History of Racquetball

The Origins of the Game of Racquetball

Racquetball is a game that is played in an indoor court with three walls, a rubber ball, and a small racquet. Though outdoor courts exist, they are rare. It is possible to play solo, doubles, and even with four players. Unlike many other sports popular today, racquetball does not have a long and involved history. Rather, it was developed early in the twentieth century by combining other popular sports—tennis, handball, squash, and a Spanish sport called jai alai. The roots of racquetball may have started in prisons in the 1800s, when inmates were given balls which they would hit against the walls. During this time, the sport was referred to as “rackets.” In America, the game first appeared in the1920s.

It was Joseph G. Sobek, a professional handball, squash, and tennis player from Greenwich, Connecticut, who has most often been credited with the invention of the game. In the 1940s, Sobek was working in a rubber factory and designed the rubber ball that is used for the sport today. He, along with a partner, also decided to combine the rules of handball and squash and start the rules for the racquetball, known at the time as “paddle rackets.” Rackets, paddles, and balls—all appeared in different shapes and forms over the years, as the search for the ideal model of each continued.

Sobek founded the Paddle Racquet Association in 1952 and distributed a set of rules to all YMCAs in the United States to help spread the popularity of the sport. By 1969, the game had become so popular worldwide that a man named Robert Kendler founded the International Racquetball Association, thereby changing the name of the sport to “racquetball.” During the same year, the first racquetball official championship was held in St. Louis, Missouri. It was also during this time that sporting goods stores began manufacturing official racquetball gear for the sport.

Popularity of the sport grew as more athletes came to notice its high intensity, giving them a great workout and building up sweat while playing. Sports clubs and country clubs throughout the United States picked up on the enthusiasm of the sport and started building racquetball courts in their clubs.

In the 1980s, the popularity of this sport started to fall. Many clubs tore down their racquetball courts. However, there were still many loyal racquetball players who devoted themselves to the sport and kept the spirit of the game alive. Even with the decline of its popularity, today, there are still well over 20 million people worldwide that compete in this sport. Since 1981, there is a world championship that is held annually, and in 1995, the International Olympic Committee approved it as a Pan American Games sport.

Racquetball was a part of the U.S. Olympic Festival with the hopes of one day being a part of the real Olympics. It is known as the youngest sport ever to be noticed by the United States Olympic Committee. Today, the 20 million racquetball players are spread out in over 95 countries all over the world.

Presently, racquetball is more or less established, yet the rules for racquetball can vary by country or region. For example, in Australia, the racquetball court is played in a standard international squash court, which is 32 feet x 21 feet. (Americans play in a 40 feet x 20 feet court.) The Australians also follow the rules where if the ball touches the ceiling, the ball is considered to be out. In American rules, this is a valid play. These Australian rules are from the Victorian Racquetball Federation.

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