Racquetball has become a popular indoor sport where players use specially designed rackets to play with a small, hollow rubber ball. It is quite similar to British racketball and American handball, hence, a great choice for a cardio workout. The rules of the game are easy and straightforward which makes it very interesting and almost addictive.
In a game of racquetball, once the serve is made, the two players on the court need to alternatively hit the rubber ball to the front wall using their racquets without obstructing each other. A player scores when a shot is missed by their opponent. The player who attains the required score first in the first three rounds wins the game. Unlike squash, only the server can score points in racquetball.
So where did racquetball originate from? What is the racquetball history?
The development of racquetball was as a result of lack of a rapid type of game that’s easy to learn and play. At that time, tennis was the most popular racquet game, but not everybody had the physical prowess and skill to enjoy it.
Joe Sobek – The Father of Racquetball
Joe Sobek was a professional US-based tennis and handball player who was credited for inventing the racquetball game in 1950. He first introduced the game at the Greenwich YMCA. At that time, Sobek had not come up with a catchy name for the new game.
Ever since he was young, Sobek had been making the most out of the worst situations. During the Great Depression period, he quit school, and become a professional tennis player. After 10 years of playing and teaching squash and tennis at sports clubs, he landed a job as a customer relations manager at an industrial rubber company in Connecticut.
This boring, sedentary life gave him the idea to invent the now popular racquetball. Sobek approached Magnan Manufacturing Co., a tennis and sports equipment maker, and showed them his design for a short and strung racquet with a head size of a paddle-tennis racquet.
Since the company did not have that specific mold size, they made 25 badminton racket prototypes. Sobek tested them with the inside of a tennis ball for a ball and played the first racquetball game with his friends, which he dubbed as paddle rackets. The game was so good and fun that Sobek impulsively resigned from his office job to fully focus on developing the game.
Evolution of the Racquet
The racquet is the most important equipment in racquetball. It has come a long way ever since the first prototype which was made of wood and a leather wrap. For extra durability and lightweight, the frames transitioned to aluminum alloy (1971), then fiberglass (1972) and graphite composite (1979). In 1984, oversized frames were introduced to make ball control easier.
Today, racquetball manufacturers are striving to be leaders in new racquet technology by releasing stronger and lighter racquet frame designs.
History of Racquetball Formation
The International Racquetball Association (IRA) was established in 1969 and assumed the roles of the struggling National Paddle Rackets Association. However, in 1973, the founder and president of the U.S. Handball Association had a disagreement with IRA directors and formed two other racquetball organizations.
Nonetheless, IRA remained the most dominant organization when it came to promoting the sport. In fact, the U.S. Olympic Committee recognized it as the governing body for racquetball in the country.
The game hit its all-time high in 1974 when it was estimated that there were more than 3 million racquetball players in the country alone. In that same year, IRA organized the first racquetball professional tournament.
The IRA eventually went to become the founding member of the International Racquetball Federation, and this marked the spread of the game’s popularity to other parts of the world. With the growing popularity, more racquetball courts and clubs were built and sports equipment manufacturers started the mass production of racquetball gear.
The rise and prestige of the sport went on until the late 1980s. By the early 1990s, it didn’t receive much interest for a number of reasons. First, the ball was small and very hard to see and follow on TV, therefore, it did not receive a lot of airtime from TV networks. For that reason, it did not get as much exposure as other sports like tennis and handball.
Secondly, due to rapid advancements in the racquet technology, the skill and pace of the game increased, hampering its popularity with casual players.
Nonetheless, even with 50% decline in the popularity of racquetball, there were still millions of dedicated players. In 1995, the International Olympic Committee approved the sport as a Pan American Game and this has kept the sport alive.
Today, racquetball is estimated to have over 20 million players spread in over 95 countries.