top of page
  • Freddy Ramirez

Decade Of Perspective. Upfront.

Front Matter

As we are almost through the first month of a new decade, I'm struck by my wonder of the next 10 years of racquetball, particularly, the feeling I have that things will not, at all, look like they do now. That may be just a feeling I have personally. I wonder if and what I will be following, playing, writing about and aiming a camera at. (That and the whole "AI will change everything" thing.) Though it's understood by everyone under the sun that nothing is guaranteed; the world keeps turning. As I look back, I see that the more things have changed, the more they stayed the same. Included in that are the people that encompass our sport and the ways they spend their time on racquetball.

Before you read on I have to insert a disclaimer. This turned out to be a longer than usual post. Prioritizing what I really want to say about these past ten years proved tricky. This review is me naming topics and revisiting opinions as we go into the new decade. So, I'm listing the layout of specific topics here. Feel free to scroll to what you may find of interest.

Decade In Review

The Tours

International Racquetball Tour

• Tour Changes Hands Twice

• The Rojas Brothers

• The Dominance Of Kane

• Concentration Of Talent

The Rise And Fade Of The World Racquetball Tour

The Reaching Your Dream Foundation

Paola Longoria

Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour

• Leadership Changes

• Different But The Same

• Professional Mothers

The Death And Growth Of Racquet Manufacturers

International And National Considerations

International Organizations

USA Racquetball

• Involvement With Professional Racquetball Or Lack Of It

• The Erik Garcia Intercollegiate Championships Controversy

• The SafeSport Issue

• USA Nationals (Singles)

• The US Open, 25 Years And More

• USA Racquetball Takes On World Outdoor Racquetball

World Outdoor Racquetball

• 3 WallBall

• WOR Championships

• Beach Bash

• NYC Epilogue

• The WOR Hall Of Fame

Facebook: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

• The Good

• The Bad

• The Ugly

Restrung Magazine

• The Quick Wrap Up

Racquetball, and I'll add paddleball, pickleball, handball, squash, pop-tennis, etc. all have a specific thing in common, if you follow it, it's because you most likely play it or some form of it. Unlike the way diehard fans watch major sports like the NFL, NBA or even UFC, people follow other types of major sports, take tennis for example, a bit differently. My guess is that with tennis, the majority of people worldwide who will go out of their way to watch, will do so during supremely major events, like Wimbledon, The French and US Opens. An even larger number of people will watch the AI curated snippets on their social feeds in even bigger numbers. (I talked about that here.) For groups like ours, it's mostly all experience based and marketers hawking products or services are getting way more savvy at accessing subgroups of people like ours on screens without formal tie-ins to our group. Anything deeper requires authenticity, and today, that mostly means influencer marketing. For professional athletes in our group, going into the decade, the fruit is ripe with opportunity, because of the way they can track and manipulate numbers, even small ones. Players can present more personally. For the tours, the questions are, how consumable is your product compared to the broad competition for time. And how can you emotionally drive your engagement into action.

RestrungMag: Decade In Review

For the whole of this past decade, I feel we've been talking about growth. The lack of it, the slide in the wrong direction or what is being done to foster it. My particular feeling is that numbers will level out in any scenario of growth and it's all about telling a story with a message in a way that marketers on their own can't do as easily. We've done a lousy job at it this past decade. Racquetball, in particular, is behind the 8 Ball in the same way it was behind at the turn of the previous decade and the one before that. I'm thinking websites and clubs making room for aerobics, respectively. The good news for racquetball comes from some of the success other similar sports are experiencing. For smaller groups in general, going into the 2020s, there is a sense of money filtering down the marketing chain to micro target people in actionable ways.

I've talked about racquetball a lot this past decade. I mean a lot. The whole of my racquetball talk ran from goal-driven, working group conversations, all the way to the individual, confidential types of conversations. I'm talking manufacturers, organizations, professionals, casual players and junkies like me. (I've even talked to myself about racquetball on occasion.)

A shake my head and laugh moment at 3 WallBall. Bumping shoulders with Rocky Carson when neither of us chose to give way on a change of serve. Priceless. Courtesy of Belinda Dettman.

Prior to the decade, I didn't follow the sport of racquetball at all. My experience with traditional racquetball had mostly been meeting professional racquetball players during outdoor racquetball tournaments and the rare visit to a racquetball court in college. Outdoor racquetball opened the door for me, literally, when I was able to step inside and aim my camera at the game. For me, it was a cultural shift more than an introduction, because I was already swinging a racquet competitively since 1997. So, my review, is all in a cultural context and less about achievement and records. When I put this past decade all together, this is what I see as significant.

Pro players from Colombia, Mario Mercado and Adriana Riveros

The Professional Tours

I'll start with the tours, because I've written the most about them. Growth was the number one topic of conversation from my perspective and this is where we can see the reality of it. Junior growth is important but they need something to aspire to for the sport to thrive and grow.

There has been pockets of growth. Racquetball fans are more engaged, if you follow racquetball, chances are you're doing it more frequently now; more racquetball info comes your way now. A resurgence in Doubles competition at Tier 1 stops was ushered into normalcy this past decade. As this is being written, I am aware that for the first time in my memory, both tours have multiple T1 tour stops in the first month of the year. (The IRT actually has 3.) There have been seasons where there was a long wait before racquetball fans saw any action in the second half of the season. So, it is good to see the tours running into the new decade.

