He took his game, and its rubber ball, to his local YMCA in Connecticut and started teaching it to the YMCA members. Since handball was already an existing game in many YMCAs, “paddle racquets” was played on the same court, which is 40 feet long, 20 feet wide and 20 feet high to allow for high bounces off the wall. Sobek founded the Paddle Racquets Association and began spreading the sport to other YMCAs.
The first World Championships were held in 1981. As with all sports, racquetball equipment has changed and morphed over the years. Early racquets were wooden with leather grips, but have evolved much like the tennis racquet from aluminum in the early ’70s to graphite in the late ’70s, as well as the development of the more oversized hitting area in the ’80s. Today there are more than 5 million people playing racquetball in the U.S. alone.
Local resident Rosie Kidd is one of them. Kidd has played for more than 35 years and loves the sport for its physical and mental challenges. She compares learning racquetball to learning the game of pool saying that in both sports one has to learn how the speed and angle of the ball affect where it will go.
“The game requires speed to get to the ball to return it before the second bounce occurs,” Kidd explains. “The faster you are, the better the positioning and the better the accuracy for the next shot.”
Rosie has never attributed any injuries to playing racquetball, but says that warming up sufficiently is really important in the fast-paced sport.
The game of racquetball’s popularity has spread worldwide. It has been mentioned in connection with the Olympics, but has yet to be approved as an Olympic sport, although it is played in the Pan American games as well as the World Games. Many online petitions and blogs are pushing the International Olympic Committee to include racquetball in the Olympics. The IOC did approve golf and rugby to be a part of the 2016 games, but racquetball is still waiting in the wings. Maybe once it’s been around for 100 years or so it can be considered. In the meantime, avid racquetballers such as Kidd will have to wait a little longer to cheer on Olympic racquetball athletes.