By Erin Elaine Casey |
When Signa Butler BA’96 Hons ’98 and Paul Bromby BA’99 meet in the halls of the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto, it’s like a family reunion. “Whenever we run into each other in our building, it’s a huge smile, a big hug, some kind of dance move or something,” laughs Signa. “There’s a certain unspoken understanding east coasters have.”
CBC News Network sports host, Signa Butler, and Rogers Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada producer, Paul Bromby, have more in common than careers in sports broadcasting. Both were Saint Mary’s Huskies varsity athletes, Signa in soccer and Paul in basketball.
An accomplished all-around athlete, Signa was an Academic All-Canadian, Atlantic University Sport (AUS) Conference Player of the Year, and was nominated for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Player of the Year. A lifelong basketball player, Paul was team co-captain in 1999, when Saint Mary’s beat the University of Alberta Golden Bears to win the CIAU (Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union, now known as U SPORTS) title, SMU’s fourth national basketball crown.
Today, as a host and a play-by-play announcer, Signa maintains a hectic schedule. “I wake up at an hour when I used to come home in university,” she says, “3:30 in the morning! I make sure I know what happened the night before in sports. I’ve watched a full game and read everything.” Then she “shrinks it all down” to two or three minutes to share it with viewers.
Last year, Signa started doing play-by-play for a variety of sports as part of the CBC Olympic broadcast team. “There are not a lot of women who do play-by-play in Canada. I’m very fortunate to be doing what I love to do,” she says, adding that this has been a dream since high school. “I hope I can be a role model to others, both men and women. The hard work behind what you do stands up no matter what, no matter who you are.”
Paul produces studio segments for Sportsnet’s Hockey Central and Hockey Night in Canada. “My job is to figure out what the stories are throughout the game and how to tell them. I’m the TV person, the panellists and hosts are the hockey experts, and we work to make it mesh,” he explains. “You have to manage and be a leader in the control room, make sure everyone’s doing what they need to do. It’s the closest you’re going to get to playing a game—it’s very intense and teamwork is critical.”
How did Paul end up producing for Canada’s most beloved sports broadcast? It’s kind of a funny story. In 2000, at a loose end in his career, the self-described ‘sports junky’ picked up the phone and made a call that would change his life. “The receptionist at Sportsnet put me through to producer Stuart Aker. He gave me a 15-minute sports quiz and hired me as an entry level broadcast associate.”
Paul “knew nothing about TV,” so he went in on his days off, followed producers around, and sat in master control. His initiative paid off and he advanced quickly. “That would never happen now,” he laughs, “but back then I just thought I’m gonna call and see what happens.”
Saint Mary’s gave Signa her start in media. “That was my first opening into journalism. I started writing for the student newspaper (The Journal) in my second year, and then I became the editor in my fifth year.” This, along with doing promotion for the Athletic Department, helped her build a portfolio that got her into journalism school at Ryerson.
“Sport gives you so many connections and opens so many doors for you, and it can help you feel at home,” says Signa, who grew up in Halifax’s west end and always felt an allegiance to SMU because her father Richard and her mother Chris were both alumni, and the family went to all the SMU games together. “I felt like I was a member of the Huskies before I put on a uniform myself.”
When it came time to play herself, Signa says that she loved being a student athlete. “It helped me set goals for myself. It helped me with my mental strength. And I loved representing a university that I’ve cared incredibly about since I was a kid. It was a big privilege, and it still is.”
Paul grew up in the north end of Halifax playing for Canadian Martyrs Mini-Basketball. “I’d take the 9 bus down to the south end, and a guy named David Macintosh was my coach and he played at SMU. We used to play in the old McNally Building. I always envisioned playing for SMU.”
Basketball was more than just a hobby for Paul. His mom suffered from bipolar disorder and spent time hospitalized for mental illness. “It was something I was embarrassed about and ashamed of, but I’m now a very vocal advocate for mental health. For me, as a child, basketball was an escape.”
Saint Mary’s basketball gave Paul a sense of stability. “It was home, and it just felt right. It was a safe space when I was a kid. My teammates became my brothers, and it gave me the family and safety and comfort I was looking for.” Academics gave him the critical thinking and writing skills essential to his career in broadcasting.
When he’s not at work, Paul loves spending time with his four-year-old son Austin and coaching kids’ basketball every summer at New Horizon Basketball Academy in Markham and Brooklin, Ontario. Signa enjoys hanging out in her cozy Toronto neighbourhood with her husband Iain and twin three-year-old boys, Thomas and Duncan. She has also emceed a number of events at Saint Mary’s over the years, including the re-launch of the Entrepreneurship Centre and the One World Alumni Awards Gala, and stays engaged with the soccer team.
Paul and Signa’s love for Saint Mary’s is equalled by their admiration for each other. “I love running into Paul, and I love how far he’s come in his career,” says Signa. “The media industry can be really tough, and Paul hasn’t really changed since our days at university. He’s one of the good guys.”
“Signa was always an awesome athlete with a great sense of humour, and it’s so good to see her succeeding in the same industry as I am,” adds Paul. “It makes me proud to see how well she’s doing.”