If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau
There is an eleven-year-old girl to whom I look up. Her name is Keila Penner, and she lives in Lachine, Quebec, a fifteen minute drive from Montreal. Penner is a fan of the Ottawa Senators, which is somewhat uncommon, considering that the franchise has only been around since 1992, and she lives near Montreal where the Canadiens play hockey. Les Habitants have been a professional hockey franchise since 1909, and have won the Stanley Cup 24 times, which is more than any other team.
Outsiders often compare Montreal’s devotion to Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge to a religion, but there is no denomination of followers so fervently aligned, while simultaneously critical and suspicious of every edict that comes to be promoted as truth. La Sainte-Flanelle are more like a sometimes-benevolent dictatorship of culture. After all, there is no blind faith in the team, fans demand to see evidence instead of trusting in the unseen. However, there is uniformity in the following.
Or, at least assumed uniformity.
With the Canadiens and Senators set to battle in a first round playoff battle, Penner’s school decided to hold a “Habs Day” event in which students were encouraged to dress in the local hockey team’s gear. Not only did Penner wear a Senators jersey to school that day, she refused to take it off when confronted by teachers. She was, in turn, sent home by the school.
That is awesome.
It’s not awesome because someone prefers the Senators to the Canadiens. It’s awesome because an eleven-year-old girl who defines herself, at least in part, as a fan of one team, wasn’t bullied by a majority into compromising that definition. The hockey jersey itself is relatively unimportant, but the principle of standing up to authority, and not following the lead of the majority is one to which I, personally, ascribe.
I’m a grown man, and I don’t know if I would stick to my principles under the demands of a similar authority figure to the one against which Penner stood her ground. And she’s eleven-years-old!
After learning of Penner’s strength of character, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk drove her and her family to Ottawa in a limousine to watch Game Four of the Ottawa and Montreal series from his private box. The Senators won the game, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead, and setting up their eventual series victory the following game.
A lot of time has been spent on this blog attempting to reconcile the amount of time we spend obsessing over sports with its value, or seeming lack thereof. It’s comforting to find stories like this, in which the devotion to a team has the ability to teach and reinforce lasting principles that the world beyond sports fandom values.
I also love that it’s sports, in this instance, that allows us to learn a valuable lesson and gain encouragement from an eleven-year-old. Keep on doing what you’re doing, Keila.
Stick tap to Chris Lund at Inside The Senate.