On this blog, I normally don’t publish names of players for consent reasons. Today, I make an exception.
“Reach for the Top” was a very widespread activity in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and it should come as no surprise that some famous Canadians have appeared on the show. During this holiday lull, I thought I’d take a trip into the past and bring up some alumni of the program.
Probably the most high-profile former player is Stephen Harper. Harper was prime minister from 2006-15, and while often associated today with Alberta, grew up in Toronto. In the 1977-78 season, Richview (led by Harper) had their first Etobicoke-region match against Vincent Massey. Harper racked up most of his teams points, but lost that match and was eliminated from the season. That Richview team may have had some consolation knowing that they only took one loss that year, and it was to the eventual national champions. A lengthy recounting of that game was published in the Sun chain of papers in 2011 (“The whiz kid who beat Harper”), though that article has now been relegated to archives.
Another Right Honourable quizzer is Kim Campbell. Campbell was a cabinet minister in the Mulroney government before taking a brief term as prime minister in 1993, becoming Canada’s first female head of government. Campbell played for the Prince of Wales HS team in 1964, when Reach for the Top was a localized show before a national championship was formalized. Clips of Campbell along with a interview about her time on Reach for the Top appeared on a 50th anniversary W5 segment for CTV.
Keeping with political leaders, Bernard Lord was another former player. Bernard Lord was premier of New Brunswick from 1999-2006, and played in Moncton in the early 1980s. I don’t know which school he played for, but he was not on the 1984 (his senior year) Moncton HS team that finished second nationally.
A current provincial party leader, Andrew Weaver, also played in high school. Weaver is the leader of the BC Green Party, whose small caucus holds the balance of power in the nearly equally divided BC legislature. Weaver played for Oak Bay HS until his graduation in 1979; while Oak Bay had an impressive nationals attendance record in the first decade of Reach, the school does not appear to have represented BC at Nationals during Weaver’s time.
Two major financial figures during the Harper era were Jim Flaherty and Mark Carney. Flaherty was the finance minister for most of Harper’s term, while Carney was the governor of the Bank of Canada and later was appointed governor of the Bank of England. Neither Flaherty (at Loyola in Montreal in the late 60s) nor Carney (at St. Francis Xavier in Edmonton in the early 80s) made significant progress on televised Reach.
Leaving politics, an alumnus that has tooted his own horn about his Reach for the Top exploits is Tom Harrington. Harrington has hosted a variety of sports and news programs on CBC. In 1974, his Gonzaga team pulled off an upset in front of a home crowd and won the Reach national title, giving Newfoundland their first (and so far only) title and making Harrington the most famous champion. I covered the Gonzaga team in a post earlier this year.
Also with CBC is Shelagh Rogers. Rogers has hosted several shows on TVO and CBC Radio for nearly four decades, and is an officer of the Order of Canada. She played for Lisgar CI in the early 1970s. 1970s Lisgar, however, was not of the caliber of the modern team, and Rogers only competed up to the regional level.
Finally, another Order of Canada recipient is Mike Laziridis. Laziridis founded Research in Motion and developed the Blackberry. He didn’t make much playing progress in high school, but has a well-published anecdote about building a buzzer system and selling enough prototypes to Windsor teams to pay for his later tuition to the University of Waterloo.
There are almost certainly other famous Reach alumni. However, for some, Reach participation was not enough to merit inclusion in a biography, especially if they only had a “one and done” experience. I’m also aware that there are several other famous people that participated in Reach for the Top as coaches or hosts (pretty much every CBC anchor from the 60s to 80s read a local match at some point). If you know of other famous players, feel free to comment below.
As for coverage of current players, I will be on break until holidays and high school exams wrap up. Regional tournaments usually start up in February, and Lisgar CI will hold an independent event that month as well.