The 35th annual Keystone Classic is on in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and it's the longest running racquetball tournament in the world. Yes, the US and Canadian Championships go back further, but those events haven't been in the same city throughout their histories.
The history of the Keystone mirrors the history of racquetball. It was a huge tournament in the 70s and 80s and into the 90s. "There were 385 players in the '79 Keystone," says Ron Brown, Canadian National Team coach and longtime Keystone participant. "I played in men's C, and it was limited to a draw of 64."
Brown recalls that Wayne Bowes beat Wes Hadikin in the men's open final that year, winning cash and a television.
Sherman Greenfeld, 10 time Canadian Champion and a Winnipegger, says he marked his racquetball progress at the Keystone. "I won the C division one year and Bs the next, and it was where I beat Lindsay Myers for the first time," said Greenfeld.
The Keystone was one of the premier Canadian racquetball events - along with the National Championship and the Klondike tournament in Edmonton - during the sport's heyday, according to Brown and Greenfeld. The Klondike began before the Keystone, and was the longest running racquetball tournament until it ended in 2006.
The Keystone drew top players from across Canada, as well as participants from the US. Brown recalls a group of guys from North Dakota, who regularly came to Keystone in the past. One year they showed up in a used limousine that they'd bought for the sole purpose of traveling to tournaments. Why have a party bus when you can have a party limo?
This year's Keystone has 90 players, a good turnout, but far less than '79's 385. The Keystone regularly had 250-300 players during the 80s. In 1979, three clubs were used to hold the tournament, but now only one of those clubs still exists, and it only has one court.
Supreme Racquet Club, opened in the 80s, hosted the Keystone for several years. Supreme had 13 courts originally, yet that still wasn't enough to host all the matches for the 80s Keystone tournaments. Supreme closed in 1999, and this year's event is being played at the University of Manitoba with its 5 courts.
In 2009, Racquetball Manitoba has tried to reinvigorate Keystone because of its 35th anniversary, and has made it an International Racquetball Tour (IRT) and Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) event. Those pro designations were made after the season was well underway, so the pro draws are small, but hopefully, they can be built on in future years and help recapture some of the Keystone's past glory.
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