History of Racquetball
Still a very young sport this a brief history of how Racquetball came about.
Joe Sobek is credited with inventing the sport of racquetball, though not with naming it. A professional tennis player and handball player, Sobek sought a fast-paced sport that was easy to learn and play. He designed the first strung paddle, devised a set of rules, based on those of squash and handball, and named his game, paddle rackets.
In February of 1952, racquetball history was made. Sobek founded the International Paddler's Racquets Association (IPRA), codified the rules, and had them printed as a booklet. The new sport was rapidly adopted, and became popular through Sobek's continual promotion of it; he was aided by the existence of some 40,000 handball courts in the country's YMCAs and JCCs, wherein racquetball could be played.
In 1969, aided by Robert W. Kendler — the president-founder of the U.S. Handball Association (USHA) — the International Racquetball Association (IRA) was founded using the name coined by Bob McInerney, a professional tennis player. That same year, the IRA assumed the national championship from the National Paddle Rackets Association (NPRA). In 1973, after a dispute with the IRA board of directors, Kendler formed two, other racquetball organizations, yet the IRA remains the sport's dominant organization, recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the American national racquetball governing body.
In 1974, the IRA organized the first professional tournament, and is a founding member of the International Racquetball Federation (IRF). Eventually, the IRA became the American Amateur Racquetball Association (AARA); in the late 1990s, it renamed itself as the United States Racquetball Association (USRA). In 2003, the USRA again renamed itself to USA Racquetball (USAR), to mirror other Olympic sports associations.
Kendler used his publication ACE to promote both handball and racquetball. Starting in the 1970s, and aided by the fitness boom of that decade, the sport's popularity increased to an estimated 3.1 million players by 1974. Consequent to increased demand, racquetball clubs and courts were founded and built, and sporting goods manufacturers began producing racquetball-specific equipment. This growth continued until the early 1980s, and declining in the decade's latter part when racquet clubs converted to physical fitness clubs, in service to a wider clientele, adding aerobics exercise classes and physical fitness and body-building machines. Since then, the number of racquetball players has remained steady, an estimated 5.6 million players.
Currently, the International Racquetball
Tournament (IRT), the Legends Tour, and the Women's Professional Racquetball
Organization (WPRO) handle professional games. As a sport, racquetball
is televised a few times yearly, with the greatest game being the U.S.
Open championships, in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2005, the Pro Nationals
racquetball tournament was added to the roster of professional games;
held, to date, in Chicago, Illinois, and in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
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