First-year Durham College journalism student Shaun McLeod wondered why a notification popped up on his phone from the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks earlier this month.
Yes, he had covered the inaugural season of the Ontario Tech men’s basketball program for The Chronicle, but the season was long done, and the campus closed due to COVID-19.
So why did the Ridgebacks tag him April 10?
To give him an award – the Sase Narayan Unsung Hero Award – given to the student who has positively influenced an organization behind the behind the scenes with a commitment to excellence. The news was shared through the Ridgebacks Instagram page.
“I think I made a joke at the time,” he says laughing about initially seeing the post. “I was like, ‘What if I won an award?’ Because that’s kind of the only thing that they were doing at the time.”
Originally from Yellowknife, N.W.T., McLeod, 30, says he has been a sports fan from a young age. He says his interest in basketball peaked in the early 2000’s.
During that time, the Toronto Raptors were in the news in Canada due in part to friction between then star player, Vince Carter and the team’s management.
“That’s actually what got me into sports journalism because I would watch TSN to get updates on the situation,” say McLeod.
In 2005, he moved to Campbellford, Ont. so his mother could be closer to her family. After he graduated high school in 2013, McLeod says he was debating going to DC for the Sports Business Management program.
However, he decided to take another route.
“I had such a horrible time in high school that I didn’t want to do something that I wasn’t passionate about,” he says.
This past summer, McLeod enrolled into the Journalism-Mass Media program at DC and was accepted.
During his first semester, McLeod says he was hoping to get into the sports scene and immediately sought to cover the inaugural season of the Ontario Tech basketball team for the Chronicle.
He connected with Ontario Tech officials to ensure he would get access to the team.
“Shaun came in very interested in covering sports and basketball was a big one for him,” says Chris Cameron, sports information and marketing coordinator at Ontario Tech.
McLeod’s first opportunity to write about the team came for Ontario Tech Athletics when the season was beginning.
“Chris offered me access to write a pre-season preview,” he says. “It ended up being a really great experience just getting in there talking to all the guys.”
Throughout the semester, McLeod continued to cover the team for the Chronicle and produce stories.
“I think I learned more than I would have just being in a classroom because that’s just the way that I learn. I’m very hands on,” he says.
McLeod says he was excited about covering a new team that was preparing to play together for the first time.
“There’s so many stories about that team that are really interesting to me,” he says. “Just the way that they developed, even pre-season leaps that they made as a team was so interesting to me. I thought that it was stories that people would like to hear.”
In January, McLeod made the transition from writing about the team to colour commentary, where he offered insight on individual players and the action going on in the game. That opportunity came up when Cameron felt the team could use a second commentator on its livestream broadcasts.
“He’s really invested in following the team, so we thought he’d be a great colour commentary person,” says Cameron.
McLeod says he was excited about the new experience.
“When I started doing colour commentary, I did it because I thought it would be really fun,” he says. “But I also thought that I had a voice that I could add to the broadcast.”
The Instagram post announcing McLeod as the recipient of the award was presented by Sase Narayan himself through a video. McLeod says the post came on a day when his mother was struggling with the reality of COVID-19.
“I immediately sent it to my mom,” he says. “She was kind of having a down day, the pandemic was kind of getting to her at that point and it totally made her day.”
For McLeod, the recognition was one of the highlights of his first year on campus.
“It meant a lot to me because I never really did this looking for awards,” he says. “I was just doing it because I really wanted people to know that the basketball team was here.”
Cameron says the awards committee selected McLeod as the winner because of his proactiveness in contributing to the athletics program.
“We didn’t reach out to him, he reached out to us to start doing sports coverage,” he says.
He adds what he really likes about McLeod is his passion for sports and for journalism.
“I’ve been here for five years, and we’ve had lots of sports stories over that time, but we’ve never had the level of interest in a program like we had this year from Shaun,” he says.