Honouring Jack

By Вen Li

It’s easy to admire Lincoln Blumell’s throwing arm, Erin Gammel’s swimming, or Joanna Niemczewska’s kills at the national volleyball championships. That’s because there’s always someone making sure we know about these great athletes.

Jack Neumann may never have thrown a ball as a U of C Dinos athlete, but he is certainly a valuable and often overlooked member of the team. In recognition of 27 years as the Dinos’ Sports Information Director, the College Sports Information Directors of America will honour Neumann at its 2004 Workshop in Calgary later this month.

Induction into the CoSIDA Hall of Fame and hosting the workshop are two of the profession’s highest honours. The conference has never been hosted outside of the United States, and because Canada is outnumbered, Canadians SIDs are rarely recognized with major awards. Neumann will receive both honours, and also be recognized with a 25- Year Award from the organization.

“It’s been a lot of work, and a great learning experience. We can do a better job for sports information for years to come with what we learn at the workshop,” says Neumann.

Neumann recalls his first time attending a workshop in 1980, two years after the first CoSIDA workshop in 1978.

“I will never forget that day. I didn’t know anyone–the only other Canadian person was from eastern Canada, and we had never met. I was very, very fortunate to meet a few individuals who helped me right off the bat:Nick Vista from Michigan State, Fred Nuesch from Texas A&I, and the third person was Rozsa Gatti from Brown University, who now does media relations for ESPN.”

“I often wonder where I’d be in this business if it weren’t for them. Those three individuals took the time to help an individual from another city, bewildered, lost, confused, from another educational background.

“There are people in the Hall of Fame who helped me out along the way, for me to join them is a great honour,” he continues.

The Calgary workshop is the result of Neumann’s bid four years ago, which beat out three other cities. Calgary’s central location within the Western Corridor makes the workshop accessible to current and future SIDs.

“Take a guy like [former assistant] Kris Kotarski. He has an opportunity to take part in the workshop. I hope to help those people out the same way they helped me.”

As for joining Nick Vista and Fred Nuesch in the CoSIDA Hall of Fame, Neumann is as humble about the honour as he is every day.

“This award isn’t about me. It’s a University of Calgary award because you don’t get an award like this unless you have great people to work with: four university presidents and three athletic directors. You don’t get an award like this by yourself,” he says, noting the importance of current Athletic Director Don Wilson to his success.

“I’ve always believed I want to keep my name out of the papers, and athletes in the paper,” he says. “Joanna Niemczewska’s game, Lincoln Blumell’s pass, [Dinos basketball coach Dan] Vanhooren’s last-minute substitution–athletes are the main thing. They’re the ones busting their butts. People don’t come to see me.”

Still, Neumann appreciates the recognition, especially from more than a generation of Dinos student athletes.

“When they heard about this, a lot of former student athletes phoned me, e-mailed me–kids who are now men, who take time to drop me a note to say thanks–that’s really really nice.”

Neumann says the biggest changes to the SID role are technology related, something the workshop will address.

“When I first started, computers, voice mail, fax machines didn’t exist. We used typewriters instead of the computer, and if I made a mistake, I’d call and fix it. Now with e-mail, everyone knows.”

“You’ve got to be adaptable and flexible. If the power goes down, what do you do?”Expansion of sports at the U of C has also changed Neumann’s role with the Dinos.

“We’ve got more sports now. Schedules are longer, and we have a lot more teams. Seasons overlap more, athletes train a lot longer,” he says. “When I started, there was no women’s soccer, no men’s soccer, and you won the volleyball championships after a couple tournaments.”

Presently, teams compete in games across Canada, and winner is determined after months of competition. As the SID, Neumann travels with those athletes to make sure local media, both in Calgary and elsewhere, are aware of the Dinos’ achievements.

However, according to Neumann, there’s more to his SID career than just athletics.

“The most important things I’ve learned are about the wins and the losses. The biggest wins are not the games. The people I’ve met are the wins, and the friends I’ve made,” he says. “The losses are all the friends I’ve had to let go: I think back to March 12, 1997. I’ll never forget that date when I got a phone call from the dean, who wanted to see me immediately. I just got to work, hung my coat up and I was ready to do my job. A lot of things went through my mind.”

Because of their close relationship, Neumann was notified before the many others at the university who mourned former U of C President Dr. Murray Fraser’s passing.

“Murray was more than a president, he was my friend. We were supposed to go downtown to the WHL awards banquet less than 48 hours later. I was supposed to phone him that day.

“That was so tough, so tough.”

Neumann also attributes his success to Dr. Fraser.

“I know Murray would be proud of me, to get this award because he was a fine, fine human being.”