- Freddy Ramirez
Restrung Magazine's 2015 Racquetball Top Ten List
The year 2015 was filled with memorable events, results, surprises, debates and controversies. The world of racquetball is filled with passionate people who work hard to bring opportunities for players to show up and participate in events of all sizes. People have played, screamed, laughed, cried and fought. It was a good year for
enthusiasts to gather and do this thing we call racquetball.
Pointing to just 10 things that shaped racquetball as we experienced it, well, let's just say we know there were a few things that could also be on this list. The deciding factor for us, was the boom or the bust they could make in 2016.
From our perspective...
10. Cliff Swain and Sudsy Monchik
If you know anything about professional racquetball, you know these two names. Cliff Swain and Sudsy Monchik, 6 Time World #1 and 5 Time World #1 respectively. Today's professional racquetball is in many ways different than when these two players where dominating the sport. For players as distinguished as these, staying involved in today's game stems from a deep passion of the game, derived from their unique perspectives of being the best players in the world.
Cliff Swain has never really retired. He has always, in some form or another continued to actively play professionally. But in the past few years, has he been developing himself into the Cliff Swain he is today. He's a coach. He is also a racquet distributer with his own signature line. That isn't so much surprising, yet, if you think about it, is all about the one on one. He is sustaining his connection with the sport, one person at a time, one conversation at a time. Focus. In addition to all this, he is staying true to his personal belief that he has one or a few more tour stop wins in him, which means he remains in full on training mode. It has been a Cliff Swain with a renewed focus.
Sudsy Monchik is definitely a dynamic character. After retiring in 2006 because of a medical condition, he dropped out of the sport for a few years. Sudsy was officially brought back into racquetball by manufacturers showing interest in using his personality to support their marketing models. In those couple of years, he's figured out that he has a deep desire to remain fully engaged with the sport and has been thinking critically about what that would look like. In 2015, Sudsy was enlisted by the Ecuadorian national team to coach their young professionals. He was also inducted into the USA Racquetball Hall of Fame this year. At this year's US Open, he eluded to to stepping into the court professionally, (with a disclaimer.) Whether he will be able to build on momentum from this year, we don't really know.
We do believe that having these two iconic racquetball figures deeply involved in top tier racquetball can prove important. The possibility of bridging age demographics can work on a number of levels, tying in energy of racquetball at a peak, into what it can be today.
9. Daniel De La Rosa
The Pro Men's final of the UnitedHealthcare US Open has pretty much been dominated by the top 3 players over the last few years. Most of us would be hard pressed to think of a relatively recent final that didn't involve either Kane, Rocky or Alvaro. That event is the big one. Those are the big 3. This year, Daniel De La Rosa was able to get by Rocky Carson to slide into the final. It may just be a preview of how the changing of the guard will take place. In the near future, new sets of twos may be playing Kane in the big one. (Kane doesn't look like he's going anywhere.) Add to that, Daniel taking the big singles title at 3 WallBall, effectively handing Rocky his first major outdoor singles loss since Brian Hawkes and it was on ESPN3.... yea, he makes this list.
8. Reaching Your Dream Foundation
RYDF was incepted in early 2014 by philanthropist Mike Lippitt. The foundation was as an attempt to creatively find a way to help fund players on the World Racquetball Tour. The Reaching Your Dream Foundation had initially used money that might have been used to fund racquetball events directly and focused on paying for hotel rooms for WRT players. The foundation strongly believed that there should be certain conditions that players had to hold to in order to receive their support, which they initially relied on the WRT to facilitate. Their 501(c) (3) status allowed them to solicit
money, and that's what they set out to do. In the almost 2 years they have been assisting players, the Reaching Your Dream Foundation has been learning how to fundamentally operate as a non-profit and fine tuning its mission.
RYDF is going into 2016 with an active board of directors and supporting select players in each of the pro tours - WRT, IRT and LPRT. With funding for rooms, there
comes specific and developin expectations of the players who are benefiting from theirhelp. The foundation is also providing some stipends for select players, to further support their specific paths in the sport. They are pretty secure running through 2016 with their budget and we will see if their infusion of resources will spark some type of growth for professional racquetball. Two barometers will be the participation they facilitate bumping the tours themselves into some new avenues of expansion and/or RYDF growing into more comprehensive ways of raising money for programing growth.
7. Momo Zelada And The Bus
If you know about the Gearbox bus, chances are you know about Momo Zelada and his bus. Momo has developed into a unique kind of journeyman pro player with an inspiring story of determination and support. We could probably tell his story, but for
this purpose we will just point to Momo's alternative model of a professional racquetball player today.
He's not being driven on the bus. He's driving the bus. Momo turned his desire to make it to pro stops frequently into an opportunity to sell gear, drawing sponsors that see him as an alternative to singularly tasking tons of funding to have a presence at events like a bus pulling to the front door. The tour that he plays on has jumped onboard, in an effort to both capitalize on what he is doing and making it easier for him to draw revenue from clothing sales at tour stops. Add to that that he has used this model to facilitate for other young players, offering them any easier opportunity to make stops by riding on the bus and splitting costs. He even clothes players higher up in the rankings with clothes in exchange for brand recognition. What would a tour filled with players that do this look like? What would pro racquetball be if more of this progressive type of thinking began cropping up more and more?