The International Racquetball Tour

IRT Network stream production at NYC Pro Stop in Syosset, NY. Left to right, Russell Mannino, Charlie Pratt, John Scott, Nick Irvine

The Tour Changes Hands Twice

Leadership changes in the world of professional racquetball is not new at all. There have been many times these changes were broiled in personality and fueled by negative inter-personal sentiment. The changes that took place this past decade began subtly and were all of a sudden a matter of much discussion, particularly because of Facebook. Former IRT President Jason Mannino took over the reigns while he was a top player in 2009. Heading into the decade, there was a ton of promise with the advent of live streaming, and already having experienced seasons with big, notable events under the direction of Dave Negrete. Initially, the live-streaming was outsourced to John Scott and his IRT Network. It became a pay-for-subscription model and that in itself found some light in the way of tensions and comments on Facebook. This arrangement lasted through 2017. In retrospect, it seems like there was always some sort of issue that was distracting and the tour, at times, seemed to be languishing in one way or another. Jason Mannino would eventually sell the IRT to John Scott, who along with a group of investors, raised the right number and took over the IRT. Scott brought in former LPRT Commissioner Andy Kulback to help run the events, among other things. John Scott's time heading up the IRT was volatile with directional discussion, public discourse and expectations. Add to that Kulback's sudden departure. After what seemed like almost two seasons, John Scott was divested and out of the picture as the investors took over. The decade sees this new group bringing Kulback back as a VP and methodically putting things together with what feels like renewed energy.

Jose and Markie Rojas

The Rojas Brothers

This to me is more about what they represented at the time. The decade started off with Jack Huczek at age 28 or so, deciding to pursue another professional career in 2011. He was 28 and was one of the very top players on the tour. He had six finals appearances the season before and nine semi-finals the year of retirement. His numbers might indicate that maybe he just was fading, but when you consider What Kane has done, Jack was still very viable on the "professional success" scale. So, with that in mind, I see the Rojas Brothers as two US players with the proper pedigree, having the complete set-up for establishing long professional careers, having to opt out of professional lives on the tour. They had the makings to eventually become consistent semi-final and finals finishers. They even won a US Open Doubles Title, (which they chose not to defend.) The big talk at the time was that professional racquetball is not viable as a self-sustaining endeavor for world class players, because there just wasn't enough money in it. To some degree or another, it's still an issue.

Kane Waselenchuk

The Dominance Of Kane Waselenchuk

Like the above topic, this one is going to be looked at in a cultural sense more so than a "record" sense. But in order to lay that out, I will have to point out just how significant a record Kane has accrued. I believe he has 75 event wins in the whole of the decade. He is the most dominant player ever to play the game. So, for a time, the question was and still is, for the most part, not who would win, but who would face Kane in the final.

Rocky Carson

That has had a significant effect on what other players were able to do with their professional legacies during these past ten years. The player who instantly comes to mind when I consider this is Rocky Carson. As an American player, he is undoubtedly one of the most decorated. Rocky has 15 IRT wins this decade, which on the surface is great. But when you dive into the fact that he has had 58 finals appearances during the decade, you start to understand the significance of playing in the era of Kane as King. The odds were always in Rocky's favor that he would make the final, especially through the first part of the decade. Those odds were even better that Rocky would get blown out by Kane in final. For a good run there, this was the IRT. Younger, promising players rarely could get by Rocky and definitely not Kane, and those finals were hard to work with marketing-wise. My intent is NOT to be disparaging here. But this was a sincere part of what was being discussed during the decade. So much so, that there was even a bunch of talk about the ranking system, as it related to the Top 8 placement in the draws. This talk was also instigated by the presence of the World Racquetball Tour. With the complete dominance of Kane, other players were seeing limits as to how significantly their accomplishments were being perceived. There were a couple of minor events that had fans thinking Kane might finally see some adversity in the way of competition, but those turned out to be nothing but passing thoughts for the fans.

Kane Waselenchuk signing posters at USA Nationals.

For Kane himself, his dominance is undeniable by all in racquetball. As I look over that last sentence, there are two words that are most significant for me in this context. And those two words are, "in racquetball". Kane Waselenchuk is a phenomenal accomplishment, in and of himself, in the sport. At the time of this post, he's at 121 titles, 600 career wins, 13 Year End Titles, 15 US Open titles and a win percentage of just about 92%, spanning 19 seasons. Crazy. (Thank you Pro Racquetball Stats.) This is arguably one of the greatest professional sporting achievements, percentage-wise, anyone can find on earth. Everyone in racquetball knows this. During this last decade, his accomplishments remained in view of only racquetball fans, for the most part. There was very little recognition outside the sport for Kane's accomplishments in my opinion. That, for me, proves significantly unfortunate, culturally speaking, for the sport of racquetball. And for Kane himself.

Kane Waselenchuk and Rocky Carson

Concentration Of Talent

When the IRT finished out the 2009-2010 season, both Kane Waselenchuk and Rocky Carson were both occupying the same exact rank as they do now, as I type this. (Last year, I wrote about these two being the last type of player from a particular era, Last Of A Kind.) But as far as the rest of the IRT rankings, things couldn't look more different today, as they did at the end of 2009-2010 season. Back at the beginning of the decade, all Top 10 spots were all occupied by American players. Today, Kane and Rocky are the only players listed as players from the United States. Currently, there are six players listed from Mexico, one from Bolivia and one from Canada. That speaks for itself.

