Jody with Stevie Y
Cheryl Dobbie Brown
Sept 4,2014(ISN) – Forty-Five year old Jody Rice, Victoria B.C.’s “Super Fan” has always watched his favourite sports from a chair. I am sure you are picturing him in the comfort of his own home, reclined back in his favourite chair completely focused on the television screen and letting out a cheer when his favourite team scores.
If you believe this, then you have never had the pleasure of meeting or catching a glimpse of Jody at a local game.
Jody was born with cerebral palsy and as a result has always attended and watched his favourite sports from a wheel chair. I sat down with Jody to discuss how watching sports in a chair has changed over the years and was pleasantly surprised to hear how much involvement he has had in initiating changes in Greater Victoria to make sports facilities wheelchair accessible.
During the 1979-1980-hockey season, Jody saw highlights of a Victoria Cougars game on television and bugged his dad until he took him to a game. He attended his first game with his best friend Todd Davis and friend Rob Harrison in November of 1979 (Victoria Cougars vs. the Portland Winterhawks). From that game on he said he was hooked and became a regular fixture at the Cougar games. The Cougars played out of Memorial Arena and it was not wheel chair accessible at the time. Jody had to be lifted to his seat by fellow hockey fans, which was the least of his inconveniences. He was not able to get up during the game to purchase himself a refreshment without it being a hassle so he would recruit one of the many friends he made at the arena to grab him a drink or one of the other items that the concession had for sale. As a result of having a beverage nature would call and unfortunately there were no bathrooms that could accommodate him on the mezzanine. He would have to be helped back into his chair and go out the Caledonia Street entrance and wheel around to the front of the building (sometimes in the rain).
He and who ever had volunteered to help would have to convince the ushers at the front door to let them in so he could use the washroom. Then they had to do the entire routine in reverse. Jody told me a story about how in 1991 at Memorial Arena during a Vancouver Canucks/ Los Angeles Kings preseason game where he witnessed a puck go up and over the boards into the face of a woman sitting in the corner in section 34. The corners of the arena had several puck and spectator mishaps over the years. There was pressure from rumoured lawsuits, Jody had been pressing for a proper wheel chair spectator section and with the upcoming Commonwealth games some changes were made to the arena. Jody after being a season ticket holder for 7 years was finally given a proper wheelchair section in Memorial arena. It was so popular that it was always full and they eventually created two additional wheelchair sections at the arena to accommodate all of the fans that met the requirements to view the events at the arena from that section.
Jody cruising around doing what he does best
Jody became a favourite of the Cougars organization, the arena staff and the other Cougar Fans. He could always be heard cheering and voicing his opinion very loudly and many stopped on the way to and from their seat to say hello and have a quick chat. Jody was asked to drop the puck three times during the 1985-86 season and he was quick to add that they won all three of those games including a 6-5 overtime win over Medicine Hat. In 1989 he was so upset that the owner of the Cougars Bob Vranckaert was thinking about moving the team to Alaska that he put the face of the owner of the team on a paper bag and wore it over his head for an entire game in protest of the proposed move. He was proud to tell me that Chek 6 news used him and his protest as the start of the Cougars highlights on the late news that night.
Jody became a Salmon Kings fan when they came to town and is now a Victoria Royals fan and holds season tickets. He has no issues maneuvering around in The Save On Foods Centre as the 9 year old facility is completely wheelchair accessible. Jody and Todd Davis met through their mothers when Jody was 2 and Todd was 1 year old. They were neighbours and became fast friends. Marilyn Davis (Todd’s mother) said that Jody would accompany them to all of Todd’s hockey and lacrosse games. Most were played out of JDF Arena and Jody was Todd’s biggest fan. There was no problem getting into the arena with Jody in his chair but they relied on adult male spectators to assist carrying Jody up into the stands. It was the early 80’s and wheel chair accessibility was not a priority and builders were not required to make public buildings wheelchair accessible. As Jody got older he grew as well and the men who were eager to assist when Jody was a small child were now leery about carrying a much larger and heavier young man up into the stands. Jody and Marilyn knew that they had to do something to convince the arena to put in something to assist Jody and other people in wheelchairs make their way up into the stands.
Jody and Marilyn penned a letter in 1983 to the Times Colonist about the issues at JDF and voila they installed a ramp in the arena a couple weeks later. That ramp is still there today 31 years later.
Ramp at JDF
Businessman and Developer Jim Hartshorne current owner of the Victoria Shamrocks owned the Victoria Cougars in the 80’s. He told me the story of his arrival at the arena for the first game as an owner of the WHL Franchise and how Jody was the very first person he ran into. Jody had positioned his chair so that Jim would notice him and have to stop to chat. Jody after a quick introduction offered his opinion and gave him some strong advice on what needed to be done with players and the team, which he still does to this day with the Shamrocks. “You can’t go by Jody without some type of friendly verbal assault” said Jim “but Jody is always respectful and very thankful for everything the team does to include him as part of the team”. He is so full of spirit and an unbelievable fan”. Both Jody and Jim consider each other to be a great friend. Jim told me that Jody has his own special spot in the Q Center on the West Shore. He is able to take the elevator up in the wheel chair accessible facility and park his chair in his spot that has his name on the wall announcing to everyone that the area is s reserved for the Shamrocks and Victoria Grizzlies (Jody holds season’s tickets for both) “Super Fan”.
Jody attended his first Shamrocks game in May of 1980 in a game where there opponent was the Nanaimo Timbermen but it wasn’t until the past 11 years that Jody has followed the Shamrocks with passion. A win for the Shamrocks is a win for Jody as he is treated like one of the team. When the “Rocks” won the Western Lacrosse Association in a 4-3 series over Maple Ridge this year Jody was invited down to the Shamrocks dressing room. Jim Hartshorne said he pushed open the door like he was part of the team and was treated to the ritual of drinking from the cup. Shamrocks Assistant Coach/Defensive Coordinator Jordan Sundher when asked what Jody means to the team replied, “ Jody has been a huge part of what it means to be a Victoria Shamrock”. “ His support for our club has been unwavering since the 80’s”. “He calls it like he sees it from his perch above the “Q Center”. “ Hopefully we can bring the Mann Cup back to Victoria for him to drink out of it again”.
Jody with Shamrock Jon Harnett
Jody will be watching the series from the comfort of home home. He had considered watching it live from “Brown’s Social House” in Langford which has become the official spot for the team and fans to gather after home games and is where Jody wanted us to meet to do the interview for this article. He told me that Brown’s is very friendly for wheelchairs and in fact told me that he finds Langford to be the most wheelchair friendly city in the Greater Victoria Area. During the interview many of the staff stopped by our table to say hi and asked him if he enjoyed the party atmosphere at the restaurant after the Shamrocks won the WLA Championship. Brown’s is a great place to watch the game but Jody wants to watch it at home in an atmosphere where he can concentrate and not be distracted as he will be taking notes for his new blog that will roll out tomorrow on ISN called “ My View From A Chair”. Follow Jody as he gives readers his opinions and suggestions for teams like the Victoria Shamrocks, The Westshore Grizzlies and the Victoria Royals exclusively at www.independentsportsnews.com. It will be a blog you will not want to miss.