ottawa amateur sports. I even wrote a story about Dan when he was a student at Nepean High School, where he played the role of the Knights’ mascot.

READ MORE: Ottawa Sports Pages Editorial (August 2012): Simply irreplaceable – Martin Cleary will never be matched in local sports news

For the past 2.5 years, I have written 638 stories for the OttawaSportsPages.ca website and when it was a hand-held newspaper. Dan knew how many years I had been working in the Ottawa sports journalism field, and decided it was time for a celebration.

Late last year, he contacted my wife Nancy and children Andrew and Emily to get their thoughts about staging a recognition luncheon for my upcoming 50 years in Ottawa sports journalism. They thought it was a great idea and kept it a secret for many months until Dan broke the news to me in late March.

I was shocked and humbled that someone would pay tribute to me for my working career. That’s my job. I have written thousands upon thousands of stories in my career and a good number of them have paid tribute to athletes, coaches and builders for their accomplished careers.

I was scooped. In my job, it was always my intention to get the scoop on a certain sports event and break the news first. I loved doing that. I wasn’t keen on being spoon-fed the news. It was always more fun to be the one to break the story instead of waiting for it to be released.

So, today, members of the Ottawa sports community will gather at the R.A. Centre to pay tribute to this aging, but still motivated keyboard tapper at a luncheon.

I am truly humbled and thankful for this act of kindness by Dan, who could have mailed me a greeting card to mark the occasion. But instead he chose to throw a party instead for someone who is more familiar with being on the outskirts and observing these kinds of celebrations instead of being at the epicentre.

Martin Cleary interviews girls’ junior race winner Isabella Chiumera at the national capital high school cross-country running championships in October, 2022. Photo: Dan Plouffe

In my 50 years writing about Ottawa amateur sports for The Citizen, the Ottawa Sun, Canadian Running and Fifty-Five Plus, kindness was an underlying theme in every assignment.

It would be unfair to mention names (there are too many), but to everyone I had the pleasure to call a colleague as well as everyone I met to learn about their sports passion, I offer you a huge THANK YOU. Dealing with the thousands of athletes, coaches, builders, administrators and officials made my job an absolute pleasure.

Going to work was stressful at times, but overall it was always an enjoyable experience because I was writing about something different every day, dealing with familiar contacts or meeting new people, and discovering interesting storylines on a regular basis.

Individuals involved in the Ottawa amateur sports community love their sports and have always been happy to fill this sportswriter with plenty of information and story tips.

Every athlete realized an interview was part of their role and they accepted it. A newspaper story or photo, no matter the size, was good for their soul, their confidence and was likely a small step in their athletic development.

I was fortunate to attend six Olympic Games, five world figure skating championships, the 1997 Canada Summer Games and dozens of Canadian and provincial championships. Each one of those competitions gave me a wealth of knowledge and unforgettable memories.

I was fortunate enough to attend the farewell gathering for my dad, when he retired from R.L. Crain after 49.5 years. I am so happy I could keep this tradition of job longevity alive in the family and stretch it to 50 years.

Wishing you were here for my recognition luncheon on Friday, but I know you and mom will be in my heart.

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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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