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Sunday, October 2, 2022
Ross’s Ramblings: Sh-h-h! The Canada Games tennis tournament is at Memorial Park
British Columbia's Denny Bao playing against team Ontario.
British Columbia's Denny Bao playing against team Ontario. Somer Slobodian

Do you think athletes prefer to play in front of quiet, empty bleachers? No, they don’t.

I spent five hours in the furnace-like heat on Sunday and, as well as being treated to great tennis, had the opportunity to chat with several enthusiastic, courteous and appreciative young Canadian athletes.

The temporary grandstand was almost empty. C’mon NOTL folks, get off the couch.

The Canada Summer Games tennis is the best-kept secret in Niagara-on-the-Lake, except for maybe Ryerson Park sunsets.

Driving into Old Town from Virgil, we see a big sign announcing that NOTL is the International Champion. I called town hall for information and was told that in much smaller letters it mentioned the category was Communities in Bloom.

Many utility poles in town are brightly adorned with banners reading, “Shop NOTL.”

Tentatively navigating my car through the unique and bizarre traffic bump out at Queen and Mississagua (au?) streets, I read the large banner sign advising people that “2022 is the Year of the Garden/Annee du Jardin.”

My goodness, even the public bulletin board in front of our Queen Street post office doesn’t mention the Canada Games in Niagara. Nor the bulletin boards in the Avondale stores. Nor the notice boards in the two Valu-marts (oops again, Independent Grocers.)

And I saw nary a “Welcome Canada Games” sign in store windows, or a banner on Queen Street.

At a Monday meeting in the hardly historic, locally labelled “iconic Queen’s Royal Park gazebo,” a friend who had seen my picture in a recent issue of The Lake Report with tennis champ Karen Rhind asked what was going on in Memorial Park.

She had noticed a lot of orange reflective traffic cones on Veterans Lane. And lots of determined people walking around in drab light-blue T-shirts.

I advised her that the best teenage tennis players in Canada were playing fantastic tennis, competing for their provinces and themselves, and that she would do well to drop by for a look.

Five sweltering hours in the hot sun on metal bleacher seats was an ordeal, but the high calibre of play, the on-court attitudes and the sportsmanship made the perspiration  bearable.

After a chance encounter with Henry Ren and Leena Bennetto from British Columbia, and later their teammate Aram Noroozian and sport mission staff man Simon Cass, I have become the self-appointed leader of the Team B.C. Fan Club.

If you pass by and pay 15 bucks to get in, you will hear Simon beating his Indigenous drum loudly and often to encourage his players. With his drum and the noise created by the violent contact between tennis balls and racquets, tennis is significantly higher on the decibel scale than pickleball.

Hopefully the neighbours will be chill and enjoy the moment. Some have already been over for a look at some top-level tennis and to find out what all the commotion is about.

Simon is a piece of positive work and has been involved with five different multi-sport events. His main sporting interest is coaching wheelchair basketball. Those are athletes, competing for all the right reasons. Coincidentally, it was my favourite sport to watch at last summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games.

He is a happy camper here in Niagara, telling me that everything has been perfect so far, from meals to transportation to athletic facilities to the opening ceremony to accommodation.

My goodness, how the athletes improve as the years go by. How would Rod Laver or Billie Jean King or Big Bill Tilden fare in this Canada Games competition? With their skill set, physical conditioning and coaching, I don’t think they would win a set. That’s the harsh reality. At least, it’s my opinion. Same as Gretzky or Beliveau in the NHL now.

How many goals would six-time Stanley Cup winner Dick Duff score in a season if he played for the Canadiens or Leafs now? Maybe five or six. Don’t forget, he is 84 years old.

I know that factoid because Dick was born exactly 10 years before me, in the same Kirkland Lake hospital, and we both thank Dr. Rumble for a safe arrival.

Dr. Rumble was the only pediatrician in Temiskaming County and delivered innumerable babies of gold miners and their hardy wives.

But I ramble.

Henry and Leena and Simon from B.C. and Josie Usereau and Maxime St. Hilaire from Quebec humbly and enthusiastically asked me to get the word out, and tell Niagara folks about the level of tennis being played.

These players have competed and trained together for several years and a good number now play Division 1 tennis in the U.S. on scholarships.

I added Equipe Quebec to my fan club buttons.

These Niagara Canada Games are a pinnacle and the athletes have totally embraced the unique team format. Think Ryder Cup, and Davis Cup. Group dynamics, peer pressure, perhaps a little social interaction? Hmmmm.

Carol MacSween, a fixture on the NOTL tennis scene and a Canada Games volunteer, loves being involved. She and local tennis lady Danna McDonough learned that a Team B.C. policy is “whenever you pass a volunteer, express your appreciation.”

Professional on-site racquet stringer Christian, a gregarious Wellandport resident and a longtime Montreal Expos fan, said he has yet to meet a prima donna and all the players and coaches have been magnificent. Demanding, but respectful and appreciative.

The ultimate teenaged tennis gentleman, highly ranked Stefan Simeunovic from Oakville, is playing for Team Ontario and would love to “feel the vibe” from the home fans.

During a break in his action, he asked me several good questions about U.S. college sports, and migawd, he remembered my name two days later. Stefan is a tennis player and young Canadian to watch.

C’mon NOTLers, get off the couch. The Canada Games tennis competition, on until Saturday, Aug. 13, is great entertainment.

And, if you ramble over to Memorial Park for a look, you will feel a whole bunch more confident about the future of our Canada.

Hope to see you cheering in the bleachers. Say hello. I’ll be the enthusiastic fan wearing a wide brimmed, dapper white hat from Beau Chapeau.