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Squash community is used to tackling the challenges - pandemic or no pandemic
2020-07-26

The sport of squash, in Sudbury, was already facing its fair share of challenges, prior to Covid-19 bringing most everything in athletics to a screeching halt.

Not that this is about to stop the likes of Brian Graham, or Robert de la Riva, or a host of other passionate pursuers of all things squash, from fighting the good fight.

Though separated by roughly one generation, Graham and de la Riva are but two of the locals devoted to keeping the game they love alive.

"Someone had to take it over, or it was dead," Graham noted of his escalation to the role as chief organizer of the Sudbury Squash League, a challenge he has tackled now for the past five years or so.

"I try and keep evolving the league every year. By the end of the season, I'm really not sure if I want to run the league again the next year, but come August, I decide to do it for another year."

A member of the SSL for the past decade and fanatic of squash since jumping back on to the courts in his early thirties, Graham can recall a time when the league would rove throughout the region, hosted at a variety of venues.

These days, the Sudbury YMCA is where they call home, despite not always remaining on exactly the same wave-length as facility management (the decision to close court four just prior to the start of the 2019-2020 season did not sit well within the squash community).

That, however, is not likely to be the last battle facing this group that clings to all that is good about a physical activity that grew exponentially in North America from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s.

"If you are going to exercise and you want to get the most bang for your buck, squash has it all," said Graham. "Anaerobic exercise, aerobic exercise - to do 10,000 steps in a match is easy."

While squash courts still permeate the entire region - one can find a match, post-pandemic, in Hanmer (Howard Armstrong), at College Boreal, Cambrian and Laurentian, at McLelland Arena (Copper Cliff) and Dowling - the who's who of the sport, these days, are found at the "Y".

"It really is a bunch of old guys right now that are probably the top ones in town," said Graham, who acknowledged playing in the Level 1 grouping of the Sudbury circuit, though "more through attrition".

With both Mike McCue and Charles de la Riva Jr playing professionally and the likes of Joel Clarke and Jamie Colvin moving on, injuries and life, in general, have curtailed some of the more compelling matches that might pit a Ryan Abresch against a Trevor Beange or others.

Still, a quick glance at the league website (www.sudburysquash.com) reveals that at the same time that names like Gerry Boudreault, Rogan Harper, Marc Chartrand and Sam Cuomo were mainstays in the top bracket of league play, there are more than a handful of interesting story-lines to be told by those climbing the ranks rapidly from the lower levels.

"Ideally, I like to have eight teams of seven players each," said Graham, noting that this goal has been tougher to reach consistently in recent years. Even more importantly, he has shifted the focus somewhat in his tenure as well.

"We were trying to run the league as a team event, but it really did not work the way it was supposed to," he said. "There really wasn't any kind of team spirit, so I gradually made the league more individualized."

"Some people will say that it's a ladder, but I like to say that it's more than that."

It is that same kind of energy that Robert de la Riva would bring to the table, spearheading an effort to cobble together a team of fellow high-school squash players at College Notre-Dame, a squad that he would then lead to a first ever OFSAA appearance (a dream that was put on hold, this spring, due to the pandemic).

Garnering the necessary approvals in house, de la Riva set about on the task of assembling his crew. "Usually, I know the people that have played before (at the school) - they would talk about squash," he said.

"But we would also get in the announcements in the morning, or they would see the pamphlets."

Truthfully, it was clear, early on, this would be a work in process. "I think we had about 25 kids contact us, but most had never played squash," said de la Riva. "Usually, we start with your swing and your basics."

"You can't go wrong with the basics of squash. It's really important just to get them working with the ball, and then they will start to like it. It was great to see them having fun as well."

For as much as de la Riva quite enjoys a competitive outing when he takes to the court, he was more than realistic regarding any expectations for the inaugural Alouettes squash team. "If you are going to a tournament in Toronto, you have to know that you will lose some games," he said.

"When I first started, I used to lose all my games there. Now, I am starting to win some games."

While he jumped in willingly to the role of organizer and coach, Robert de la Riva is a player, first and foremost. "Squash is a primary sport for me - it's my passion. It's the only real sport that I spend most of my time with."

"It's a sport that I like, so I'm not leaving it just because other people don't play it."

Like Brian Graham, Robert de la Riva will tackle the challenges as but a bump in the road, a minor setback in the pursuit of growing a sport that he loves.

Orendorff and Associates