A question for every diehard racquetball enthusiast: Have you gone to the US Open in Minneapolis? Then you know what it feels like to walk into the Target Center. You can probably remember the feeling of walking in from the street and going down the stairs to the right, or through the Skyway then taking the elevator. That tournament experience is a distinct, relatable memory, filled with almost tangible visuals including the site of that beautiful glass court. Another question for that same player: Have you gone to 3 WallBall? Remember the walk into the Strat for the first time to check in? You should get where I'm going... so, I'm gonna move on.
Vic Leibofsky On Sudsy & Elli
I've mentioned Sudsy and Elli a few times already, but I'll start here. Episode 28 of their show featured two tournament directors, Geoff Peters and Vic Leibofsky. True to form, Sudsy and Elli are facilitating conversations with people in the know. With the reality of tournament postponements and cancellations, having TD's come on and talk about plans and issues relevant during this unique time helps shed light on planning and intentions. About 28 minutes into the video, Vic begins to comprehensively describe how big and intricate his Beach Bash event has been. (Vic was given plenty of free run by Sudsy and Elli, which may have caught Vic off guard.) The conversation was a bit scattered, though Vic manages to find a groove and shed light on what it has been like putting on such a unique event. With Vic's primary goal of participation and experience, he described the push back by the 10 or 15 people on the front end of registrations and play times that Vic had to regularly deal with, year after year. Add to that, all the issues (drama) raised on the court, especially when the expectations of individual players are based on how good they believe themselves to be, weren't being met. But to me, the most telling part of his take on the issues, is how he put the apathy USA Racquetball has shown in the past towards running WOR, front and center. Pretty descriptive if you're getting the parts where he goes out of his way with players to ensure participation or encouraging sponsors to roll up their sleeves and dig in personally.
John Ellis, who is seriously no stranger to running tournaments, began relating to Vic in experiences as they commonly spoke about running The WOR Outdoor Championships at Huntington Beach's Marina Park. It was in this moment that I realized, a huge opportunity was left in the wind over the last 10 or so years... about as long as I've known Ellis to be running tournaments. Just imagine what might have been if John had been recognized early on and focused on by USA Racquetball as premier tournament director. Imagine if during that time, there had been a comprehensive funding program to support directors who pump out events like John has done over the years. A funding project that would dive into support specific TD's monetarily who have this kind of stuff in their blood. As I thought that, I really felt what Vic was saying, which was that "thanks for nothing - you have no idea what you have missed" vibe Vic was putting out to USA now that he is just done with being a TD.
As I hear this, I'm watching two guys in their 40's do their show, hanging on to racquetball-dear life wit(I can relate) and enjoying the racquetball life they are now creating for themselves out of necessity because that's what's in their DNA. Two players who, for ALL intent and purposes, would have benefitted most if traditional racquetball had been on Wide World of Sports regularly. (I am dating myself with this statement.)
So, if I'm talking DNA and we know that 2021, right now, is looking pretty bleak in comparison to the normal spread of events that racquetball is accustomed to, then that DNA is just not on display as it could be. There is just not enough places to play. Clubs are dying. There just isn't much today's tournament directors have to work with.
If you've read anything I've written in the past couple of months, you know I've been on a rant for the need for a National Racquetball Complex or a Racquet sports complex of some sort. I'm initially thinking of something similar to the complex in Monterrey, Mexico. Only tricked out with technology that can enhance the experience of physical activity within the court area. As just one example, I'll point to a biometric study done by Sports Data Labs incorporated by the Professional Squash Association. The implications here are that monitoring a player's physical fitness while they play is truly possible and that it is technologies like these that I strongly believe USA Racquetball needs to become expert in. Add to that all the programming possibilities with video play on the front walls and remote coaching, court to court. I heard they are working with handball. Well, get together with them. Come up with a funding drive with a comprehensive plan for growth and potential profit. Build a complex. Become experts. Offer tours and teach club owners how to profit from technology that enhances experience and physical fitness.
Last week I drove from NYC to rural Montague, New Jersey. Cliff Swain was set up to give personal training lessons for a few days there, so it was a perfect time to check things out. The Kelly Twins, who are pretty engaged with competitive racquetball and well known on the East Coast, built a racquetball court. It is complete and now attached to group of friends and people loosely connected to their racquetball peer group, who are more than willing to make their way to Montague for real racquetball.
I'll say it again. They built a court. Because they just didn't have one available. Talk about racquetball DNA coursing through veins. (I'll also submit that almost every die hard player thinks about having their own personal court, at least in passing.) They did it in a matter of few months. Built it out themselves. Two guys. In the sticks... so to speak. (You can follow their endeavor on instagram, @privatizingracquetball.) Check this video... quick.
Their court is ridiculously solid. Cliff noted that it plays as true to anything he's played on and it's super fast. That court is a testament to a dedicated vision.
USA Racquetball, you effectively have nothing to offer these two guys and arguably the dozens and dozens of players their court now host. But hey, they or someone who uses their court might play one of your events, if you manage to get some actually run this year.