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Uncovering The History Of Racquetball

Though racquetball's popularity spans generations, its history reveals that it started from humble beginnings. Invented in the late 1940's, racquetball expanded slowly at first. Interest in the sport was tentative during the first few years. At that time, the closest equivalents to racquetball were tennis, squash and handball. A skilled veteran of all three sports named Joseph Sobek grew unsatisfied with them and set out to devise a new sport. The new sport and its accompanying rules would combine elements from tennis, handball and squash. Over time, it would eventually become known as racquetball.

Joseph Sobek's Big Idea

In the 1940's, Sobek worked for a company that manufactured rubber products. While working at the plant, he formed the initial idea of his new sport. A long-time fan of handball, Sobek wanted to incorporate its fast-paced action with the use of small racquets. Using tennis racquets as a model, he created several prototypes of a shorter racquet to be used in his new sport. Then, based on the feedback from those to whom he introduced his new game, he set out to find a rubber ball that was well-suited for it. Calling his game "paddle racquets," Sobek began to promote it, believing that others would like it once they were exposed to it.

Making Racquetball Official

Sobek realized early that if his game were to catch on with the public, he would need to devise a set of rules and promote the game through an official association. In 1952, he established the International Paddler's Racquets Association. He printed tens of thousands of small booklets that contained the official rules of "paddle racquets" and continually promoted the game to any who would listen, including the YMCA. His constant promotion and the sport's growing popularity would soon gain the attention of an important sports figurehead.

In 1969, the sport received an enormous boost of credibility when Robert Kendler, founder and president of the U.S. Handball Association (USHA), helped to found the International Racquetball Association. Kendler eventually left the IRA after a dispute with the organization's board of directors. But, he believed in the sport's potential and founded two other racquetball organizations.

Racquetball's Popularity Surges

During the late 1970's, the sport (now officially called "racquetball") experienced an enormous growth in popularity. During that decade, a fitness boom had gripped the nation. People were becoming more active. As a result, sales of racquetball equipment climbed to unprecedented levels and there was a massive demand for the construction of racquetball courts. By 1979, interest in the sport had expanded to several other countries. The International Racquetball Federation was founded with thirteen countries. Sobek's creation had literally become a worldwide phenomenon.

The State Of Racquetball Today

Today, racquetball is played in nearly 100 countries by millions of avid fans and professional players. International tournaments are played and televised each year and several official organizations actively promote its status as a professional sport. Though Sobek passed away in 1998, he witnessed the transformation of his game from a "crazy idea" into one of the world's favorite sports. His creation expanded far beyond its humble beginnings to reach heights of which Sobek could only dream.