The Rise And Fade Of The World Racquetball Tour

The WRT Mission: "To lead and inspire a new era of growth for racquetball, produce world-class events, provide a platform for professional racquetball players to develop their careers and showcase their talents." I deliberately started out with the WRT mission statement because regardless of your thoughts about the WRT, the intent behind this endeavor was a noble one, that of a tour being built around facilitating young talent into a professional environment.

Pablo Fajre (left,) with John Scott, former pro Mitch Williams and Russell Mannino.

That said, it wasn't all nicey-nicey within the racquetball community when it came to the WRT. Some people initially chose sides. The tour came into being a couple of years into the decade and at the time, a major sponsor of the IRT, pulled out and decided to channel resources into the WRT. Gearboxsports with its bus loaded with players, hooked a trailer on the back and put the players to work during events. They had already been facilitating this sort of grassroots get-around, but with the WRT, they were in all the way, as they set their sites on the future. The WRT was the brainchild of Pablo Fajre, who, for a time, worked with John Scott. After a falling out with Scott, Fajre put together the idea of the WRT. His new tour would put a focus on ensuring the participation really good players, mostly from Mexico, who in the real world, couldn't consistently afford to compete on the IRT. With one major sponsor, the tour was free to focus on creating a sustainable entity.

But public perception was that the players at the time weren't as good as the best players on the IRT. It was seen as a tour for young, up and comers by some. Some thought it should be a feeder tour for the IRT. The tour was thought by some to be a spiteful attempt to divide the already small sport. Initially, that perspective was communicated regularly during the IRT's live broadcasts. Conversely, the WRT's stream production was perceived as a cut above what was being broadcast by the IRT Network. Plus it was broadcast for free, whereas the IRT Network was a subscription model that limited access to matches in the later rounds. The two tours often had events on the same weekend. This went on for a few seasons. It was problematic for a handful of players who needing to choose which tour was more important. That was something that was very notable and only accentuated the feeling of a sport with finite opportunity.

Bus touring player competing at a WRT event in Monterrey, Mexico

The WRT was operating in relevancy for a few solid years on a number of levels. The grassroots feel that Gearbox brought to the tour was something that I feel gets very little recognition when you consider where the majority of the top players are hailing from now. I personally have seen the amount of work that has gone into landing in a town, setting up shop, putting on a showy event that is filled with young kids being spoken to directly and handed a racquet to try out. As much as the one sponsor was doing to facilitate the tour, it still was a tour that needed to find a way into sustainable profitability. It worked extremely well for Gearbox early on. But as the company began to grow, so did its priorities. The reality of finding local sponsors and ensuring players would show up, seems to have caught up with the WRT. All the tons of speculating about what will become of the IRT-WRT rivalry during the decade sort-of just faded into a non-issue. According to their website, the last post is dated August 2017 and the latest YouTube embed is from May 2, 2018. All I have to do is note that the WRT guy is now an IRT guy. Fajre is currently listed as the IRT's Director of Streaming and Satellite Events.

The Reaching Your Dream Foundation

I will continue here with what I think is an interesting segue. The Reaching Your Dream Foundation came into being as an endeavor to raise money for financing player travel specifically for the WRT. As growth inherently changes things, RYDF naturally saw the value in expanding which doors their resources helped to open. The Reaching Your Dream Foundation raises money to subsidize professionally skilled racquetball players who wish to compete on the professional tours. They also have a program called Fitness Forever that supports a local grassroots racquetball development program in Stockton, California, run by the Ellis family and Jody Nance.

RYDF began with Mike Lippitt, a racquetball enthusiast from California becoming interested in using philanthropy to grow professional racquetball. It's an endeavor that is doing what USA Racquetball, by its very funding nature, is not able to do for American players. Some international players do receive national funding to tour professionally. But those numbers are limited to a very few. What RYDF sees is a talent pool that is diverse and has almost an open door policy for promising players. I say "almost" because there are some very minor expectations that are to be met by these players. They get vetted and the programming is still continually being developed.

I think it's very important to add them to this list because RYDF support has almost become a necessity for the tours, in terms of accessing a big pool of these players regularly. If RYDF were to pull its support, it would drastically impact the draws at professional events. Just look at the rankings, they are filled with RYDF supported players. As with all things racquetball, sustainability is the big question. RYDF is running well right now. But it is running a pro player operation where the eventual goal, I would argue, is to put itself out of business. And right now, business is good.

World #1, Paola Longoria

Paola Longoria

I see an appropriateness in listing Paola Longoria separately here. Longoria has, in this decade, transformed herself into a legitimate superstar in Mexico and I'll say internationally also. I couldn't accurately list all of the high profile events she attends, the awards, accolades and media coverage she has accrued these past ten years. Her accomplishments, indeed her dominance on tour is not too far behind Kane Waselenchuk's record setting career. Add to that her success with international competition, there is little doubt Longoria is the most decorated player that has ever played the game. She holds the record for Most Event Wins on tour and that number is more than double the next highest player historically. 10 US Open titles... the list goes on. She is just completely dominant on the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour. But where her true significance presents itself is the platform that she has personally become outside the sport. By the virtue of her celebrity, she has millions more people, in aggregate, seeing mentions of racquetball move across their radar. She has parlayed her position as the world's best female racquetball player into a very lucrative endeavor, bucking the norm of a life as a traveling professional racquetball player. She has the ability to attract Ad dollars more effectively than any of the tours can. In doing all of this, she's laid the ground work for national recognition for other players in Mexico and South America. I've written a ton about this player and what she represents. Longoria has surpassed any type of high-profile notoriety any racquetball player has ever experienced. (Yes, even Marty Hogan.) She goes into 2020 carrying the torch. Literally.

The Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour

For me, the honest truth is that I have to work carefully to look at the LPRT objectively. Racquetball for me was, literally, all about the LPRT during seasons 2017-18 and 2018-19. I spent a crazy amount of time looking at the sport through my LPRT lenses, whether in proximity to the IRT or USA Racquetball or the US Open or Outdoor racquetball... whatever it was in racquetball, l my intent was always to focus on where the LPRT stood in relation to what was in front of me.That said, documenting my perspective is what I've done throughout the Twenty-tens. I think I'm experienced enough to put a view down on this too.

WPRO President, Gigi Rock at 3 WallBall

Leadership Changes

At the turn of this last decade, the women slid into it as the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization. Led by player commissioner Shannon Feaster, it had officially been known as the WPRO since 2005. When Feaster retired very early in the decade, a woman named Gigi Rock was hired to take over the reigns. Things turned out to be a bit volatile early in the decade. Rock pushed quickly to see player equity with prize money, sensing a climate of gender inequality. The friction was palatable right off-the-bat when a stand was made by refusing "WPRO" participation at 3 WallBall in 2011. I remember some chatter that year at the US Open. I had conversations with people on both sides. It wasn't long before some smoothing out was worked out in the way of the players backing another reorganization under a different name. (The term"...and power is grabbed from those in charge...", is used by Pro Racquetball Stats, which agrees with my recall.) The Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour has since been led by former tour player TJ Baumbaugh as President. At the inception and transition, Andy Kulback, who served as vice-president under Gigi Rock, remained with the tour until September 2016. In the next 3 seasons after his departure, the tour would find its way through uncertainty with a board rebuild and goes into the new decade with an increased number of events on the schedule and some serious talent in the draws.

Different But The Same

Over the last few seasons, as with the IRT, there has been a notable spike in young and dynamic international players who aspire to play on the tour. These players were arriving on tour skilled enough to upset established players. Also like the IRT, most of the top seeds have all been taken by international players, with the exception of Rhonda Rajsich, who has been playing professionally for about 21 years. The turn to international dominance happened sooner on the LPRT it seems.

The LPRT continues its commitment to streaming since deciding to do so during the 2010s. With affordable technologies developed during the decade making it easier to produce a stream to multiple social platforms at the same time, as with the IRT, Facebook and Youtube are where you can find the LPRT's live-streamed event matches. The production value has remained, relatively speaking, steady for the LPRT, since they first started streaming.

LPRT President, TJ Baumbaugh

Getting to parity with prize money is still something that hasn't been fully realized yet, even with LPRT players being able to command way more engagement socially when compared to IRT players. But the LPRT does enter the decade with an uptick in the number of events and technically has more "Grand Slam" events than the IRT. The LPRT also has gained a deep-well in Kansas, where that event supersedes cash payouts at the US Open. That's an interestingly good trend.

Maria Jose Vargas Parada

Professional Mothers

I think this is worth noting. As of this post, there are 2 mothers in the top 10, (3 in the top 20.) The number 2 ranked player, Maria Jose Vargas left the tour during the decade to start a family. She not only returned, but within a few short seasons made her way to securely grab the spot she initially left. I don't personally know if a similar scenario has ever played out in tour history. It's pretty cool to be an elite, top-ranked professional and a full-time mom at the same time. Vargas' consistent participation is funded by her home country of Argentina. But Vargas is no joke. Definitely deserving of the ranking. It puts a light on this aspect of women's sports.

The Death And Growth Of Racquet Manufacturers

I'm sliding this in under the Professional Tours grouping because I feel the professional tours, for the most part, have a reflective effect on the state of racquetball racket manufacturing. The size and interest of our sport is very much a finite thing with only so much room for profit for companies of varying sizes.

With the advent of a new entry, Gearbox Racquetball in 2007, there was a feeling that the scales would eventually be tipped and leveled out. That happened when a venerable brand, Ektelon, shuttered down. Going into the decade, Ektelon seemed set with a namesake USA Nationals sponsorship, the World Outdoor Racquetball incorporated into its strategy and the initial willingness to grow with the times. But it was carrying a bloated player program and running high on operating cost, so when its parent company, Prince Sports, swung into bankruptcy, well, top heavy things tend to tip over. I'm speaking about a death in, what seems today to be, a varied degree. If you look at the two major online racquetball retailers today, you will find Ektelon has some semblance of life, with products currently for sale. (And some of those racquets aren't cheap.)