6. 3 Wall Ball In 2015
You might figure 315 racquetball players competing in an event would just be a big turnout. Yet, it's not this number that makes 3 WallBall such an important event. Consider that most of these players are playing multiple divisions in different formats, as in 3 Wall and One Wall. Some of these players even participate in paddleball and handball divisions. Between the 3 sports, 3 Wall Ball boasts 774 total participants. These players come from 23 US states, Australia, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Ireland. Crazy.
Incepted in 2010, 3 WallBall which is held in Las Vegas, has grown each year. Its a cross-cultural event with a huge draw and unique in the world of racquet sports. This year, it was broadcasted on ESPN3 and boasts 25 hours of coverage over the course of 3 days. It's grown into something special and our question is: Will it keep growing? In today's racquetball, this event is the biggest cross-cultural gathering and significantly reflective of a unique kind of growth.
5. USA Racquetball Intercollegiate Championships / Erik Garcia
On the day Erik Garcia was set to travel to Arizona to compete in the USA Racquetball National Tournament, he was informed that he was ineligible to play. Erik was enrolled in CSU Pueblo's English Language Institute as a full time student as reported by the CSU Pueblo registrar's office. The timing, the interpretation of the rule, with the way it was enforced along with the residual problem with the IRT Network's Enetlive dealings caused a big public relations problem for USA Racquetball.
In depth postings:
USA Racquetball Intercollegiate Championships: Who Do You Serve?
For USA Racquetball, it was a hard example of some of the engrained behavior and/or dysfunction that currently fuels some of the negative sentiment that the organization will have to comprehensively deal with in 2016.
4. 20 Years: UnitedHealthcare US Open of Racquetball
This is the sports premier event. Over the course of its rich 20 year history, it has developed into a truly ideal showcase event. Dramatic player introductions, laser-light shows, booming music, seating for 1400 spectators, a player village with booths set up and a stage for musicians and announcements all add to the grandeur. With 758 registered players, buses are supplied to transport players to different venues to compete in some divisions. The US Open of Racquetball boasts the sport's biggest payday with $58,000 in cash prizes. It's the only time the beautiful glass court is utilized. Show court matches are streamed live and also separately recorded, post-produced and aired on the Tennis Channel during Christmas time.
Aside from all the development, the event itself is the only time where just about every top professional and tour shows up under one roof to compete. It's the most prestigious title in racquetball. This is the one top players have to show up for. In many ways, the UnitedHealtcare US Open is carrying the sport on its back.
3. IRT vs. WRT
The International Racquetball Tour has been running since 1990. The World Racquetball Tour has been officially holding events for around 3 years. Initially, the WRT began with a handful of events on the West Coast and in Mexico. Since then, the WRT has increased the number of their events to the point where they are often being held on the same weekends that IRT stops are being held. The frequency of this has brought to the surface many of the deep-rooted feelings held by both proponents and opponents to the new tour.
Though the WRT operates, in many respects, differently than the IRT, fundamentally, they both are vying for a rare commodity in racquetball - the tournament director. For the International Racquetball Tour, the TDs are their life-blood. With the advent of the WRT, tournament directors now have a choice of different products to help produce a top-level event. While the IRT still boasts the best players in the world, the competition on the WRT can definitely compete with the any player outside of the top 3 or 4 of any IRT field. That is proving compelling for TDs and add to that the amount of money that is needed to be raised for WRT events is significantly less than what is needed to host a top tier IRT event. To date, the WRT has effectively negated the IRT's satellite tour.
Racquetball is a relatively small sport. Professional racquetball is significantly smaller. 2015 marks the year professional tours are spread as thin as they possibly can be. Whether or not the state of the tours will continue like this remains to be seen. What we do know, that if it does, the social stream will continue to reflect the polarizing feelings from both sides. Or, something big may happen that will effectively be a good or a bad thing... for one of them.
2. Kane Waselenchuk
- 11th US Open Championship in 2015.
- Continuing to run basically untouched by the rest of the field.
- Most likely to hit 100 consecutive match wins in January.
- Most likely to gain his 7th consecutive year end World #1 rank, his 11th overall.
- G.O A.T.
1. Paola Longoria
Mexico loves her. She's continually engaged in public service announcement engagements, award shows, court and facility dedications to her, TV shows, magazine after magazine, news programs even create top 2015 world's most sexy lists to be able to include her. Sponsor after sponsor... and not local ones, major sponsors like Nike, Tag Heuer, Powerade, Red Bull and many many more, attesting to her selling power in Mexico. When she shows of somewhere in Mexico, that is an event. Yea, it's like that. It really is hard to keep up with her noteriety and influence.
She herself is bigger than the tour she plays on. Outside of the US Open, two of the biggest stops on the LPRT's tour have her name on them. They draw Mexican national attention and Mexican ad dollars all to which she benefits the most. She has taken racquetball and has outrun the whole of the sport in terms of reach and profitablility. Compared to everyone else, it's almost surreal.
Oh... I didn't mention, she procured her 6th US Open title and has just kept winning everything.