PLAYGROUND: Jelsma family’s sporting history runs deep in Barrie

Beau Jelsma is entering his rookie season with the Colts, but his mother, known at the time as Penny Papaioannou, trained at Barrie’s famed Mariposa School of Skating almost three decades ago.

A name change – the marriage will do that – means you have to dig to find it, but there’s an interesting family connection between this year’s Barrie Colts and the Mariposa School of Skating almost 30 years ago.

Colts rookie forward Beau Jelsma, 17, is the son of Penny Jelsma, a former national novice and junior pairs champion who previously skated at Mariposa.

At the time, Penny Jelsma was Penny Papaioannou. His son’s presence on the Colts’ roster has linked Barrie’s two most notable sporting institutions over the years.

The famous skating school, run by Doug Leigh, was the premier local sporting organization for many years before the Colts were admitted to the Ontario Hockey League.

Mariposa has attracted elite skaters from all over the world. It’s always like that.

Penny came to town when her partner retired and she wanted to try her luck as a singles skater. She eventually returned to pairs skating at her old club, leaving Barrie as a result.

But she fondly remembered her time in Barrie.

“Elvis Stojko was there, and Jennifer Robinson,” Penny recalls of the two former Mariposa stars, whose accomplishments helped draw attention from afar to Mariposa and the local skating community. “I remember (after skating) we used to go to the beach sometimes. I had a lot of fun.”

Although life right now isn’t exactly a beach, Beau is quite happy in his new home.

“I’m getting comfortable, getting to know everyone (my teammates) and my host family,” Beau says, noting that like his mother a generation earlier, he also attends Innisdale High School. “We have a great group of guys, the hockey is going pretty well, I have a lot of chances, time on the power play.

After her retirement, Penny went straight into coaching, choosing to bypass touring and the professional circuit.

“I wanted to get on with my life and I didn’t really want to travel, (although) I got that later by coaching (international) skaters,” she recalls.

This next phase included marriage and motherhood. In addition to Beau, Penny and Bryan Jelsma also have a daughter, Madeline, who is three years older than her little brother.

“Yes, a skater too,” Beau confirms.

A young mother of two young children, Penny quickly got into skating while coaching at the Tillsonburg Skating Club, not far from where the family lives.

A parent coaching their child is not unique. Each spring, the NHL selection board is sprinkled with the names of the sons of former players, who are often their coaches at some point in minor hockey.

Although not as common, parents who participate in figure skating also train their children who play hockey. The Niedermayer brothers developed their silky stride under the guidance of their mother, Carol, a figure skating coach.

“I used to put it on the end and make it work on the turns, the edges,” recalls Penny. “I don’t think he even started playing hockey until he was five or six.

A dozen years later, Penny’s protégé has adapted very well to hockey. He was chosen in the third round 55th overall of the Priority Selection 2020.

For Colts fans looking for a fortuitous angle beyond that of family, Beau was cast with the exact same pick as Tyson Foerster two years earlier.

Foerster turned out to be OK.

The global pandemic smothered what would have been Jelsma’s rookie season in the OHL, but, although early on, he fitted in well. Jelsma scored the game-winning goal last week as the Colts walked away from Budweiser Gardens in London with a 5-3 victory.

The Jelsma / Papaioannou clan was in attendance, including Grandpa Michael Papaioannou, Beau’s maternal grandfather, who is a fixture around Tillsonburg. In addition to helping his daughter Penny follow her skating career, he coached local soccer for 50 years, shortly after arriving as a young immigrant in the 1960s.

Michael also became very adept at running the skate sharpening booth at the local arena. He thought he better learn after his daughter’s skates had to be sharpened so often.

He’s now retired from skate sharpening – cutting hair was his usual job – and Michael is pretty much a full-time grandfather now. He has missed his grandson since moving to Barrie, but he constantly remembers Beau’s presence around the house: banging on his garage door because of his grandson shooting him.

“I told him that if he ever wins any money at this game, he will have to buy me a new garage door,” Michael laughs.


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