2005 Jim Kernaghan

Jim Kernaghan
by Frank Orr

In the early segment of Jim Kernaghan’s distinguished newspaper career, an appropriate name would have been “Killer.”

Jim Kernaghan

Jim Kernaghan

“If you wanted your team or league to fold, just have me cover it,” Kernaghan said. “It seemed if the Toronto Star assigned me to cover something, it soon was belly-up.

“In the 1960s, I covered the Toronto Rifles and the Continental Football League. The Rifles lasted two seasons and the league died soon after. I covered various Toronto soccer teams when big bids were being made to make soccer a major sport with various leagues. The Eastern Canada Pro, the United and the North American were three that vanished. I covered the World Hockey Association from its start and the Toronto Toros specifically. Of course, it wasn’t long until the Toros were the Birmingham Bulls and the remnants of the WHA joined the NHL.”

But there was far more to it than writing “obituaries” on the departed.

“No sportswriter ever covered leagues and teams that were more fun. The Rifles under Leo Cahill and that goofy league were a hoot. Some of the greatest soccer players ever — played in the various leagues when a big bid was made to make the game large in North America. When the Toronto Metros won the North American League title at Seattle in 1976, it was terrific.

“The executives and players in the WHA knew the value of publicity and were open, outspoken and available any time you needed a story. All those were memorable in their own different ways and I had the rare chance to cover them.”

But that was just a corner of the rich Kernaghan journalism career. While few writers covered as many, well, oddball, sports ventures, few have written such elegant, thoughtful, wise prose about as many major events, both domestic and international as Kerny in his 41 scribe years, with the Star from 1964 to 1981, then the London Free Press where he is a columnist today.

He covered four Commonwealth Games, five Olympics (he was one of the few North American reporters at the boycotted 1980 Games in Moscow), and six World Cups of soccer. He joined the Star just as Muhammad Ali grew out of Cassius Clay as heavyweight champ and covered more than 25 title fights in that brilliant career.

“Ali is likely the greatest athlete and most interesting character I ever covered,” Kernaghan said. “I was lucky to get to many heavyweight title fights, not only Ali’s but other big ones in other weight categories.”

Few writers have covered such a wide range of hockey as Kernaghan – the WHA, NHL, minor pro leagues, juniors, college and high school hockey. His personality studies of players at all levels are peerless.

“As interesting as anything I covered was the 2004-05 Memorial Cup season of the London Knights Juniors (losers seven times in 89 games) – terrific management and coaching from Mark and Dale Hunter, a wonderful group of goal-directed kids who not only were great on the ice but in the classroom, and sellout support from the London fans.”

Soccer gave Kernaghan an unforgettable moment of a different sort in reaction to his coverage of the Toronto Metro-Croatia. When he retrieved the morning newspaper from his front step, a bat was nailed to his front door.

“If it was criticism,” Kerny chuckles, “it wasn’t very subtle.”