Local Pinball Wizard star of new documentary premiering in May

Since I started working full-time as a journalist in 2011, I’ve interviewed dozens of people and have shared countless stories. Some stories stick with me more than others, for various reasons.

Among those is a series that I wrote and produced in the fall of 2011 for 24 Hours. It was titled The Top 24 Under 24. We had asked our readers across Metro Vancouver to submit names of teens and young adults who were at the top of their field, who stood out from the rest, who seemed poised for success and extraordinary things. Needless to say, many of the students we profiled that first year continue to enjoy great success today.

Robert Gagno was one of the students I profiled back in 2011. At the time, Robert was the top pinball champion across Canada, and was also ranked 13th internationally after competing for only two years. He had an indescribable talent for the vintage arcade game despite his autism.

Today, I learned Robert is the subject of a new documentary titled Wizard Mode that is slated to premier at Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival this May. The documentary is produced by Salazar Film and was partly funded by a successful Indiegogo campaign last year that raised $43,500. It is Salarzar’s debut feature length documentary.

The trailer features a brief glimpse of our 24 Hours two-page spread on Robert, which was first published in 2011. (You can spot the headline at 0:43!) It gave me a small sense of pride, not because I claim any sort of credit for Robert’s accomplishments, but because we played some small role in sharing his story.

It’s one of the reasons I love journalism and it highlights the favourite part of my job: We find interesting stories about wonderful people doing great things and we share that with the world. It’s exciting to see that Robert’s story will now be shared with even more people.

Congratulations to the team at Salazar and to Robert.

(PHOTO: Robert Gagno, who has autism and is pictured in this 2011 photo, is one of the top-ranked competitive pinball players in the world. He was also one of 24 hours’ Top 24 Under 24 students. CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS.)

Women’s softball team sues University of B.C.

STEPHANIE IP | The Province
April 16, 2014

The University of B.C.’s women’s softball team wants to play ball — in court.

Eighteen members of the former varsity team have collectively launched a lawsuit against the university, alleging gender discrimination and other claims, after the program was downgraded to a competitive club earlier this year following a controversial review of UBC’s sports teams.

The civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday seeks to void the results of the review, and to have the softball team’s varsity status restored, while also pushing for the university to follow through on its initial plans to construct a softball facility on campus.

Damages for distress and punitive damages, the totals of which are not listed, are also being sought.

“I think this focuses attention on the opinion of many that, despite what UBC has continued to say — that this was a transparent and open dialogue and review — it wasn’t,” said lawyer Kerri Farion, a UBC alum and former varsity ice hockey player, who is representing the team.

“People are angry, whether they’re students, athletes, alumni — relationships between university and alumni have become strained with many donors. I think this has huge implications for UBC.”

The season-long review wrapped up in February and looked at each of the Point Grey campus’s 29 varsity sports teams to see which would most benefit from school funds and resources, while others would have to rely on alternate funding.

The softball team claims that by downgrading the team’s status, the university and its athletics department are in contravention of gender-equality policies laid out by a number of national sports associations, including Canadian Interuniversity Sport, of which UBC is a member.

“The failure to include women’s softball as a UBC varsity sport is a violation of every woman’s right to the equal benefit under the law,” reads a section of the suit.

Additionally, the suit claims the downgrading of the softball program constitutes a breach of contract and misrepresentation, as student athletes were “induced to attend UBC on the representation that … a varsity softball team existed.”

Some had also turned down offers and “significant scholarships” from other schools in order to attend UBC and play for the softball team.

Dr. Stephen Toope, who is stepping down as UBC’s president this summer, and VP Students Louise Cowin are among the defendants named in the suit. Others include the school, its athletics department, UBC’s board of governors, and the provincial and federal Crown.

The defendants will have 21 days to respond to the civil claim.

“I think it’s important for people to recognize that university athletics provides students with important education to go beyond their academic years,” Farion said. “This isn’t just playing a game. It’s about getting to the next level professionally … and how people network these days.”


This story originally appeared in The Province on April 17, 2014 and on theprovince.com.