The Year Outdoor Racquetball Was And World Outdoor Racquetball Wasn't
It's almost November. I looked at the World Outdoor Racquetball website and it's basically a fossil of the organization that at one time, had worked so hard to successfully aggregate outdoor players from around the country. The biggest racquetball event in the whole of 2020 happened this month, 3 WallBall, an Outdoor event and crickets on this site. Yes, it's a different time because of Covid. Yes, I get that there are some things that need to get worked out with WOR. But it doesn't change this fact that this year is almost over.
Robert Sostre, World Outdoor Racquetball Hall Of Fame Inductee
Before you start thinking that I just want to post something controversial, read my quote (below) from Decade In Review, a post from early this year. (I'll also point to this post to qualify that I've been closely involved with the sport for a more than a minute.)
" • 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....
...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."
I read " ...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." and my questioning on this would now be, so, Outdoor is only good to introduce "new"players to the indoor game? And then I think to myself, I can't believe I wrote this... this year.
This year. The indoor sport of racquetball was totally shut down. I know USA Racquetball did what they could to communicate with their membership that they knew things were shut and they are committed to getting things running as soon as possible. So. You would think that they would take advantage of the fact that Outdoor courts were becoming accessible this year, well before indoor play, especially with the summer rolling in. I waited for USAR to facilitate something truly substantial with messaging for WOR. Expected it. I thought to myself what better an open door to facilitating new participation with your constituents and those remotely interested in racquetball during this time... like it couldn't have been more of a lay up. I never saw it.
Where was the public out-reach by USA Racquetball regarding WOR? Was there a serious attempt to specifically reach out to the current membership (that would be a big email,) or tournament directors or state organizers to take the temperature of how much access to Outdoor courts they had. Or any experience at all? And then sharing that with their membership? Maybe take the lead in a transition to the outdoor variety? Maybe there was an attempt.
To me, Hank Marcus' World Outdoor Racquetball was a huge success. 2004 for me was a transformative year. Because of the One Wall National Championship, which would later become Beach Bash. It was the first time I was introduced to players like Cliff, Hogan, Sudsy, etc., all in one place. I had been playing One Wall racquetball for almost 8 years by that point... we had a hugely thriving sport in NYC back then. (Games in large numbers could be found daily in the heart of Greenwich Village and Central Park as well as Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx.) I clearly remember Hank visiting NYC.... glad-handing and making everyone feel like they belonged. I traveled to play racquetball because of what Hank and the organization did to access me. This is a theme, where, I can point to a number of key outdoor facilitators and say the same for them.
During a live-streamed Zoom talk this past summer, an USAR official referred to WOR as a brand. I remember cringing hearing this, because to me, WOR was an organization that had ties to key people throughout the US and comprehensively knew the when, where and how of people playing outdoor racquetball.
Well, if it was a brand, it got lost in Vegas. Yea, the logo was on the show court. And put on the live feed of the LPRT's livestreams, who was also sending the same feed to the USA Facebook page. But that was it.
The photo below captures Martha McDonald watching Janel Tsinger who played with Paola Longoria during a women's pro match last week in Vegas.
Martha McDonald, WOR Hall Of Fame inductee
I'll share that I had to take a moment to reflect after I took this one. Martha McDonald is probably one of the greatest true outdoor racquetball players that ever existed. She and her husband Greg were inducted to the WOR Hall of Fame together in 2013. I looked up at the broadcast booths at the time and wondered if anyone up there thought to ask her to share her thoughts as these particular women were competing. What a gold-mine that would have been. Then, I wondered if they even knew who she was. I also thought to myself, there are four new players being inducted into the WOR Hall of Fame this year, ( Betty Weed, Diane Heims, Mark Harding and Paul Olson) and this being the only major WOR event to take place in 2020, why wasn't there a quick ceremony or even a mention?
In the same vein, I have a hard time listening to the recorded livestreams, post event, because of the sheer lack of information about organized Outdoor and its history in general. Don't get me wrong, I think the commentators did well considering the info presented and did as well as they could, sharing that they too were short on player info. But there are just some things that should not be said without context.
Left to right: Alvaro Beltran, Daniel De La Rosa, Mike Coulter, Kane Wasalenchuk, Ben Croft
As an example, I'll talk about the Men's Pro Doubles winners, Daniel De La Rosa and Alvaro Beltran. Putting them in the category of greatest outdoor players ever, without adding the proper context minimizes what true outdoor has been and pushes guys like Brian Hawkes to the side. Outdoor is mostly about Doubles, because of the nature of the environment. Singles, played on large Outdoor courts, is wickedly taxing and a space for elite athletes at the highest levels. Very little emphasis (and prize money) has been directed that way during the course of the last few years. So, any talk along the lines of greatest ever, would only be acceptable shared in context of what it's like playing a high level outdoor circuit regularly. To add to this even further, hearing commentators talk about Robert Sostre was by all possibility an endeavor filled with under-statements. Having one of these two guys compared with someone who has played and won as many different events with different partners, (which is important,) all put in the context of a career that spanned decades... well, then it would have been fulfilling to hear. That's not to say these two guys don't belong in the talk. On the contrary, of course they do. Sheesh, I remember like it was yesterday, the very first Pro Singles Final in 3WB. Alvaro had match point on Rocky Carson, who beat him in the Pro Singles Final that same year at WOR Championships in Huntington Beach. He was set to win and served it out. (Funny how one play can stick in your mind.) But it's just one illustration of the deep WOR content that was omitted in this year of the sport of racquetball in desperate need for an event. I'll just attribute that to the rush, with a touch of apathy, for it all.
Robert Sostre and Kane Wasalenchuk
This was a big year for outdoor. Kane Wasalenchuk actually played an event. I have a ton of thoughts on this. But that is not what this post is about. (I'm thinking video for that.) But Kane playing is what it was all about with the IRT and anyone else who started thinking late in the timeline about how big this event was for the year. Mike Coulter, Rick Koll aka "Sodaman" and the whole 3 WallBall crew involved pulled off what I see as the impossible this year. Coulter has a deep history with the sport of racquetball, and 2020 will be remembered historically by some, as the year he and 3 WallBall saved racquetball. So far this year, especially with the US Open's forced cancellation, there has been nothing else substantially close.
Now. There is a ton of talk about moving forward with Outdoor within the context of racquetball as a sport. Some, for the good of the sport or the need to keep the ball rolling within the sport have been focusing more on outdoor talk. The tours, and personalities that talk up the sport are gonna have to figure out ways to do more with Outdoor. That can go any number of ways from here, as I see it. WOR was the pinnacle of the Outdoor game in aggregate. It still should be. I know there are good people working hard on WOR. But right now, it's stuck in committee, it seems, as the tours re-think and face a not so optimistic future with indoor events. Rankings? Events? (Or just accepting results from already developed events?) Remember, it's quite a different thing hosting Outdoor events. It's a totally different animal in some financial respects as well as, deeply, culturally different.
If WOR is a brand, its branding sucks. (FB shares aside.) If it's an organization, then it's on a shelf most of the time within another organization. Or is it just easier for some to let it fade out or just be used as an add on when pointing to what's being done this difficult year?