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  • Freddy Ramirez

Outdoor Culture: The One Wall Swing

In 2004, there was a convergence of racquetball players set up on the Historic Hollywood Beach Garfield Courts in Florida by the newly formed World Outdoor Racquetball organization. Relatively new, WOR backed an idea set up by Scott Hirsh and Marty Hogan to bring current top professionals to the venue to play players invited from all over the country. Players from New York City, Hawaii, Florida and California made there way to the courts and at that particular time, most groups didn't know each other. The pro contigent which included Cliff Swain, Ruben Gonzalez, Jason Mannino and Sudsy Monchik just to name a few, were probaly the most know within the groups. I say most known because many of the players traveling from NYC didn't know who these guys were. NYC players were connected to the event indirectly through WOR Hall of Fame player Robert Sostre. Sostre had played in a few California 3 Wall tournaments made known to him by long time friend Jesus Ustarroz who moved to California from NYC. Sostre, who is probably the greatest One Wall Paddleball player of all time, was also a One Wall Handball Champion and at the time running through the NYC One Wall circuit undefeated for 7 years, (the front end of a 12 year undefeated team run in tournament play). His appearance in California sparked WOR's interest in connecting to players in NYC, who had been pretty isolated from the rest of the country as far as racquetball was concerned. So, the 2004 One Wall National Doubles Championship was the moniker at the Garfiled Courts attracting about 16 of the best players from NYC and as mentioned, contingents from states WOR had formed relationships with, making the event one of the most unique and successful events WOR has ever backed.

Now, to jump forward by a huge leap, this past March was a bit of a unique year at the Garfield Courts in Hollywood Beach, Florida. Vic Leibofsky had conceived and has been running Beach Bash for 10 years... since 2007. It was in 2008 that large contingents from other states began to attend the event. Since 2004, WOR had understood that One Wall Racquetball would be a viable way to get people interested in Outdoor racquetball growth. Florida today has more outdoor players than any other state. Together with NYC players, this event has drawn players from all over the country. Beach Bash has since sparked major milestones for One Wall racquetball. For some perspective, consider that Beach Bash is now one of the biggest 3 WOR events of the year along with the WOR Championships in Huntington Beach, California and 3 Wall Ball in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Note, Leibofsky has at times served as Tournament Director for those events also and Beach Bash unofficially marks the beginning of the outdoor season.) A One Wall division is now regularly included as part of 3 Wall Ball, One Wall has been featured on ESPN 3 and One Wall players have graced the cover of USA Racquetball's Magazine.

All photos courtesy Joe Hall / Splathead

Over the years, in the effort to draw indoor players to the courts, (besides the gorgeous location,) the rules had been progressively tweaked to make the game more manageable for first timers. What Vic did was to openly engage some NYC players and others to consult on his rule changes. (The rules that where played at the original 2004 WOR One Wall Nationals at Garfield where the same exact rules that had been in play at those particular courts, which were Tennis Paddleball rules that were standard at Garfield. That was the concession to access the courts by the beach. Everyone adjusted.) Initially, the rules seemed to work, yet progressively, the rules were tweaked each year and as more players from across the country attended, there was a continual need to explain the rules throughout the course of the tournament and that also included to players who had been attending the tournament throughout the years. After playing One Wall for almost 20 years,10 years of engagement with players new to One Wall and 11 years playing 3 Wall, my opinion slightly leans back towards the orginal One Wall rules, with some notable exceptions, in the name of safety, solid skill development, longer rallies and uniform rule interpretation/enforcement. (So, my advice to other states starting to play One Wall hard: Know what NYC One Wall rules are, play those as nearest you can. You will find that once you commit you will be able to make easier adjustments and develop skills you normally wouldn't acquire playing any other way.)

Since the beginning, NYC players had been pretty open to competing with these types of rule changes. But as the years passed and more players from other states started attending, the varying rules began to cause friction. Many NYC players began to feel it becoming an unsafe situation with indoor players being used to rules that allowed them the right of way with little checks on them. So, New Yorkers created their own event in March, the AF Pro Series and added other One Wall divisions that include, handball, paddleball and tennis paddleball (the local game). While the feel of the events were different, both were jammed events, which is in itself speaks to the draw of One Wall. While the majority of New York players attended the AF Series, mainly for support, traditional rules and higher cash payouts, many NYC players also went back to Beach Bash. However, the decreased number of NYC players did not affect Beach Bash. States were still rolling in deep with players, for example, Detroit alone dropped in 21 players. Beach Bash continues to be a huge cultural draw.

International Racquetball Tour #2 and World Outdoor Racquetball #1 Rocky Carson

Vic Leifbofsky likens One Wall as a New York secret up until Beach Bash and had been pretty much right when you look at creating incentive to play. Since the inception of Beach Bash, I truly believed that making rule adjustments where necessary for engagement, mostly with indoor players. In NYC, it is a natural, homegrown game because NYC has over 2000 public courts. Yet, the game is now being played in Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, California, Missouri, Michigan, Georgia and Texas. Courts are specifically being built to allow for more One Wall play. It is now national and there is a beginning to be accepted by mainstream racquetball. The growth here is a direct result of Beach Bash and the adjustments put in place to accommodate indoor racquetball players. Add that to outreach put forward in attracting current high level, widely known professionals. The mainstream list includes: Cliff Swain, Marty Hogan, Rhonda Rajsich, Daniel De La Rosa, Michelle Key, Charlie Pratt, Sebastion Franco, Aimee Ruiz, Janel Tisinger and Rocky Carson. One Wall is not so much of a secret and better yet, can be and is being used to encourage racquetball across the board.

Courts are being scoped out, played on and even built. As an example, I'll use Texas. Until finding a One Wall court in San Antonio, there was absolutely no Outdoor racquetball in Texas. After traveling out of state to attend outdoor events, Texas players began organizing to play One Wall regularly and they have now begun to step things up. Abel Perez, who has fostered interest with the likes of former NBA star George Gervin, has plans to build an 11 outdoor court facility because of the interest. The plan will include the state's first 3 Wall courts in its design. That it will be right outside George Gervin's school, well, think of the interest that can be fostered with kids there.

Beach Bash has basically helped to drop One Wall seeds all over the country and given WOR some real traction. One Wall should be seen as a legitimate form and useful for growth in racquetball in general. Marty Hogan, who was inducted to the WOR Hall of Fame at this year's Beach Bash once said, "If you use a racquet, it's racquetball."

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