Play Makers: Growing squash

Talk to Yukon Squash Pro Marie Desmarais and you quickly get the sense that a perfect world for her would be one that has every Yukoner playing squash.

Her eyes widen with excitement as we chat in her office, which is littered with squash racquets, autographed photos of the world’s best players and pictures of former students, about the season ahead.

The long-time squash enthusiast has made it one of her primary goals for the 2008/09 season to get more people playing the sport.

Not because the sport’s popularity is dwindling, but so more people can experience a sport that she describes as very fun and very easy.

The curly blonde Desmarais, who has been playing the sport passionately since the early 90s and, in 1999, was ranked 23rd overall in the country, stresses with fervour that the sport is not in dire need of more players.

“In fact, it’s the complete opposite and is continuing to evolve in the territory,” she explains with reassurance.

Two leagues made up of 56 players, along with a respectable list of people ready to substitute, are just some of the testaments to the sport’s popularity in the North.

The regular clanging of squash balls against tin that fill the Better Bodies Training Centre seven days a week this time of year is another.

September and October are the busiest months for Desmarais as she works meticulously to ensure a balanced league is created.

In addition to that, her “to-do” list includes setting up the popular junior league, planning the once a month tournaments offered throughout the season and recruiting new players.

And while Desmarais seems to share a special bond with the wide range of current players, who are as young as six and as experienced as 60, she says seeing new faces on the squash court is her main goal of the season.

“We want to continue to grow so right now we’re looking at other ideas to attract other demographics and one of the demographics we’re interested in is the 20 to 30 year-olds,” explains Desmarais. “We want to see it become more of a social sport.”

The squash pro says she has been tossing around a number of different promotional ideas to make squash more of a social event, but notes the best way to get more people picking up the racquet is to have them do just that.

“Most times players just play once and they’re hooked,” smiles Desmarais. “It’s a very fun sport and very easy to learn.

“After only a couple of lessons, players are able to comfortably play games and play well and that’s a great feeling.”

Desmarais says along with getting more new faces playing the game, she also wants to see the sport return to the communities.

“One way to achieve that is by training more coaches,” explains Desmarais, who just last month in Yellowknife was certified as a course conductor.

“That’s going to make it easier and cheaper to teach the sport,” said Desmarais. “Before we had to fly someone up, but now I’m able to teach coaches and players and that’s very exciting for the sport’s future up here.”

The squash season is now underway.

For details on the game and getting involved, call Desmarais at 633-5245 ext. 3.

PHOTO: George Maratos

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