The Ladies Professional Tour hits Kansas today for another Tier 1 event. As I look at the draw, three names strike me. Sharon Jackson, Aubrey Kirch and Michelle Key. They are the three promising U.S. players selected for the LPRT Scholarship Program. (Of the 3 international players, only one decided to make this event... understandable.) This scholarship is a smart way to keep young promising players engaged in racquetball at it's highest level. I got this from the LPRT's announcement, "Scholarship winners will receive free entry into five (5) LPRT Tier 1 or Grand Slam events, not including the US Open or USAR National Singles., a free 1 year membership into the LPRT, free lodging at the five (5) LPRT events and a travel stipend for each of those events. Scholarship winners will be expected to participate in five (5) LPRT Tier 1 or Grand Slam events during the season that scholarship is earned, not including the US Open or USAR National Singles."
I think this is one thing that should be more widely considered by other organizations. Manufacturers and serious sponsors should be looking to this and figuring out how to generate widespread engagement. These types of collaborative, supportive programs present a valuable tool for growth. With a bit of creative thinking relative to how marketing is working today, these actionable investments can be comprehensively developed to build interest, while at the same time providing returns for sustainability. (Quick rabbit trail...Anyone else find it a bit strange that a German car company's logo is on the U.S. bobsleds? Yet, we were talking about Lolo...)
It's all related. I mentioned the thin draw at National Doubles this week. I noted some things seem to be sliding the wrong way. I followed up with Michelle Key to get an idea of why she and her sister Danielle decided not to give it a go this year. (Both live in Arizona, where the event is held.) I knew the new Mexico Outdoor event had something to do with it, but shouldn't a U.S. "National" event carry more weight? One of the many reasons I envisioned would be in her reasoning was confirmed, when she said, "(as things are, it is) just another tournament with 'Nationals' in the title. There's no weight to it." She was very open about her views and experience with this event. When she was younger, it was a really big deal. All the U.S. pros would play, and in many other divisions. It was something everyone looked forward to according to Key. It was prestigious. But her experience last year left her feeling the event just isn't worth the trouble. After medaling last year, nothing really happened for the Keys. They didn't get anything out of it. Or better yet, it didn't take them anywhere. They were not selected for Pan Ams because of various reasons, that to me, an outsider, sounds like a mix of decisions that are made with arbitrary rationalizations because of what is ultimately a funding problem.
I was lucky enough to chat with Sharon Jackson on the same call. Sharon did represent the U.S. at the Pan American Championships this past year, with great results. Sharon was teamed up with Rhonda Rajsich (LPRT #2) and regained the Women's Doubles title back for USA. She stated she and D'amonique (Davis LPRT #7) didn't do National Doubles because they weren't interested in playing something they wouldn't have a chance at winning. That particular statement initially struck me as really strange, especially considering how well she did at Pan Am Championships and that there were only 4 teams in the U.S. Women's qualifying draw this year. So, I went digging for 2013 National results, (I included Collegiates,) and couldn't find her name. So I'm thinking, what was the justification that had her representing the U.S. at these past games? Shouldn't team qualifying be qualifying? I understand Janel Tisninger didn't go and Jackson's results bode well for the choice, but what was the reasoning? I think this is a small detail, but symptomatic of the state the sport here in the States.
But what is more concerning is that Michelle Key and now I'll include Sharon Jackson, just didn't think it worth their time and their resources. Had just those two gone, they could have drastically changed the landscape of the Women's U.S. qualifying draw. Imagine what things would look like if they really wanted to play it. Now I'll add, what if you injected significantly more, young, promising, "engaged in the sport" type talent. I will now note, as I look at the landscape of this past Nationals: 58 divisions. 300 or so participants. Men's divisions had way more participants. The deepest draws are found in the Centurion divisions. Only 4 teams in Women's U.S. Qualifying. All I can say is, wow.
For Michelle Key, I'll agree that she probably got a lot more out of her personal decision not to go. She spent her weekend playing Outdoor in Cancun with her boyfriend Daniel De La Rosa, (IRT #6). She was getting attention and participating in an event that had Mexican press interest. Well worth her decision to not train with her sister and commit her own personal resources, for, how she sees it, just a medal.
Because of the LPRT's Scholarship Program, they both will have more opportunity to face the world's best competition. And that is promising. You can catch them today doing just that, on the LPRT Network.
How they see things... Now, that's exactly what I've been talking about.