racquetball, the evolution

Bud Muehleisen    Charlie Brumfield    Marty Hogan

The game of racquetball, although considered a fairly modern invention, probably has its roots going back thousands of years because even in Homer's day games were played with balls which were struck by the hand, and this became a common and popular sport during the fifth century in Ireland. Immigrants brought it to the United States, where it developed into the American sport of handball but legend has it that during a particularly cold winter hitting the ball with the hand, even with a glove on, was too painful so a wooden paddle was substituted instead, and the game of paddle ball had been invented! Eventually a gentleman named Joe Sobek who made his living playing tennis and handball decided that it would be far easier for people to learn a sport which covered the essentials of both, and racquetball was invented, although it was called paddle rackets at first. The essential differences between the new sport and the older ones was that paddle rackets was played with a stringed racket which made it possible to aim the ball more accurately, and that a greater velocity than the wooden paddle. Unlike tennis, the walls, floor and even ceiling, dependent upon local rules, were legal playing surfaces.

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Sobek invented the new sport in the YMCA in Greenwich; YMCAs in those days usually had a handball court and these were used for paddle rackets; the availability of tens of thousands of YMCA courts helps the sport to spread, and its growth in popularity was only tempered by the births of aerobic and keep fit classes which became more popular in the 1980s.

As with tennis, games are usually played with singles or doubles but three player games are also possible, with one person playing against two; perhaps hardly surprisingly these games are called Ironman or cutthroat! Currently more than 5 million people play racquetball (the game was renamed in 1969) in the United States, with many thousands of regular participants throughout the rest of the world.

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