Hockey isn’t only sport that matters in Rainy River District

This is a hockey-crazed region. There’s no disputing that.
Anyone looking for proof need only drive to the outskirts of town and see the sign listing the Muskie hockey team’s all-Ontario championship history.
But that wasn’t a surprise to me moving here from Winnipeg last year after having grown up in Northwestern Ontario. Hockey is—and always will be—a big deal. I live and breath it myself.
What has most surprised me, however, is the interest level in other sports locally and the athletes who develop out of them.
The window of opportunity to play sports like golf, soccer, and baseball is short in these parts, yet Christin Thomson has developed to the point where she can play year-round on the links against some of the best in North America.
Meanwhile, Sarah Noonan (now a coach with the Muskie girls’ squad) went on to play university soccer for the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Current Muskie Josh Strain heads to Toronto this week to try to replicate his fifth-place finish in the high jump from a year ago in track and field, and a number of others have gone on to swimming, figure skating, and diving successes on both the provincial and national stages.
Then there’s the local soccer circuits. Nearly 1,000 kids take part in youth soccer every spring while more than 100 play on the adult pitch during the summer.
Both Muskie soccer teams will represent the region at the all-Ontario championships beginning tomorrow, and yet this big news doesn’t seem to generate the same enthusiasm that a Muskie hockey trip to OFSAA or a Fort Frances Jr. Sabre playoff game does.
To be fair, hockey is deep within the core of almost every Canadian and naturally is bound to pull on the heart strings more than other sports. But that doesn’t mean these other sports—and these other athletes—should be ignored.
Baseball, too, has almost an underground existence but the quality of play is certainly there. Little League is treading water with a limited number of teams, but they still managed to win a Major ‘B’ title a year ago against teams from International Falls.
And don’t forget the Rainy River District Fastball League. It’s been holding steady at seven teams from across the region for decades and builds a sense of community within each team that brings people together.
The local league boasts some premiere talent—some of which have been playing half their lives or more—and yearly sends a representative team to the North American Fastball Association’s World Series.
No small potatoes, to say the least.
Then there’s former Fort Frances resident Molly Carlson, who has continued to tear up the diving circuit in Thunder Bay—recently coming off a three-medal performance at the Ontario Provincial Diving Championships in Etobicoke this past weekend.
The 10-year-old has developed her skills in Thunder Bay since moving there in 1999 with her mother, Kathleen, but her grandparents, Dick and Jane Trivers, still live in Fort Frances and the youngster has maintained a connection to her birthplace.
Carlson earned gold in the three-metre and platform events, and nabbed a bronze in the one-metre event. She received the 11-and-under female outstanding diver award.
She also achieved national qualifying scores, and once again will compete at the Speedo Junior National Diving Championships being held in Victoria, B.C. this July in an event where she won a bronze medal last summer when Thunder Bay hosted it.
Talk about a medal haul.
The local figure skating club, meanwhile, sends a contingent to the Mariposa Skating School in Guelph each spring while Emo’s Taylor Latimer trains there throughout the winter.
Mariposa is renowned in skating circles, and you have to be doing something right to train there.
Stratton’s Angela Lee recently was inducted into the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association’s Hall of Fame for her curling successes while attending Confederation College in Thunder Bay.
Stratton is known as a curling hotbed, and Trevor Bonot exemplified that by representing the community as a member of Brian Adams’ Thunder Bay rink at the NOCA men’s provincials when they were held in Fort Frances back in February.
I’m sure plenty more names could be thrown into the hat so if I missed anybody, I apologize.
But I think my point has been made. This region isn’t simply a one-trick pony when it comes to sports. Hockey may send the highest percentage of athletes to the next level (case in point being the more than dozen locals currently in the U.S. college ranks), but that doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of producing high-calibre athletes in other sports.
Quite to the contrary, in fact.
So when somebody not familiar with this region suggests we know nothing but hockey, start rhyming off names of athletes who don’t ply their trade with a stick in their hands.
Besides, they deserve the recognition, too.

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