Competitive squash family looks to develop sport in Terrace B.C.

A family of competitive squash players, with top rankings in South African nationals, moved to Terrace, B.C. last year...

Local squash players Steve and Siobhan Hawyes and Chris Hampton at Terrace’s only squash court (actually a converted racquetball court) at the Northwest Community College.

A family of highly competitive squash players, with top rankings in national South African championships, moved to Terrace last year and are looking to develop the sport here.

Steve and Karen Hawyes owned a 12-court squash centre in South Africa and their daughter Siobhan, 19, has ranked among the top six squash players in the country since she was 11.

“I think Siobhan came out of the womb with a squash racket in her hand,” joked Steve.

Siobhan started competing in provincials at age eight, the earliest allowed, and when she turned 14 she started competing in the four specific tournaments across the country that were needed to earn her colours — which is given to the top ten players in South Africa. The top six have the right to represent South Africa internationally the following year.

Winning her colours every year since age 14, Siobhan competed internationally every other year, in Niagara Falls and Harvard University at age 14, and in Malaysia and Singapore at age 16.

In 2012-2014, Siobhan and her mom Karen competed in the highest level squash league, the Gauteng League, which Steve described as the NHL of squash.

Siobhan and Karen played in that league on the University of Johannesburg team — a team open to the public as well as students — and the team won first all three years they played.

Like her daughter, Karen has played squash competitively since she was a child and has ranked as high as 14th in the country.

Steve picked up the sport at age 23 and competed for over 25 years, earning second overall one year in a masters national tournament.

Their son Kyle, 15, started competing in squash tournaments at age eight and was ranked in the top four in U14 in the province of Gauteng and 15th in South Africa when he and his family moved to Canada last year.

All four members of the family coached in the squash centre they owned in their home city of Johannesburg, South Africa, where they had over 300 members, ran school programs, business and social leagues and special academies.

In 2012 Steve worked with the provincial squash league to develop a high-performance academy for the elite athletes, which was a three-year program that included consultations with dieticians, physiotherapists, psychologists, movement coaches and many other specialized coaches and trainers.

In February 2015, the family moved to Terrace, B.C. where Steve accepted a call to co-pastor at The Rock church in Thornhill, which meets in Copper Mountain Elementary School.

Steve had been an elder and pastor in his church in Johannesburg, and his mentor knew Thornhill pastor Mike Rosenau through conferences put on by their church denomination, “New Covenant Ministries.”

Rosenau was looking for a co-pastor for The Rock and their mutual friend recommended Steve because they had previously visited Penticton and wanted to come to Canada. “God was stirring and opening doors for us, so we responded to the call to come to Terrace,” Steve said.

Since moving here early last year, the family has been competing in every northern tournament they can, which adds up to a total of three per year, two in Smithers and one in Prince Rupert.

Steve said facilities in Terrace are limited, with one court at the college with irregular dimensions (actually a converted racquetball court), which is closed on weekends.

Also, having one court makes it impossible to host tournaments or get school groups in to play — both ideas which they would be eager to facilitate. Steve said you could do those things with two courts, and though the facilities take an initial investment to build, courts are easy to maintain and the sport is inexpensive.

“We’d like a lot more profile. I’ve been quite shocked at the profile that squash has in Terrace,” Steve said, adding that it is a growing sport and is quite popular in Vancouver and eastern Canada.

With 130 people on their Facebook, but about 30-40 who regularly play, Terrace squash players have formed a non-profit society with the hopes of using it as a platform to get grants to build two new squash courts.

In March, several local players spoke to the Terrace council and will submit their ideas for the Terrace Recreation Masterplan during the next public review.

Squash is played on a four-walled court where players must bounce the ball off the front wall every play, and only once on the ground. The ball can ricochet anywhere and players beat their opponents by making quick and trick plays to outsmart them so they cannot make a play. Local squash player Chris Hampton said he enjoys the sport because of its quick pace.

“The intensity is something — I have never sweated so much in any sport in my life,” he said. “And you have to keep your smarts about you too… fake a little bit and be a little sneaky… keep your opponent guessing.”

Steve agreed.

“Squash is playing chess multiplied by 10,000 miles per hour,” he said. “It’s combining strength, endurance, explosive speed and a lot of mental strategy.” He noted that squash was rated the #1 healthiest sport by Forbes Magazine for cardiovascular endurance, strength, flexibility, calories burned and injury risk. “We see it as a wonderful tool to assist the community to live a healthy and productive lifestyle,” Steve said, adding that it is a very easy game to understand and learn quickly.

Anyone interested in being introduced to the sport can contact Steve at 250-641-2407 or stevekaren.hawyes@gmail.com.