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For Roxon family, sports awards system is a 'joke'

Katarina Roxon is seen in this file photo during an event in her honour after she returned home from the Paralympic Games.
Katarina Roxon is seen in this file photo during an event in her honour after she returned home from the Paralympic Games.

Leonard Roxon gets full marks for his absolute honesty and candid viewpoints, even if they’re quite foolhardy, unquestionably puzzling and somewhat daffy, too.

Leonard Roxon is Katarina Roxon’s coach, trainer, manager, and father. He doesn’t believe his athlete/daughter is getting the recognition she deserves, and therefore is snubbing his nose at the provincial awards program — a.k.a. the “joke” (his words, not mine) — this year.

Apparently, the system was fine the five times Katarina won athlete of the year.

Not anymore, it seems.

If you’ve noticed, Katarina Roxon is not among the three finalists for Sport Newfoundland and Labrador’s senior female athlete of the year (they are hockey player Sarah Davis, Jillian Forsey of athletics and Heather Healey of baseball).

I’m not saying Katarina Roxon should win the award, but let’s call a spade a spade: the gold medallist from last summer’s Rio Paralympics should be in the mix.

It’s a no-brainer.

But she’s not, and don’t blame it on the selection committee, of which I am a member.

Turns out both Leonard Roxon and Katarina Roxon asked Swimming Newfoundland and Labrador not to endorse her nomination for senior female athlete of the year.

“We do not want to be part of what we consider to be an unethical process,” Leonard Roxon told me this week.

Regrettably, the Sport NL board caved, and upheld the Roxons’ wishes.

For starters, this whole business of seeking an athlete’s permission to vote for him/her for a provincial award is absurd. If the athlete meets the criteria, he/she is fair game for a vote or a pass on what’s supposed to be a knowledgeable selection committee.

My contention is if Roxon chose not to show for the awards and she won, just send the trophy in the mail.

Anyway, let’s get back to Leonard Roxon, and the obscure thinking that’s led to this controversy.

Turns out he is dismayed with results from recent awards voting.

“Year after year,” he told me the other day, “the award goes to athletes with lesser achievements.

“Year after year, the award winners come to Katarina and apologize. It’s not the way it should be. If you win, athletes should feel good about themselves.

“Rather, this demoralizes the person who won. Frankly, it ruins the award.”

In 2015, Roxon notes, his daughter won six medals in the Para Pan Am Games, broke the world record in the 200-metre butterfly and won bronze at the world championship.

For senior female athlete of the year, voters selected Davis of Paradise, the first female from Newfoundland to make the national women’s hockey team, who helped Canada win silver medals at the world championship and Four Nations Cup. Davis also played for the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women's Hockey League.

“My logic is a world record is the ultimate,” Roxon says. “Nobody on the planet is better than you. That’s what you would think.

“We no longer want to be part of your joke.

“Last year (the 2015 award) was the last straw. Katarina said, ‘Dad, I do not want to be nominated for the awards again. I do not have respect for them.’”

It’s a free country, and Roxon is entitled to tell us — those who voted for these awards —that we got it wrong.

His opinion, of course.

And at the end of the day, it’s the opinion of the voters that matters. Similar to the opinions used to vote for pro sports awards and Halls of Fame, and even Canada’s athlete of the year, for which I have a vote.

The Newfoundland awards program follows the same procedures (save for the foolish nominations).

So if it’s opinions we wish to share, here goes, from one selector:

I voted for Sarah Davis for the 2015 award. And I’d do it again tomorrow. As for Katarina Roxon, I probably would have voted for her for 2016 if the Sport NL board had mustered the will to understand it doesn’t require familial approval for sports awards nominations.

Katarina Roxon’s a very, very good athlete, but there are others just as good in their own right, and they’re competing in sports in which the challenge for roster spots on a national stage is far more fierce.

In the long history of the Canadian Press male and female athlete of the year voting, only one Paralympian — wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc, in 2008 — has won the award.

The Lou Marsh Award, given by the Toronto Star to Canada’s top athlete, also gave Petitclerc the 2008 prize. Rick Hansen was the only other wheelchair athlete in the history of the Marsh award to win, in 1983 when he tied with Wayne Gretzky.

This year, I can say with absolute certainty, a Paralympian could have enjoyed a seven-medal performance in the pool, and there was no beating Penny Oleksiak for athlete of the year.

That’s the way it is.

Paralympians, unlike their Olympic compatriots, have a limited field to compete against for national team posts, and a limited field to compete against in international competition.

Five swimmers, for example (Roxon included), swam in the 100m breaststroke final in both the 2015 world championship, and the 2016 Paralympic Games.

So yes, if it comes down to it, and national team hockey player Sarah Davis, representing a sport played by thousands of young women at colleges and universities across North America, and hundreds more at the semi-pro level, is up for an award, she’s getting significant consideration.

My opinion, of course.

Katarina Roxon and Leonard Roxon have every right to snub the sports awards if they wish. Too bad, because it’s a stain on a very talented, smart, personable, charming young athlete.

But the Paralympian and her coach/father should understand that she’s not the be all, end all, either.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

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