|February 16, 2014|
The annual Valentine's Tournament at the Kalispell Elks was a great success. Twenty-seven players from Montana, Idaho, Washington and Alberta turned out, and there was plenty of great competition and excellent hospitality provided by Bob Albert. The highlight was a Saturday banquet that featured all-you-can-eat prime rib, and entertaining story-telling — some of it true — by Sam Baldridge, with critical narrative support provided by Dick Brady.
The most dramatic — and most ironic — revelation was Wally Page's discovery that despite the Valentine's theme, the "heart" theme does have its limits. During two singles and a doubles match Friday night, Page was uncharacteristic weak and tired. After play was over, Page drove himself to the house of his daughter, Dr. Sarah Page, and learned that he had suffered a heart attack. He spent the night in the hospital and missed the rest of the tournament. His arrhythmia corrected itself without treatment a couple days later.
"Greg Pearce didn't cut me any slack, but I tried to get a few points," Page later said with a laugh. "Rock (Svennungsen) wasn't nice to me either. I wasn't feeling good but he wanted to play. And Bob (Albert) and his partner wanted to play and not postpone it. So I played three matches with my heart out of sync."
But never fear. A week after the tournament Page said he was feeling good, and planned to go to the court and throw the ball around a little. He said that contrary to what you might think, handball players actually do have big hearts — "just not on the court."
In the highly competitive open final, meanwhile, Pete Svennungsen edged past Calgary's Chad Bemis in a tiebreaker. The match included excellent athleticism and shot-making, and back-and-forth momentum that kept the crowd on the edges of their seats.
In the Masters division, Shane Higgins of Spokane came out on top of the round-robin bracket. The toughest match, it turned out, was Higgins' Friday night battle against Helena's John Larson.
In Golden Masters, Washington's Great Pearce took first place, and Shelby, Montana's Rock Svennungsen came in second. Both players are among the most loyal and long-standing competitors at the Valentine's.
In the doubles division, Sam Baldridge and David Stone beat Lee Anderson and Bob Albert in an all-Flathead final.
A big thanks to Bob Albert for organizing the tournament and serving as head chef, as well as to major sponsor Sam Baldridge. Despite his meandering story-telling at the banquet, his dedication to the sport of handball is greatly appreciated.