Arts & Culture(Archives)
Moments in Time
Curtis Phillips - Wood Buffalo’s Voice of Sports
Player, coach, commentator, reporter, broadcaster, promoter, volunteer, historian – Curtis Phillips has worn many hats during his career. But the driving force has always been the same: Sports and more sports.
At a young age, Curtis began swimming, running track and field and playing basketball, volleyball, soccer and team handball. Then he began writing about basketball and soon he was covering sports – in print and on the air. But he didn’t stop with a byline. An avocation turned vocation became a passion, galvanizing his personal and professional life alike.
“My dad’s life has been about giving back. I think he was my biggest inspiration.” Curtis reflects. “He taught me that if what you did yesterday looks good to you today, then you’ve haven’t done anything today. You don’t do it for the recognition - you do it for the love of doing it.”
Curtis may not seek the spotlight, but his contributions have not gone unnoticed and his commitment to the community has been recognized in many ways. The honours include Coach of the Year Award, Volunteer of the Year, and the Royal Canadian Legion Sports Foundation’s inaugural C.A.P. Award, given to an individual who has gone above and beyond in their chosen sport as a coach, athlete and promoter on the local, national and international scene.
“I don’t have money, so I give my time. I am a creative insomniac so I go to bed each night at 2:30 a.m. or 3 a.m. so I have those extra five, six hours at night. That’s 42 hours a week to do stuff instead of watching TV.”
Curtis grew up surrounded by sports. His father, George Phillips, co-founded the Royal Canadian Legion Athletic Camp in Manitoba, starting out in 1962 with 80 boys and girls and helping to build it over the next 51 years into an international sports camp that has trained more 35,000 amateur athletes.
“My father is one of the leaders in amateur sports in the world. He is 86 now, and at 80 he started accepting the recognition. He is currently in six halls of fame,” Curtis recounts proudly. “He was one of the first in North America to introduce co-ed sports and was the first in the world to have females as head coaches. He was involved in not one sport but all sports.”
From the age of six, Curtis spent every summer with the best coaches in the world – and he learned his lessons well, becoming a provincial all-star in six different sports. At the request of Basketball Manitoba, he started writing and editing a monthly publication called Hoop Scoop. Several of the articles were picked up nationally and internationally, including the National Basketball Association. By 19, he was a freelancer for the Winnipeg Sun and the Winnipeg Free Press. His father advised him to treat the people he wrote about as if they were in the NBA or NHL, and “I have done that since day one,” he says.
In 1982, Curtis joined Fort McMurray Today as a sports and entertainment reporter and editor. He remembers how his first basketball story was about a game in which he had played and he inadvertently became the headline - Phillips scores 43 points. “There was nepotism there,” he says.” I continued to play basketball but left myself out of the story.”
Inspired by his parents and his new boss at Fort McMurray Today, Curtis dedicated his life to advancing athletics in Wood Buffalo. With those role models, “I didn’t mind working the 60, 70, 80 hours a week,” he says.
“I had a great boss, Jerry Skowronski. He worked me hard. His life and business were about serving the community,” Phillips recalls. “Both my parents are huge volunteers, so by osmosis I got that. When I look back, my dad wasn’t home very often and I didn’t mind because I knew what he was doing for people. Same with my mom - she was helping the local indigenous population and homeless people as a volunteer. I saw the joy it brought them. It’s not morality, it’s just the way you treat people.”
Community and Career
Within three months of his arrival to Wood Buffalo, Curtis had organized two basketball clinics, was elected president of the Fort McMurray Basketball Association and secured for Fort McMurray the right to host the 1983 Western Senior Men’s Basketball Championships. “When I first came, every three months I’d organize an event to bring to town - be it pro wrestling or a comedy basketball team or a national volleyball team.”
Curtis is a founder/founding member of numerous events, organizations and award programs, including the Challenge Cup, Alberta Athlete of the Year, Alberta Coach of the Year, the Wood Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and, most recently, the C.J. Phillips Frozen Hoops Junior High All Star Game.
From 1982-1991, Curtis volunteered as an announcer at the local television station, Alberta Broadcasting Corporation. “ABC cable at that time was all volunteers - we had up to 350 volunteers,” he reminisces. “We would do the Barons games, high school games and college games.
“In the early 80’s and early 90’s, each gym - be it Westwood, Composite or Father Mercredi - would be packed with 800 to 900 kids, whatever it held. The kids would watch themselves on TV. They would have signs and bands and cheerleaders.”
Eventually, Curtis became ABC’s Program Director. “When I was at an event covering for the newspaper, I volunteered to announce for the TV station,” he says. “I did that for 10 years before going vice versa - working for the TV station and writing free for the paper.”
During his TV stint, Curtis produced several sport productions that gained national acclaim. Particularly memorable was the 1992 Alberta Winter Games. To this day, it remains the largest community station telecast with 12 companies and more than 280 volunteers involved. He also produced and hosted a show called Basketball Alberta Focus.
“In 2000, when the Oil Barons won the Championship for Junior A. Hockey, we were there from morning to night broadcasting live on local ABC. It brought the community together,” he recounts. “The bars were packed with people watching our broadcast.”
Unfortunately ABC went off the airways in the early 2000’s but Curtis continues to be prominent in the local sports community - announcing Keyano Huskies games to contributing to Fort McMurray Today. He is also a sports historian with work published in encyclopedias used by the NBA, FIBA and Basketball Canada. He has been featured in national publications and on network television in the United States.
“I enjoy the stuff behind the scenes like organizing events or preparing. I am researching six books right now. I enjoy the process of just discovery and creating,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. So now I pick and choose what I want to do.”
From track and field to basketball, Curtis has been and continues to be Wood Buffalo’s voice of sports. His infectious energy continues to inspire a new generation of athletes, coaches and organizers. Growing a bigger, stronger, and more dynamic sports community in Wood Buffalo.