Ektelon was, for decades, a major player in the sport in terms of sponsorship. When it made my end of year Top Ten list in 2016, it really was a true death in the sport. It flooded the amateur ranks with players looking to jump on board discount sponsorship teams, which is a solid way for manufacturers ensure loyalty with a specific type of enthusiast. Manufacturers like HEAD cherry picked players and not only from regionally-based promotional programs but also from the lot of touring professionals that had relatively significant sponsorship with Ektelon. When I think of this, immediately, Rhonda Rajsich and Jose Rojas come to mind. Both professionals were forever adversely affected, in some way or another, by the institutional bankruptcy of Ektelon parent company Prince. The sale of the subsidiary just made all the flaws of a bloated model that much more pronounced. Add to that a mis-managed licensing agreement, post bankruptcy acquisition, and you have the end of a racquetball institution.

The Gearbox bus, circa early 2010's, with CEO Rafael Filippini.

When you look at the growth of Gearbox, with their grassroots buzz working so well, the sport of racquetball proved to have only so much room for the big guys. Water always seeks its level. Early in the decade decade, you would see Ektelon everywhere in racquetball. You also saw the occasional Wilson too. Even Dunlop and Harrow tested the market. But going into 2020, you will see just four main brands in the hands of professional players on tour and "sponsored" players. That seems about right.

International And National Considerations

Simply compare the top of the professional rankings of 2010 and 2020 and you will instantly see where the best players in the world are now coming from. The 2010's proved to be a time of historic shifting in the balance of talent. Now, I'm the first to point out that I don't completely understand what foundation-ally brought about that shift. My take on this is that there were two or three significant factors that facilitated this shift in talent. Success with juniors, growing notoriety in Mexico and South America and lack of interest here in the States as well the inability for American players to make things work professionally.

International Federations

Again, I'm not overly familiar with International Racquetball Federation competitions and their member organizations. The time I spend looking at racquetball is mostly focused on the professional circuit. USA Racquetball is also large in my view by virtue of its ties to racquetball in general here. What I do know about the IRF, I have learned from various conversations with people very familiar with international competition, as well as the incidental info flowing through social posts. Those facebook posts allude to junior programs thriving in countries like Mexico, Bolivia and Guatemala, etc. The proof being that they are taking home the expensive metals given out at major international events. That trend has filtered up from these federations as the sport of racquetball began realizing this renaissance of sorts this past decade.

USA Racquetball

When I initially start to think back on my experience observing USA Racquetball over the course of this past decade, there are some events or instances that immediately pop into my head. Unfortunately, those things have lingered and often have to be deliberately shaken off when I see "USA Racquetball". I'll note here, public perception is all relative, and a small bit of news can, sometimes, be the only information someone may come across regarding an organization.

The USA Racquetball Vision Statement starts like this, "To provide racquetball opportunities in the sport of racquetball for all levels of participation..." I sometimes wonder, as an organization, if they can possibly do things differently or what can they do that hasn't already been tried? As I write this, there is a big 3-day Racquet and Paddle Sports Show Expo happening in Florida. I have a few friends who are in attendance and exhibiting. And when I looked at the agenda and who is exhibiting, as I noticed organizations like USA Pickleball and US Squash on the floor plans, I shook my head, as I wondered how this wasn't seen as a priority for USA Racquetball in some fashion. (I don't know what they even know of the event and could say this for any of the racquetball manufacturers also. Again, I don't know... there is a chance they could be in attendance.)

I realize that the topics listed below, some of which I wrote about comprehensively, influence my overall impression of what USA Racquetball is as an organization. I only know what I see. I also realize, that is the case with everyone regularly involved with racquetball. We all have our own perspective. Racquetball players who engage in public discourse regarding USA Racquetball, have heard others share their views also. USA Racquetball gets much of the public blame for the decline of racquetball. And that is just a starting point for some, because any public situation that has even the hint of negativity turns into a referendum on just how inept or self-serving the organization is. Now, I'm just being honest here. I've had just so many conversations over this past decade where this has happened. I've also had some truly positive conversations. I myself have publicly been on both sides of sentiment regarding specific issues going on with USA Racquetball. (They are all archived on this site.)

I want to preface what I list here with this sentiment: I hold many, many people who are seriously involved with USA Racquetball in the utmost regard and respect. Organizations are hard environments in which to sustain objectivity and prevent positions of trust turning into self-serving agendas. And USA Racquetball is no different. I believe USA Racquetball is responsible for what we still have in racquetball. And my look will only take into account this past decade and what I've taken the time to look into and had strong feeling about. Because quite honestly, I've only been involved with the sport during this time. Anything I know about prior to 2010 has come through research and conversational discourse. That said, this is what I find significant this past decade.

2012 USA National Singles Champion, Markie Rojas (center) and support team. Left to right, John Ellis, Jose Serrano, Aimee Ruiz, Jesse Serna, Dave Ellis, Jody Nance and Scott Winters

Involvement With Professional Racquetball Or Lack Of It

This for me is the most sticky of topics. For the majority of the decade I have felt they should remain completely separate from professional racquetball except from the perspective of facilitating major events, the US Open being the example. Anything else didn't make sense to me. I know USA Racquetball formally ran the women's tour in the past and that was argued to be out of necessity, e.g., the lack of events for US women. Going into the decade, the US Team, in part, included IRT rankings while deciding team formation. I think that changed early on in the decade (or before, I'm not sure.) I'm also not clear how long that was going on or whether that changed due to descent. But the change made sense to me at the time. I considered USA Racquetball an amateur organization tasked to facilitate participation in general.

