Written by: Christopher Simnett
***Chris grew up playing tennis in B.C. and was ranked as high as No. 2 provincially in the U12 and U16 divisions. He played in two junior national championships in the 80s. Now 39 years old, he is the “community champion” for the Tennis Canada Building Tennis Communities strategy in Airdrie, AB, where he lives with his wife and eight-year-old son. Chris spent 15 years as a journalist writing about sports for newspapers in B.C. and Alberta. He now works in public relations in Calgary. To learn more about Chris and his blog, please visit www.alltennis.ca***
The Rob Bell Memorial is one of Alberta’s most prestigious tournaments. It is always held in the middle of June at the University of Alberta Tennis Centre and this year Rob’s son, Carson, is the top seed in the men’s Open draw.
Here’s a brief history of the event and a tribute to the man it’s named after, Rob Bell, a true legend of Alberta tennis.
This account is written by Syrell Wilson, who was married to Rob at the time of his death due to cancer in 1998.
The Rob Bell Memorial Tennis Tournament – now in its 13th year – gives tennis enthusiasts an opportunity to remember the man who laid the early groundwork at the U of A Tennis Centre that eventually lead to the development of the highly acclaimed Saville Sports Centre.
Rob came to Edmonton with his family in 1986 to manage and develop programming for the U of A tennis facility that had been used successfully for the 1983 Universiade Games. He would also act as the Head Coach. Rob’s Bachelor of Education degree and his strength in organization helped him to develop the facility at a rapid pace. As a former elementary school teacher, Rob had a strong desire to share his knowledge.
Rob received his initial coaching instruction from Vic Braden at his tennis college in California. Rob adopted Vic’s philosophy of teaching tennis to the masses and helping them enjoy the game at their level – whatever that was. But he also wanted to ensure that the game he loved continued to grow and so developed a junior tennis program at the club as well.
The U of A Men’s Tennis Club Team was formed by Rob in 1987 and he acted as its coach until 1995. He contributed greatly to the development of the sport of tennis at the university and in 1994 published his master’s thesis, “A History of Tennis at the University of Alberta”.
Rob also was involved with tennis at the city and provincial level. He was President of the Greater Edmonton Tennis Association as well as active with Tennis Alberta – serving on the Board of Directors. As a Level 3 Coach, Rob was the Head Course Conductor for Alberta and was instrumental in developing the first Play Tennis programs for the provincial association.
Rob acted as mentor to Russ Sluchinski, his assistant manager and when Rob left the U of A in 1995 to pursue an opportunity to coach the Bahrain Davis Cup Team, Russ capably carried on at the helm of the club and is currently the Tennis Manager at the Saville Sports Centre. In addition, Rob’s love of teaching tennis was passed on to one of his first junior tennis students, Corey Stewart and his son, Carson Bell who are both tennis professionals at the Saville.
Although Rob succumbed to cancer in 1998, his legacy lives on. The Rob Bell Memorial Tennis Tournament continues to give opportunities to players of all levels to compete and have fun with the game they love.