Overview of Racquetball
The game of racquetball was invented by Joseph Sobek (1918 – 1988), a professional handball and tennis player who resided in Greenwich, Connecticut. The story goes that Joseph was getting bored of all the available indoor games at that time. So he intended to find a new kind of fast-paced racket sport that was easy to learn and play for everyone. Before racquetball came into existence, Sobek and his partner used paddles to play handball. Experienced as a player of the standard handball he created a set of rules based on those of handball and squash. In 1949 he named the game “paddle rackets”. Racquetball has one wall unlike squash that has four walls. Racquetball can also be played inside or outside. The ball is a hollow rubber ball.
A paddle was not the ideal racquetball equipment for the game, so Sobek developed a new type of short racket for his game based on a tennis racket. He initially had 25 prototypes and sold them to other members of Greenwich YMCA as an effort to promote the new sport. It was a success because the game was quickly adopted by many players. According to those new players, the original ball was also not ideal for the game; Sobek once again was on a quest to find something more acceptable. Luckily enough he found a Spalding rubber ball that was inexpensive so he bought as many as he could afford. Thanks to the new ball, racquetball (or paddle racket at the time) was a hit. In fact, Sobek founded his own company to make balls to his exact specification.
Joseph Sobek founded the National paddle Rackets Association in February 1952. He also wrote down a set of rules printed them out in booklets and used them as promotional tools. At that time there were about 40,000 handball courts in the Jewish Community Centers and YMCAs all across the country where racquetball could be played. In 1969 the head of US Handball Association, Robert Kendler, founded IRA (International Racquetball Association). The terms “racquetball” was coined by Bob McInerney who was a professional tennis player from San Diego. In the same year, the first racquetball tournament hosted by IRA was held in St. Louis.
After IRA, two more racquetball organizations were founded: National Racquetball Club and US Racquetball Association. Both were founded by Robert Kendler, who in 1973 parted with IRA due to a dispute with the board of directors. Those two organizations were short-lived, but IRA continued to grow and eventually changed its name to American Amateur Racquetball Association. In the 1980s racquetball became one of the most popular and fastest growing sports in the US.
Women’s Professional Racquetball Association was founded in 1980. A year later, the United States hosted the first Racquetball World Championship. In 1982 racquetball was recognized as a developing Olympic sport by the US Olympic Committee. Between the late 1970s and early 1990s racquetball really earned its place in the sporting world. In 1995, the Pan-American games gave it full medal status. There were about 10 million players in the United States alone and 14 million players in more than 90 countries worldwide. In 1997, IRA changed its name again to USRA (United States Racquetball Association), and eventually became USA Racquetball in 2003.
In many respects, racquetball is very similar to racketball, a British sport patented in 1976. In the British version; however, the ball is less bouncy, smaller, and denser. That game is played on squash court, which is wider and much shorter than its American counterpart. The only similarity is that the ceiling in racketball is out of bounds as well.
Unlike rackets used in many other racket sports, the rackets for racquetball have little or no neck at all. The head of the racket is connected directly to the grip. Older rackets have an almost perfect triangular or teardrop shape and the modern versions retain the wider top design. There are no strict standards for racquetball rackets in terms of shape, weight, or materials. Current racquetball rules only have a limitation in length. Standard racket specifications for the racquetball game are regulated by International Racquetball Federation and listed under the official rule book. The regulations are as follows:
- The racket, including all solid parts of the handle and bumper guard, may not exceed 22 inches in length
- Racket frame can be made from any material judged safe.
- Racket frame must include a cord attached securely to the player’s wrist at all times during play.
- Material for the string must be gut, graphite, nylon, plastic, monofilament, metal, or a combination of thereof. The string must not mark the ball.
- Using an illegal racket can cause delay of the game.
By September 2015, USA Racquetball has found 3 rackets that did not comply with the rules. According to the organization, longer rackets make the game go faster and therefore are more intimidating to children and women, both of which are important segments of racquetball future.
The balls for racquetball games are manufactured in a variety of different colors including: black, red, green, blue, pink, and purple.
Some balls are specifically crafted for indoor play, while others for outdoor court; for recreational play, the difference between them does not really affect the game.
The most commonly used ball is blue, because it has the best balance between speed and accuracy. Because green balls are almost exactly the same with the blue ones, both are the main choices for official tournaments in the USA. Purple ball is sometimes used as the official equipment in IRT (International Racquetball Tour). For senior players, a black ball is recommended because it is designed to move at a slower speed and allow for longer rallies. The heaviest and quickest balls are red-colored. Racquetballs can lose their bounce over time and they do break occasionally. To keep the balls in good condition, they should be stored at room temperature.