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Ralph Connoly holding racket.

4/25/22

by: Bill Potrecz, BP Sports Niagara

CONNELLY AIMS TO RETURN THE FAVOUR ALMOST 50 YEARS AFTER COMPETING AT THE CANADA GAMES

It has been almost a half a century since Ralph Connelly participated in the Canada Games. But when the Fonthill resident found out Niagara would be hosting the Canada Summer Games, he quickly jumped at the opportunity to be involved.

“I was fortunate enough to be a participant in tennis at the 1973 Canada Games in Burnaby, B.C., (representing Newfoundland), and we were treated so incredibly well by the local volunteers there that I thought this might be a nice opportunity to give back to the Games,” Connelly said. “It’s been a long time, obviously, but I thought if I could give something back and try to make somebody else’s experience a good one, it would be a nice thing to do.”

The 1973 competition was only the second Canada Summer Games, as the first Summer Games took place in 1969 in Halifax.

Connelly said the minute he landed in B.C., everything was taken care of for him.

“There were volunteers that found us at the airport and drove us around. I’m not even sure they knew when we were coming or how we were coming,” he said. “When you were supposed to be playing, there was magically someone there to take you to the court. At the time, I really didn’t think about it. It was just incredibly well organized.

“I wasn’t sure how they knew. They just did.”

Connelly remembers being housed in the dormitories at Simon Fraser University.

“We ate in the dining hall and had really good meals, just phenomenal,” he said. “Not what I remember from university cafeteria food.”

Connelly still marvels at the level of play, which included a match against Peter Burwash, who won gold and ended up turning pro. 

“It was just a really wonderful experience, the whole thing — other than my tennis,” he said. “There were some awesome tennis players who went on to become pros. It was a level of tennis I had never seen before.”

Toss in a memorable Opening Ceremonies, which Connelly recalled as “amazing with lots of fun and good times,” and the overall experience was an ace.

“You felt important from beginning to end,” he said. 

Connelly, who was born in Jamestown, N.Y., continued to play tennis at the tournament level following the 1973 Games before landing a job at Memorial University of Newfoundland. In the fall of 1977, he moved to St. Catharines where he worked at Brock University in the Faculty of Education until his retirement. 

He is in the midst of on-line training for his volunteer role at the 2022 Games, where he will be helping out at the Welland Tennis Club.

“I don’t know what role I’m going to play yet, but I’m happy to help out wherever,” he said. 

Connelly feels the 2022 Games will leave a lasting legacy in Niagara.

“I think it’s going to be exciting,” he said. “At this point I’m not sure most people are aware how big a deal it is. 

“You’re getting athletes from all these different sports from all these different provinces coming in. It’s pretty impressive.”

Connelly also marvels at Canada Games Park, which is a new state-of-the-art sports complex that has been built adjacent to Brock University as a result of Niagara hosting the 2022 Canada Summer Games.

“It looks impressive. It’s pretty imposing when you go by it.”

Connelly still gets out on the court two or three times a week, and previously played at the Ontario Senior Games in London in the 75 and over category.

He sees no reason to stop now.

“I’ll be eligible for the 80 (and over category). I figure I’ll eventually just win by default,” he laughed.

This report was filed by BP Sports Niagara, which is owned and operated by Bernie Puchalski and Bill Potrecz.

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