But when I take into consideration the recent swing in talent and the support some of today's top players are getting from their national organizations, all I can think about is the dominance the US once sported, as I saw promising US professionals move away from racquetball because it doesn't make sense financially for them. I also consider what RYDF is doing and think, "shouldn't this be what USA Racquetball does now for American players?" I can further imagine a program where USAR fully funds select players and the programming for that support would be to drive USA Racquetball agendas, examples being players working membership drives, fund-raising, etc. But I realize there are finite resources and other priorities. Competitively, US juniors are in a slide as are US players in general. Just take a quick look at this past US Open, where not one US player made it to the Quarters. Growth happens from the top down. If people can't see themselves playing racquetball, they won't play at all.

The Erik Garcia Intercollegiate Championships Controversy

In short, a specific player was arbitrarily scrutinized and not allowed to compete because of a vague technicality in the rules. He was informed at the last minute. It was a clear instance, in my view, of use (abuse) of a rule for gain. It was for me an issue about what should be the true intent behind this type of event.

At the time, John Scott and the IRT Network was contractually streaming the event when Scott publicly derided USA Racquetball because of what was happening. It got ugly and there was a public back and forth over the next few days.

I devoted three entries to this situation because it encompassed a few things that were made public in a big way. It produced for me a ton of discourse and correspondences that ran from the Executive Director of USA Racquetball to student athletes. It proved to be a situation that hit home for many and an important one the organization had to work its way through carefully.

The SafeSport Issue

This one for me was the worst thing that happened to USA Racquetball since I've been following racquetball comprehensively. The clearest way I can think of, to lay out what happened, is to say, this was an instance when personal internal grievances and improprieties where focused outwardly and conflated with an even more serious issue going on in sports at the time. I've spoken a ton about how the sense of entitlement permeates racquetball and I think people got caught up in it and things hit the fan.

It resulted in a life change for some who previously had life-long, official involvement with the sport of racquetball. There is now a drop down menu on the USA Website labeled SafeSport where the second option is for disciplinary records. (Though that may just be something that is now required universally by the USOPC member sports.) But what is far worse is the small crack that this situation was pushed through. For an instant racquetball was included with a national issue to an outside audience. (For this, I'll add the link to the short piece I posted. #UsToo) I would guess for some, at that time, this may have been the most current mention of a sport they had a vague notion about. This was a black eye for an already marginalized sport.

2012 USA Nationals, Fullerton, California

• USA Nationals (Singles)

Going into the decade, Nationals was a huge event. We're talking portable court and Grand Slam level pro tour participation. That proved hard to sustain as the decade moved on. The portable court was lost, along with the will to use the tours to decide USA representation internationally. The event's cachet was diminished. The participation numbers alone should prove that. Yet, it will remain a super important event, especially with the interest international competitions have been garnering. I see some things happening that could lead to circumstances where players from other countries find their way to formally compete for the US. (Indeed that has already happened with Alex that that is out.) That could bring new life into the event, maybe. And with what is happening with the US Open, could a plan be, to somehow incorporate priorities? If not, then, hint hint. And now the segue.

• The US Open, 25 Years And More

I spent the majority of 2010s learning about racquetball because of this major event. The US Open, is the most prestigious event in racquetball. International play aside, the best players in the world all dream about making their way to this event. The event has carried the tours these past ten years, at least visually. The very nature of how the sport operates puts limits on what you can make available for marketing consumption... I'm thinking glass court imagery and post video production. So, the US Open is a very important event. Come 2021, the administration of this event will be shifted from Doug Ganim to USA Racquetball. Ganim will pass off all responsibility after 25 years of putting it together. I'll just leave this here.

USA Racquetball Takes On World Outdoor Racquetball

This was a smart move. WOR was conceived in the 2000's and initially backed by Ektelon and incorporated into their overall strategy. It went into the decade strong with a good grab on people throughout the country as the big events were introducing players to one another. The flagship events were the WOR Championships held in Huntington Beach, CA, Beach Bash in Hollywood Beach, FL and the inaugural 3 WallBall in 2010. Things were popping for WOR as all the work pulling outdoor communities together was paying off. Ektelon went the way that it did and WOR kept plugging away. With the wily veteran Hank Marcus at the core, a guy you know has seen just about everything in this sport, you know things would keep moving. Being an Outdoor guy, I can say I like this move because according to the slant this acquisition took, USA Racquetball recognizes fully that Outdoor racquetball is a positive way to introduce new players to the game. There have been agreements in the past between WOR and USA Racquetball, but this time it's a truly vested interest.

Pro player Maritza Franco González at Beach Bash.

World Outdoor Racquetball

Being an Outdoor guy myself, I can point out just how important WOR has been to the sport. Outdoor racquetball is centered around the social aspect of the game, where Doubles play is the main focus. It creates and sustains engagement with racquetball on a number of levels. Going into the 2010s, WOR had a ton of traction, especially with indoor players looking for other forms of sports participation.

As we begin the new decade, I see a need to rethink what the goals are for WOR and like I mentioned earlier, joining together with USA Racquetball is a good thing. l think sports with gaining popularity like Pickleball, pose a challenge to WOR. Outdoor as a secondary form of casual sporting engagement may be left out in the cold, by indoor racquetball players who find themselves attracted to the ease and accessibility of Pickleball or other paddle type sports.

