Clovis Community College students, clockwise from bottom left, Bradley Struthers, Elizabeth Lim, Blakey Ross and Rene Gonzalez play doubles racquetball Wednesday during their racquetball class at the college. Photo by Eric Kluth
By Kevin Wilson
It looks like tennis, with a playing area about the size of a child’s bedroom.
Players praise the game in areas where other sports fall short.
“It’s not like baseball where you have to have 18 guys to go have a game,” said Robert Boatman of Clovis, who has played racquetball for 21 years. “You and a buddy can go have a game. Two guys can go out, challenge each other, and have a good workout.”
Racquetball hasn’t really had many periods where it becomes a craze, but Mark Bussen, head of health and physical education at Clovis Community College, said the sport never has much of a dead period, either.
“We’ve seen a few ebbs and flows,” said Bussen, an AMPRO-certified racquetball instructor, “but if you go by our racquetball tournament participants, we’ve averaged about 70 players in our St. Patty’s tournament and 40 in the fall. It’s been pretty consistent.”
Bussen, who teaches a racquetball course at the community college and has been involved with the St. Patrick’s Day tournament for 14 years, said his class draws a variety of people. Some expect a similarity to tennis.
“It’s quite a bit different in stroke, but there’s pretty good carryover from tennis,” Bussen said.
Played in an enclosed court, players try to bounce a light rubber ball off the front wall at angles so their opponent will be unable to return the ball — players are allowed to hit the ball off the back wall first.
Standard rules call for a best-of-three format in games, with the first two scored to 15 points and the third to 11.
Bussen explained that a racquetball stroke is more like a snap of a wrist than an arm motion. After a person learns that, racquetball is a pretty quick game to play.
“One of the things people like is that if you can hit the ball, you can begin playing a game,” Bussen said. “In tennis, your rallies are short because you can’t get it over the net. In racquetball, you just have to hit a 40-foot-by-20-foot wall.”
That’s the standard size court, of which CCC has six. It was on those courts that former Portales High tennis player Clay Hawk picked up a new hobby.
“I used to be a tennis player and I just kind of got burned out being outside and being in the wind and the sun,” said Hawk, who runs CCC’s Health and Fitness Center. “It’s fun, it’s fast and I like individual sports.”
It was three years ago that Hawk, a 1980 PHS graduate, started to play racquetball on his lunch hour at the college. Now he participates in various tournaments, and said he likes the fact that tournaments are often handicapped for various skill levels. In tennis, Hawk explained, tournaments are often an open format — racquetball tournaments tend to have A, B and C divisions.
The difference between those players is usually how they play the angles inside the court. Boatman admitted that he was stuck in the beginner phase for a few years, but his wife kept encouraging him to stay with it.
“I was absolutely frustrated when I started because I didn’t know the angles,” he said. “Finally, I learned the angles. Before long, you can wait on the angles instead of chasing it, and that’s when you’re a better player because you’re ready to hit the ball.”
Now one of Clovis’ better players, Boatman participates in an advanced class at CCC. He said the Monday/Wednesday class is basically a ladder challenge with about 16 or 17 people. On Mondays you challenge somebody above you, and on Wednesdays you get challenged by somebody below you.
Most racquetball injuries are usually flukes — even though the sport involves a projectile in an enclosed area.
Players use eyeware and a wrist strap in case the racquet slips out of a player’s hand. Also, Bussen said, players can call a replay if keeping the ball alive would require running into another player.
Racquetball players vary in ages and athletic ability, but the sport is usually enough of a bond that people easily see past those differences.
“You meet other people who love the game and you strike up that relationship with the other players,” Boatman said. “You compete against them, but after you’re done you go out and have dinner.”