While many were watching the Toronto Maple Leafs playing the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night, there was another group of people gathered in the basement of the St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, quietly playing crokinole.
All throughout the basement, groups of four were huddled around the boards, concentrating, aiming and taking their shots.
Jeremy Tracey, a crokinole board maker and tournament organizer, says there is lots happening in the crokinole world right now. Seven players from Ontario are preparing to go to the US Open tournament in New York this weekend, most of them local to the area.
As well, May 6, the Ontario Singles Crokinole Championships and finale of the National Crokinole Association season will be taking place in Elmira at Gale Presbyterian Church.
Down the road in Tavistock, the World Crokinole Championships will be happening in June for the first time since 2019.
Tracey is amped that crokinole is picking up in popularity.
“The Elmira tournament in January replaced one that used to be in Hamilton, and it had about double the attendance that we used to see at that event,” he said, adding that a new event held in February in Chatham was sold out.
“London’s tournament in March had approximately 40 per cent higher attendance than normal. At this point, our sign-ups for May’s Ontario Singles Championship is 20 per cent higher than usual, and I believe we will still see more registrations come in.
One of Tracey’s biggest challenges right now is finding enough space to house tournaments. The players need enough space for all the crokinole boards, but they also need to keep costs down so that the entry fee for tournaments is low and that the prize money is somewhat substantial and worth winning.
His other problem is figuring out how to expand the game so that there can be quality tournaments in the southern United States to enable people to compete. The game has grown in popularity down there, enough so that people want to start playing in their own tournaments, but not enough yet to ensure the competition is at the same level as the more northern tournaments, he says.
In Tracey’s eyes, these are good problems to have.
Nathan Walsh is a competitive player and member of the St. Jacobs Crokinole Club. He’ll be travelling to New York this weekend to play in the open tournament.
“I always liked it as a kid, because when I was like 11-years-old, I played tons of sports. But even if you’re really good as a kid, you can never actually be the best at hockey, or basketball or volleyball, you’d always have to wait to get older. But I knew with crokinole, right away, as soon as I started playing it when I was 11, I knew that immediately, I could theoretically be the best player in the world. So I was kind of attracted to that idea of a competition that was super accessible right from the beginning.”
Reid Tracey, Jeremy Tracey’s son, will also be participating in the New York tournament. He says he is excited to play with new people, and that this is his first stateside tournament.
“It’s awesome that anybody, kid, man, woman, child can participate in this game,” said Paul Brubacher, another member of the club who’ll also be going to the tournament in New York.
“It’s very manageable for anybody to put in some time and become decently skilled at the game. They could have a pretty competitive game, even with a top player,” said Walsh.