These are the key things with WOR the last ten years, as I see them:

3 WallBall World Championships, Las Vegas, Nevada

• 3 WallBall

This event was a big, big deal in the 2010s. It created a cross-cultural space that helped extent notoriety for players, as well as create new friendships. 3 WallBall is almost like a convention of sub-culture sports and had some years where the energy was explosive. It has become a destination event for anyone who plays racquetball. Something any outdoor racquetball player has to do "at least once."

• WOR Championships

This event was originally called Outdoor Nationals and formed the foundation outdoor racquetball history for WOR. Going into the decade, this was the event pro players were enticed to go to as there seemed to be a desire for high-level players and touring professionals to match up and compete. Rocky Carson was the supreme player at the start of the decade and that was his venue. Players were showing up with their States' contingent as that event was synonymous with Outdoor Racquetball.

Marina Park, Huntington Beach, California

As the decade wore on, this event fell behind as a travel destination for Outdoor players outside of California. You still have people who travel to this event, but for the most part, Vegas and Florida have become the more preferred destinations. Those events offer more of a social payback. I've always felt California players (I'm pointing to the top players on the men's side,) mostly haven't felt the need to travel to other States to compete, with the exception of Vegas. The WOR Championships is still super fun. But some of the excitement has faded outside of California. In reality, it's a big regional event, and now feels, to me, like a California thing.

• Beach Bash

This event, held a few yards from the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk in Florida, is a primo destination for a few days of One Wall racquetball and fun. It has consistently run at full capacity throughout the decade. Beach Bash is the premier One Wall Racquetball event in the country.

Home of Beach Bash, the courts at Garfield Park, Hollywood Beach, Florida

The event has continually adapted rules that allow for indoor and 3 wall players to experience an easier transition to the smaller One Wall courts. It has been a good thing for the event and a bit of a trade off for WOR. As more players were descending on this event, there were years were the sheer numbers of matches running continually proved difficult to manage, as the rules kept having to be interpreted or explained. This proved contentious for New Yorkers who felt the rules were being skewed to favor indoor and 3 Wall players.

Now, this is where I go off on a bit of a rabbit trail in the world of WOR. The organization gained a foothold in NYC after an inaugural event at those courts. With the help of Ektelon's player sponsorship program, it was able to develop sanctioned One Wall event in NYC. That evolved into events run by Prokennex affiliated players and ran to about the middle of the decade. This to say, WOR had a foothold with sanctioned events in NYC through this time.

Back to Beach Bash. The problems between NYC styled players and indoor players continued to pop-up year after year at Beach Bash, as the event continued to run at capacity. The feeling that the problem needed to be addressed materialized into another event developed at those courts, called the AF Pro Series Tournament of Champions. It proved an easy thing to do as paddleball and handball were added because of the high number of New Yorkers that have relocated to that area. Expectation would dictate that the situation would feel contentious. But the two events now positively coexist every year, making March a huge month for One Wall. Beach Bash continues with its inter-State appeal and continues to regularly attract touring professionals. It's a supremely unique, hella fun and a very important event for WOR.

• NYC Epilogue

WOR currently doesn't have a foothold in NYC when it comes to events. NYC One Wall, which is basically a variant of paddleball, is mostly played by people historically familiar with paddleball. The trend in engagement has leaned paddleball's way over the years, because there are more people facilitating events for paddleball. There has been a paddleball resurgence in NYC, so, to speak. That's not to say One Wall racquetball isn't still played. It's still played by large numbers of players at a few locations here in NYC. But aside from informal out of-the-hat type events, there aren't big tournaments happening in NYC. WOR, though, in last few years has gained a "Key" hold in Arizona. I'd say that makes it a bit short of a wash.

WOR Hall Of Fame Inductee, Brian Hawkes

• The WOR Hall Of Fame

In 2012, recently retired, Outdoor legend Brian Hawkes was inducted as the very first player to be named into the newly formed WOR Hall of Fame. His incredible professional run gave the platform an instant credibility. When you look at some of the inductees during this decade, you'll find some seriously heavy names, like Charlie Brumfield, Dr. Bud Muehleisen and Lynn Adams. In its time of existence, the committee, which is mostly made up of the WOR HOF's members, has inducted a list of players that covers a broad swath of the whole of Outdoor Racquetball. That's a pretty cool thing. I'm with it. Literally.

Facebook: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Remember Meet And Play? If you do, then by 2010, you just about forgot it. (Though Reddit, now, is sort of the same thing.)

• The Good

Facebook began letting anyone with an email address access the platform in late 2007. Remember when it felt like a fun novelty to run into someone you friended on Facebook. When the decade began that's exactly how it was for racquetball players. At least that's how remember it being at the big Outdoor tournaments and the US Open. Facebook began rolling out organization pages in 2009. Racquetball orgs really began utilizing them a few years into the decade. The Twenty-tens was the decade people really began using Facebook with all things racquetball.

People really learned how to use their phones, to the point they need them to be involved. Posting photos and going Live, (later on in the decade,) made it easy for racquetball enthusiasts to let people know what was going on. It is also the platform to communicate opportunity, need and excitement. If you are thinking about participating in a racquetball event, especially in another state, you statistically are more likely to access the R2 link from Facebook. It's also a solid place for some organizations because it has become a vital way to raise money and make donations easy to make. Diehard racquetballers spend vast amounts of time sharing posts and letting other enthusiasts know what was going on, in the name of promoting racquetball. It provides a level of understanding people involved with racquetball can't access anywhere else. When you want to know what's happening in racquetball, you go to Facebook.

