(from Racquetball Canada’s Archives. Source: Canadian Racquetball, vol. 1, no. 4, by Sharon Odegard)
I once overheard one of the Ivan Velan award winners say, “who is Ivan Velan?”. Since I’ve only been involved with racquetball since 1989, I didn’t know the answer either. However, in the past few months I’ve begun working on a Racquetball history project and I have seen many old racquetball magazines and photos. It soon became obvious to me that Ivan Velan played a very important part in the history of racquetball in Canada.
Ivan started playing paddleball at the University of Michigan in 1968. He then progressed to a rough strung racquet. When Ivan graduated with his MBA and returned to Montreal, he became friends with a fellow named John Spencer. They both played racquetball, but had to compete for court space with handball players. Eventually Ivan and John were able to persuade a man by the name of Lou Green to construct some racquetball courts. Around this period Ivan and John started to get more involved with the organization of tournaments and the sport in general.
Ivan was the second president of the CRA. He was elected in 1975 following in the footsteps of John Kempo from Edmonton. Velan was the driving force behind the present day structure of the association. He was instrumental in applying for and receiving funding from government agencies such as Sport Canada. He was also very involved with the publication of the first ever National Coaching Manual for racquetball.
Twenty years ago in April, 1977, Al Greene, Editor of “Racquetball Canada”. Published the following tribute to Ivan Velan:
There can be no praise too high for the magnificent job done by Ivan Velan during the period he spent in the office of president of the Canadian Racquetball Association. Every racquetball player across Canada owes him a debt of gratitude for the magnificent multi-role job he has done for the country’s fastest growing sport.
As a player Ivan was at the top of the list and always a contender. As an executive he ran an excellent “tight ship”: always ready to delegate, and ever ready to pinch-hit for anyone who fell down on his job as most invariably happens in most volunteer organizations.
As a publicist for a relatively new sport, Ivan saw the urgent need for a National publication as a communications link to weld together the balkanized provincial associations which confronted him when he took over the president’s gavel. So Ivan, at the expenditure of a tremendous amount of personal time and energy, learned how to edit, publish, and circulate a magazine that compares with any in the broad spectrum of Canadian sports. As an individual, he personified his sport and created for it the kind of image that sold it to Sport Canada, to the Sports Federation of Canada, to the provincial sports governing bodies, and to the provincial departments of recreation and sports – all in the term of a few months. The Canadian Association owes Ivan Velan an immeasurable debt. But it also owes his wife Penny for the support she gave him in his dedication to racquetball, and his father, the founder of Velan engineering, for the tolerance with which he permitted his General Manager to spend so much time and so much of his firm’s equipment and resources in giving racquetball the boost it needed at the most crucial time in it’s history.
I personally realized the full impact that Ivan Velan had on the sport of racquetball, both nationally and internationally, when during a recent interview with Jim Winterton, US National Team Coach. I asked who he would consider as likely candidates for a Canadian Racquetball Hall of Fame. Ivan was the top of his list. The degree of respect and admiration that Ivan Velan has earned and retained over the years is phenomenal.
A few months ago I was fortunate enough, with the help of Harold and Sandy Stupp, to be able to visit with Ivan and his family at their home in Montreal. Ivan is a very busy family and businessman. He was kind enough to take time to chat about the “good old days”, show us some of the old racquets, even the paddle racquets that were used, and share whatever photos, information and magazines he has collected throughout the years.
Ivan no longer plays racquetball. He says, “What I miss most is the challenge of building a viable organization in the face of many obstacles, the competition in the tournaments, the physical conditioning that was a requisite and by-product from competing, and the camaraderie with the players and administrators. We were all involved with and doing something we loved. It is gratifying to see this continue with you, your family and so many others being involved with a great game and sport.” Hopefully someday Ivan will return to racquetball, if not as a player, maybe as an interested parent or grandparent.