Fifty years ago, Tady Saczkowski and his friends were growing up in St Catharines. The city’s sport facilities were rudimentary compared with today, and families raised their kids without a lot of frills. Some of those kids found their answer on the public tennis courts at Lester B. Pearson Park on Niagara Street.
There were no coaches and no instruction, no fancy racquets or expensive sneakers or new balls, and the court surface was rough. But the kids made their own fun, and found endless fascination in figuring out the game for themselves. Tady and his friends played for hours each day, learning together, challenging each other and enjoying the social aspects of the game.
By the time they were in their mid-teens, Tady and some of the others learned of the St Catharines Tennis Club on Melbourne Avenue. It was the tennis hot-spot in the city but had a reputation for welcoming young players. After putting in some long days working in fields and harvesting fruit, Tady and his friends had earned enough for the junior membership fee.
There was no junior program as such. Rather, all members were treated the same. You “tagged up” by putting your name on a board for next-available court, and you went to the assigned court when your name came up. This was a remarkable experience for Tady, with life changing consequences. He learned the etiquette of tennis, and through it the social skills to navigate an adult world. He met people from all walks of life : teachers, doctors, farmers, lawyers, craftsmen, merchants. On the tennis court, everyone met on equal terms, and the young players were mentored and encouraged.
At this time, Brock University was in the process of being established as a centre of higher education for the Niagara Region. With the positive influence of tennis, Tady found himself considering a more ambitious future for himself. He enrolled at Brock and became one of its earliest graduates. Tennis faded onto the sidelines.
Fast-forward about 30 years. Tady had applied himself to all the necessary aspects of adult life including marriage to Nancy, creating a home and having a career in the auto industry. After embarking on an early retirement, he looked around for an endeavour to energize the next part of his life. He found it by coming full circle back to tennis. “Once tennis gets into you at a young age”, says Tady, “it never leaves you. And when I came back to tennis, I found many of the same people still playing all around the Niagara Peninsula. It’s the ideal sport for life.”
Nancy and Tady joined The Club at White Oaks, and they also joined the Welland Tennis Club for outdoor summer play. The club had hit a rough patch and President, Geoff Skatfeld, recruited Tady to be part of his team. Tady is a hands-on person and would rather work all day on the tennis courts and the clubhouse than sit around a table at a planning meeting. But he did it all. He did the meetings and he did the paperwork, and he did the repairs and the maintenance and the improvements. Every aspect of the club’s facilities is better because of Tady’s involvement and perseverance and endless hours of devoted effort over the past 10 years.
Tady’s greatest joy through all this time has come from his discovery of a rich history for tennis in Niagara. It began when he uncovered the origins of the Welland Tennis Club in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary in 2013. And from that, he has uncovered a rich lode of detail regarding the great international tournaments that were staged at Queens Royal Hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake from 1883 to 1922. Tady has more documentation and information about the Queens Royal period in Niagara than anyone else, anywhere. He has become an authority on the subject and is striving to see it recognized and commemorated in a modern setting. “What better place to house the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame than in the place that put Canada on the world tennis map”, Tady asks. “It has to be Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
Given all this, it should be enough. But in fact there’s more. Tady and Nancy are connectors; they’re “People People”. Any and all tennis events in the Niagara Peninsula will find them as the earliest and most encouraging supporters. They are cheerleaders for anything and everything to do with Tennis in Niagara. Tady is a skilled and avid photographer. Any records we have of tennis in Niagara over the past ten years are largely because of his presence with his camera.
How do you sum it all up? Geoff Skatfeld says “When I think of Tady, the image is of him being the first to arrive and the last to leave”. His warm smile and cheerful greetings are a constant for Niagara tennis. To recognize and celebrate all his contributions over the past ten years, Tady’s tennis colleagues nominated him for Ontario’s Distinguished Service Award. The Ontario Tennis Association accepts very few such nominations, but chose to honour Tady with the award this year. Niagara is proud and grateful.
Thank you, Tady, and congratulations!