Special to The Lake Report
Our new game of “tennice” laid an egg on Lansdowne Lake, but NOTL athletes continued to have fun and get some fresh air as the COVID-19 lockdown continues.
We are all trying to obey the health protocols, so the new game was not really promoted to the public. Heck, there weren't even any cardboard cutouts around the rink to add festivity and enthusiasm. No fake noise, no artificial excitement.
Multi-sport Niagara sports legend Tady Saczkowski had the idea for this combo sport, and quickly borrowed a Spec Tennis net from NOTL Tennis Club director Rosemary Goodwin.
Wooden racquets were purloined from the tennis pavilion, along with a couple of dozen used yellow tennis balls. Green balloons were purchased at Avondale, as green seems to work well with tennis, especially against a bright backdrop of crisp white snow.
We were ready to try something new and it all came together within 48 hours.
As we prepared to start our game, snowflakes drifted down, compliments of Mother Nature. Every one a different shape, right? New girl Natalie Early was ready with her fancy camer, and she had agreed to handle our wee canteen and sell 50/50 tickets. Two great Canadian traditions, to cover our costs.
Danna McDonough arrived from St. Catharines with beautiful new skates. She is from a hockey-playing and figure skating family, so this was a treat for her.
Tady Saczkowski hadn't had his skates on for over 15 years and they seemed to have shrunk. His tennis skills compensated for his skating pains and the game was underway. Your correspondent joined the fray and Nancy Saczkowski showed alacrity in both aspects of tennice.
At the last minute, as more and more cars drove by on Niagara Boulevard, searching for parking spots, we decided to close the canteen and limit spectators to a physically distanced and masked 10 people. Yes, we created the Chautauqua Bubble and we played our new game under very isolated conditions.
We really were moving along with good humour, everyone pitching in, and the sense we were on the cutting edge of a new sport. Perhaps the Winter Olympics in 2054?
Several tennis friends dropped by for a look. Zeny and Manny Umoquit, originally from the hockey-less Philippines, couldn't resist, and ventured out on the ice for some fun.
Let's face it, folks, James Naismith got lucky when he invented basketball back in 1891. The Canadian employee of the YMCA in Springfield, Mass., was asked to create an indoor game for young people and remembered the game of Throw the Stones he had played back home in Ontario.
It took him quite a while to develop the rules of his game and he attached a large peach basket to the walls at each end of the gymnasium. The first game lasted 30 minutes and the final score was 1-0. How times change, eh? Just last week, my fave Toronto Raptor, Fred VanVleet, scored 54 points in a single game.
Well before that, Abner Doubleday and his buddies developed baseball, an American “let's get going” modification of cricket. Important cricket matches back in England could take five days to declare a winner.
The new game of baseball only took two or three hours. The first game in 1846, played at Elysian Fields in New Jersey, lasted four innings, with a score of 23-1 in favour of the New York Mutuals over the New York Knickerbockers.
Which brings us in a roundabout way to Lansdowne Lake in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Rare weather conditions had produced smooth ice and the lack of heavy snow made scraping possible each day for over two weeks.
Local residents and visitors just sort of organized themselves, respecting COVID-19 protocols and each other.
It's amazing what people can do without written rules and regulations.
Indeed, in Ken Dryden's seminal 1983 sports book “The Game,” he included a paragraph about his great teammate Rejean Houle from Rouyn Noranda in northwestern Quebec, just across the provincial border from Virginiatown and Kirkland Lake.
Indeed, in 1969, the 12-team NHL included 13 players from hockey hotbed Kirkland Lake, a town of 15,000. Do the math, Toronto. About one NHLer per 1,000 of population. Hmmm, Toronto had about 1.5 million people then. Were there 1,500 Torontonians in the NHL? Maybe 20.
But I digress, as a proud northener.
Back to Houle and his childhood in Rouyn- Noranda. Winter Saturdays and Sundays, colder than cold, at the high school rink. Hour after hour. There would be four pucks, scores of kids and four games played simultaneously – three across its width and one down its length.
Plus skaters around the boards, playing tag or crack-the-whip and somehow it worked out. No referees, no rule book, just a lot of dreams and so much fun.
Hand-me down skates, taped-up sticks, no screaming parents or coaches, and sometimes two toques per head.
When the street lights came on, home for hot chocolate, dinner and a Greg Clark story in the Toronto Telegram. Then crowded around a black and white TV or radio, the wireless.
“Hockey Night in Canada” with Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan or Rene Lecavalier, and then to bed (without being told) and dreams of Maple Leaf Gardens and the Montreal Forum. Tim Horton, Rocket Richard and other authentic Canadian heroes. Then Sunday back to the rink.
They had their dreams. We have our dreams.
What weather we have had this winter. So many people outdoors, so many tired doggies.
We tried a new winter sport. The world premiere game of “tennice.” It needs some work. Skating and pivoting is tough. The game laid an egg.
We tried. We were out in the fresh air. We had fun! Everybody was a winner.