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  • Freddy Ramirez

Racquetball: What Do You Want To Build?

Just watching this is inspiring. A small non-profit just built these courts in El Salvador, in one of its poorest communities. Squash Para Todos has just about finished up their first set of courts, built to access growth by training and academically developing young players in these communities. Over the last decade or so, these type of endeavors have developed growth in various ways. Squash participation numbers naturally increase when introduced to new students and there is also growth for the elite school that receives tremendous value with the diversity these programs offer to their campus. Which in turn, is another form of growth for the sport of Squash.

I ask. What do you want to build?

When I think of groups like Squash Busters, Street Squash and City Squash I think of a well- developed idea that focused on something very important. I know that as you read this, you may or may not be familiar with these groups. I'd still ask you while you watch the above video, What do you think I think of when I mention the names of these groups?

I will just make a statement here. Squash has experienced growth. Partially, I can argue, because some groups within the sport focused on something very specific, that is, under-served communities. I'll use the mere existence of the Squash and Education Alliance as proof that the sport has found at least one way to introduce the game to new players, as well as, create sustainable employment through fundraising for many graduating college athletes with squash experience in an educational setting.

I posted this, Non-Profit And Who Profits, in 2014 when I got my first whiffs of what the Reaching Your Dream Foundation would eventually become. (I also later became rewardingly involved with RYDF I might add.) While a ton of my early-in-the-decade posts where peppered with the idea of using racquetball to access groups, I never really believed USA Racquetball was equipped to handle this space. I had worked on college campuses with groups tied to these kinds of programs previously, which led me to think this way about the organization. The structure is just not set up to tackle anything outside of the environment in which their constituents are already comfortably participating. I learned this early on with the sport of racquetball, too. I grew up with a ton of access to one wall courts on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and I also knew my way around a community program or two. And as much One Wall racquetball I played, I always felt there just wasn't enough structure in racquetball to lean on to develop programming using racquetball in a neighborhood like mine. You can glean that by just reading the slant I had in that particular post from 2014.

More timely would be me knowing outdoor racquetball has been acknowledged by USA Racquetball, but never fully embraced, missing the immense potential in this space. But it really isn't just that. It is my take on what the internal structure of USA Racquetball has been for a long time, too focused on conflicted programming and personal sentiment. I can just point to the Erik Garcia Incident and the SafeSport fiasco to make my points. The first example is one of not knowing "who you serve" or better yet, making a system you operate in work for you. The second example is one of sheer internal disfunction that had nothing to do with keeping athletes safe from sexual predators and practices. These are examples of how narrowly and internally focused some of their mandates have historically been addressed.

My post last week advocated for USA Racquetball to specifically shift their focus. I believe this more so now when I think of community access issues... when I see this video. There just isn't enough intrinsic understanding of how important this space is at USA. Squash builds facilities and relationships with colleges and grassroots organizations. Squash is now benefitting from understanding need in specific areas and acting on that need. My proof is the ability of organizations like Squash Para Todos successfully raising money for something like building courts for students. Within the USA Racquetball mission statement there is a line that reads, "...We provide opportunities for members and enthusiasts to actively participate in the sport, through sanctioning of events, administration of programs, and development of competitive teams." Nowhere in their mandate does it say to "grow" or bring new development to the sport of racquetball. I don't even see where their job is to facilitate courts being kept from disappearing in clubs across the country. But I guess the line "We provide opportunities for members and enthusiasts to actively participate..." could be taken that they have to work directly with club owners, but in real-world actuality, it seems to me more like a line leaned on heavily to keep focus on players and groups USA Racquetball administrators already have relationships with.

I know that Sudsy Monchik just pulled out of his relationship with USA Racquetball. But before I saw that video, I saw the above video where he is talking directly to junior racquetball players, publicly inspiring them to participate in racquetball. I say publicly. Because I don't see anything publicly happening at USA Racquetball that hasn't been facilitated by some outside force. Now, I get he wasn't a thing that resources were thrown at by USA Racquetball. But what a good deal that turned out to be for them because Sudsy basically carried USA Racquetball media-wise this year, outside of their normal emails and info posts... in a year with no indoor events to "administer programs and develop competitive teams" with. I'd say thank you very much if I were them. (It might take a day or three before they bounce responsibility around for that media communication.)

Now, I'm not just conflating here with growth talk about Squash Para Todos and court/engagement building for growth. I feel it's very critical in this time to actively think outside of the box. Especially for USA Racquetball. How this hasn't been a year of an extreme force for change, only shows me how engrained some of the thinking is and how it structurally keeps a few people happy while ignoring the dire need for the possibilities of some kid, or person, seeing something about racquetball and being driven to act on it.

As I read back this post to myself I think, "Man, why am I seemingly bashing USA Racquetball?" And I quickly realize I am a racquetball fan. And that I'm not intentionally doing so. I know that I'm an outdoor racquetball enthusiast for sure. And I am a racquetball "fan". But that doesn't automatically make me a fan of any organization involved in racquetball. That part comes with trust. I'm only doing what I've always done. That is, simply look.

I often take to ending these posts with a question (or statement). I ask a lot of questions here. My question this time is, "Where are you building?"


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