When you think of racquet sports in Rainy River District, Bob and Mary-Beth Tkachuk are likely the names that first come to mind.
That's because for over 30 years the locals have been involved with squash and were two of the pioneers of the Multi-use Tennis Courts Committee who were integral in the fundraising, planning, and the ultimate development of the four new courts that were completed in the spring of 2018 behind Fort High.
All that dedication to the local racquet sport scene hasn't gone unnoticed as the Tkachuks were named to the 2019 Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame Class in the Builder category.
The induction ceremony is slated for Saturday, Aug. 10 at La Place Rendez-Vous.
“I was quite surprised because I said to Mary-Beth I didn't think . . . we've just been doing squash our whole life, I never realized how important our contribution is,” Bob told the Times last week of learning that they had been named to this year's Hall of Fame class.
“I've been playing for 40 years, the junior program we started in 1997, so it was quite an honour but it was a surprise,” he enthused.
“Yeah, it's a surprise,” echoed Mary-Beth.
“A nice surprise, but a surprise. I mean, it's a sport that we both love in squash so if you can instill it in anybody who wants to learn, whether they're a kid or an adult, that's what you're doing—keeping the sport alive,” she added.
Bob and Mary-Beth Tkachuk have been the mainstays in the game of squash in Fort Frances since the early 1980s.
In 1981, the very popular Boxing Day tournament was established with their help and expertise and this year they will help it celebrate its 38th anniversary.
The two of them have single-handedly been running the post-Christmas event for most of that time.
Since 1987, the Tkachuks were the catalysts behind the annual La Place Rendez-Vous squash tournament, Fort Frances' premier squash event, that attracts many out of town and out of province participants every year.
Bob and Mary-Beth then started the junior squash program in Fort Frances in 1997. It didn't take long for them to develop promising squash hopefuls, as the very next year they were already taking youngsters to out of town tournaments in Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, and across Canada.
By the early 2000s, the junior program was an annual fixture with their talented young squashers at events like the Ontario Winter Games and the Junior Nationals.
A few of the juniors have also gone on to play on university teams.
“For the squash kids now with social media, they can see videos and watch the pros and they can see all the instruction they want, so that wasn't there when we started,” Bob noted.
“So now, the kids seem to—on their own—get self-coached with that stuff in a way because they're watching that. With the tennis now, Al Christiansen was a big tennis player for years and he is with the schools and that and now in July, we're gonna start some lessons for kids to introduce them to that and I'll be helping him," Bob revealed. ”He's running the show on that.
“It's exactly how I got started, I was in Grade 9 and one of the teachers showed me how to play tennis. It used to be over at the high school where the parking lot for BDO is right now, that was tennis courts” he recalled.
“That's where I learned [to play] as a kid and Mr. Faragher taught me how to play, he was a principal there or vice-principal, and then they moved the courts behind the arena [Memorial Sports Centre]. It was instilled in me younger and then it continued on—we're still playing tennis.”
In 2008, Bob received the Ontario Coaching Achievement award. Bob and Mary-Beth also have devoted countless hours of their personal time—and their own finances—to travel with the youth in the community to pursue squash excellence.
They have nurtured both young and beginner adult players in the community and have changed the landscape of the sport of squash in our community for more than 30 years.
“So you teach kids these sports and it's like all sports. They take some basketball up, they take hockey, they take tennis, you don't know what life sport they're gonna grab on to and that's why it's nice to introduce them to different things,” Bob reasoned.
“I'm an advocate of all sports—but of course, we're racquet people,” he smiled.
"But we promote all sports. We get kids playing sports and we tell them, 'Oh, you got volleyball?' Then come to squash that night.' We don't chase kids away because they play other sports, we encourage them to be multi-faceted.
“Move their bodies in different ways and think different. Sometimes some coaches don't like that philosophy," Bob conceded. "But we do.”
Another area that the Tkachuks like to inspire the community is through adults that may have never played a racquet sport like tennis before.
“Some people don't even wanna try it because they think it's a difficult sport,” Mary-Beth noted.
“So Mary-Beth is taking some ladies out next Tuesday. Some are ex-squash players,” said Bob.
“Just so they can try it, it's something different” Mary-Beth reasoned.
“Because the men are kind of there now and it's harder for the women to feel as comfortable,” Bob added.
“The pickleball people play on Tuesday night, but they only have two courts taken up.”
Looking ahead to next month's Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Bob noted that both he and Mary-Beth are looking forward to what's in store.
“I'm a little bit nervous because we have to write some kind of a speech and we haven't done that yet,” he chuckled.
"I tell her to do it and she tells me to do it and it's like July around the corner, this [ceremony] is Aug. 10, so we'll have to get on our horse.
“We have a lot of thoughts in our head of people we want to thank and who instilled us and we have to put that all together,” Bob added.
“But we're looking forward to being there and all that.”