Ron Forsythe returns to Regina to accept the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award from MAP’s Department of Film.
This past Friday night, as hockey fans watched the Edmonton Oilers maintain their four-game winning streak against the New York Rangers, many would have tuned in a little earlier to catch live coverage of the jersey retirement ceremony for long-time Oiler Kevin Lowe. As has been the case at thousands of history-making moments in sport, live TV sports director Ron Forsythe was there, documenting it all – and sharing it in real time with millions of viewers across the continent. It’s been another whirlwind week for Forsythe – which is to say a typical one for a person who spends upwards of 150 day per year on the road. “I worked a game last Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, and (this past) Friday. This week I’ll go to Winnipeg on Friday, then back home to Vancouver after a couple of weeks on the road. It’s been 40 years of travelling,” he laughs.
This week marks a particularly special homecoming for Forsythe as he returns to his hometown of Regina to receive the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Regina’s Department of Film. Forsythe (BFA ’80) was, in fact, the very first to graduate with a BFA (with Distinction) from the newly-minted film program in 1980 – though was already working in television before he graduated, finding opportunities with Cable Regina (now Access 7 Regina) to work with the types of professional broadcasting equipment he’d go on to use in newsrooms and studio floors at CBC Calgary almost immediately following graduation.
“I was lucky enough to get involved with Cable Regina when it first opened its doors and it was a great learning experience,” he says. ” You just have to be lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time to be afforded the opportunity. And I’ve been very lucky in that respect.”
He’s been working almost non-stop ever since – 30 years with CBC Sports, and then, merely two weeks after his retirement from the national broadcaster, Rogers Sportsnet came calling with an offer he couldn’t refuse – he’s been working with them, directing live coverage of hockey, for the past decade.
Over his long and varied career, Forsythe has directed live broadcasts of 21 Stanley Cup Finals, 16 Grey Cups, nine Olympic Games, and dozens of other major sporting events around the world including the Commonwealth and Pan American Games, World Athletic, World Cycling, and World Swimming championships, among many others.
It’s an extremely fast-paced work environment. Live television is challenging and high-stress even in its most basic forms; making the kinds of on-the-fly directorial decisions needed to cover lightning-quick movements with multiple cameras on ice or on the field requires the kind of next-level skills Forsythe is renowned for in the industry, and he’s garnered 15 Gemini and Canadian Screen Award nominations, and nine trophies to show for it. It’s work that Forsythe obviously loves.
“When you get to direct a world feed of anything – you’re on the world stage, they’re relying on you to provide them with coverage,” he says. “I was lucky to be the host director for ice hockey at the 2014 Winter Olympics, and for a Canadian guy, that’s a big deal. All the medal games were done by myself and our Canadian crew. Those images went all over the world, so the world was relying on Canadians running that host feed to tell the story of ice hockey at the Olympics.” This February, Forsythe is looking forward to directing live feeds from the Beijing Olympics. “The CBC wants me to spend a month in Toronto. The show will go on at 6 a.m. and off at noon,” he says. “And I can’t wait to do it!”
While regularly singled out by his industry peers as a go-to person for sports coverage, Forsythe is quick to point out that his work, too, is about teamwork.
“The people I work with is the other thing that’s kept me excited about staying in the business,” he says. “There’s a giant machine that goes along with covering these giant events. I’m just a quarterback. It’s real team, and that’s what I’ve really enjoyed over the last 40 years.”
For this week, at least, Forsythe will be taking it easy in his home town, visiting favourite old haunts like the University of Regina campus and Wascana Centre. He jokes that it’ll be the second time he’s taken time off work to collect an award from the University of Regina – the first was to collect his degree.
“I’m also look forward to connecting with some students if I can – I’d like to mentor. And to be honest, next week is a light week where I get to visit with my mom and have a couple of days off,” he says. “Chilling in Regina is exactly what the doctor ordered.”