• The Bad

When you want to know what's happening in racquetball you have to go to Facebook. Facebook is where all things racquetball happen. Racquetball enthusiasts and fans are conditioned to go to Facebook. They are supremely used to watching pro racquetball streams on Facebook. It's one thing to watch a buddies stream or a stream from your club. But today, right now even, if the tours made their fans move to say Youtube, or anywhere else for that matter, to watch, there would be pushback. The tours could not do this unless it was instantly advantageous to do so. It would also take time to build up to the numbers they currently can boast about now on Facebook. They are stuck.

There is a saying I have harped on for years now. In racquetball, nobody makes money on Facebook except Facebook. If I look at my feed, I'll get ads for phone cases because I just bought a new phone. If I want to scroll through my feed while I'm watching a racquetball stream, the same will happen, but maybe this time it will be jeans. The money paid for my eyeballs goes directly to Facebook. The tours are effectively paying Facebook to make this happen. To the point where it is almost unfortunate. Sports streaming on Facebook is still super important. But if monetizing wasn't something you had a handle on before you streamed on Facebook, then you're behind the game going into the new decade, especially with the way Facebook throttles reach. An example for me being, when I actively watch PSA Squash videos on Facebook, posts from the IRT with their live stream in tend to show less frequently. What really helps the IRT let fans watch is when fans who tuned in earlier share the feed. Facebook is forcing the IRT (and the LPRT for that matter) to pay for more reach or make them work to activate people. It is taking those connections between fans (data) and sharpening their knowledge on what products will get clicked on. Either way, Facebook is getting paid.

Let's look at it this way. John Scott had it right. There was a time when the IRT would only stream early matches and have people move to his platform for the bigger, later matches. Then he began having sponsored streams, where he would stay on Facebook courtesy of someone willing to pay to have it available on Facebook. Today, that is formally known as Branded Content for creators or publishers on Facebook. The problem for John Scott was quality of product. More importantly, not nearly enough creating of it. (Setting up live streams alone will not do it. Even if you include posting photos and stories.) As an example, I'll point to Squash as I have most of the decade. The Professional Squash Tour's first event of 2020 was the Tournament Of Champions. The only fully streamed matches on Facebook where early round and Quarterfinal matches. Those were listed as "Paid Partnership". The PSA had spent years building up value in a specific way. It put them in a position to capitalize on Facebook monetarily by offering the ToC something very specific , while keeping their model.

Let's look at it another way. If the numbers are what they say, the tours have enough of a viewership currently on Facebook, that, if all those viewers where to magically watch on Youtube only, the tours could be getting checks from Youtube with the proper Creator Page wrangling. Then investing resources to create more promo type stuff becomes way easier to justify and sustain because then simply increasing views and watch-time increases payouts from Youtube. Again, I point to the PSA. The production quality and content output has allowed them to capitalize on YouTube along with a contemporary, syndicated sports OTT model.

Facebook is fantastic in that racquetball fans can watch streams and comment in real-time. The tours are behind the content models for sports streaming, as they currently redline production capabilities. There is some traction, but the tires are spinning and burning out.

• The Ugly

This one is easy to agree with. I hope. Conversations about racquetball related issues on long threads, for the most part, have been super respectful. They have, at times, gotten ugly. Having differing opinions is ok. Attacking people for having them is not a good thing. There have also been times where personal racquetball related issues, or organizational business has spewed onto Facebook in order to solicit dissension. Since the racquetball community is so Facebook centric, these types of things are really bad for our relatively small sport. I will say, that over the past two seasons, an air of positivity and some excitement is permeating for the sport in general. That's a good way to go into the new decade.

Restrung Magazine

In 2010, I came up with the initial idea of Restrung Magazine. I envisioned a lifestyle magazine that would encompass racquet sports, mainly smaller ones. Because I played them and saw a diverse group of people playing them, I was thinking the different cultures could be made to look cool visually. Sort of a diversity project for me at the time. The name was a play on stringing racquets. When you restring them, you basically are giving life to the racquet and with a different string pattern, it can have a completely different feel. I even made a mock up type lay out. This was at a time, a decade into the internet, when all things publishing were in question. And publishing models were changing in deep cultural ways. It made me pick up a camera again. And that is what took over. I started taking photos at the events I was participating in. And that became, in itself, a lifestyle this past decade.

I'm not quite sure this came about because of my playing... or just the things I say.

Looking back, I feel like, man, I did a little bit of everything in racquetball.

Playing, writing, podcasting, video work and of course, I took a ton of photos. I left a trail of breadcrumbs with experience. Great people. Great game.

Instagram Story... I'l have a Decade Run of Twenty-ten never or rarely seen photos, from just about everywhere I've been in racquetball.

The Quick Wrap Up

This sport is what it is. If you spend time at the courts and spend time following things all around, you know what I mean. How dynamic this sport can be isn't a readily accessible thing. And it is dynamic. And if you know what I mean, you know what I mean. I see more transition this coming decade. One way or another. Do you know what I mean?


bottom of page