Sawatzky honoured for Free Press university sports coverage


Free Press sports reporter Mike Sawatzky has been feted for his exemplary coverage of university athletics in Winnipeg.

Sawatzky is the 2021-2022 recipient of the Fred (Gus) Collins Award, handed out annually by the Canada West conference to a journalist who provides exceptional coverage of university sports in Western Canada.

Mike Sawatzky joined the Free Press sports desk in 2003,

Mike Sawatzky joined the Free Press sports desk in 2003,

“This is great recognition for an individual who has covered university athletics in Manitoba for decades with commitment and class. Mike has carved out solid relationships with athletes, coaches and program directors — built on a foundation of trust — because of his integrity, accuracy and thoroughness and a knack for great storytelling,” said Free Press sports editor Jason Bell.

Sawatzky’s stories are crafted with care and skill, such as when writing about University of Winnipeg Wesmen athlete Anna Kernaghan, whose father died on a provincial team trip in 2017, but whose legacy fuels her success. And University of Manitoba kicker Maya Turner, who became the second woman in program history to sign a letter of intent with the Bisons football team.

Sawatzky accumulated about 50 bylines on university sport alone throughout the season, struck by the passion of the athletes and compelling stories of their teams.

“It’s underappreciated for sure,” he said. “I’ve known that for a long time. But you sometimes forget how dedicated these people are, and most of them are juggling work, academics (and) then this really intense athletic part of their lives.”

Sawatzky has covered every level of sport in his 37 years as a reporter, often recognized through his Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers bylines. He began at the Brandon Sun, where he covered the Wheat Kings, before joining the Free Press sports desk in 2003.

“Mike is incredibly humble and doesn’t seek out the limelight, but I’m sure he’ll be proud to receive this honour. It’s so well-deserved for a fellow that puts his head down and works hard each and every day. I’m grateful he’s on our side,” said Bell.

Sawatzky will now move forward as Canada West nominee for a U SPORTS honours award (the Fred Sgambati Media Award), to be announced later this month.

The late Fred (Gus) Collins was a longtime contributor to the development, success and promotion of Canada West, notably through his endless effort to produce updated, accurate statistical information to all media in an era long before laptops and spreadsheets.

— Staff