Racquetball in Connecticut was in a very dismal place three years ago. The Connecticut Racquetball Association had been defunct for several years when a small group of players decided to try to revive it.
Despite encouragement from the local racquetball community, building a new CRA was not easy. Our initial focus was to establish Connecticut as a place to play tournaments, with the hope that this would help to give the many fragmented groups of our state’s racquetball players a sense of “community.” The initial response to these efforts was tepid at best. We even cancelled one of our first events due to low player registration. With hard work, diligence, networking, and marketing, the CRA has revived the Connecticut tournament racquetball scene. Racquetball players throughout New England have benefitted from the CRA hosting 3-4 tournaments per year since our revival.
Our last tournament, pre-COVID, was so successful that we had to stop online registrations at 110 players due to our limited number of courts while we followed the “New England” style of play. Players from Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Arizona filled our draw to capacity.
It has been the sense of New England Racquetball tournament hosts that modern-day players are averse to spending an entire weekend at a club playing in a tournament. With that in mind, New England tournaments rarely play matches on Friday. We play singles on Saturday and doubles on Sunday, allowing those players who wish to play both singles and doubles the choice to play the entire weekend. Other players can decide to play Saturday or Sunday depending upon whether they want singles or doubles competition or if they have a preference as to the day they are available to play. Matches are set for best of 3 games to 11, which allows tournament directors to maximize the limited court availability.
Racquetball in Connecticut, as with all states, has been adversely affected by the pandemic. CRA/USAR membership had steadily grown to 100 players but has since dwindled as the ability to host sanctioned tournaments has been eliminated. We look forward to building up the membership to at least double that number as soon as COVID restrictions are eased or lifted, allowing for greater player participation.
As a small geographical state, Connecticut is challenged in the number of facilities available to host tournaments. We suffered a big blow this summer when our primary tournament host site–– featuring five courts including two championship courts and stadium seating––announced it was closing its doors for good.
Fortunately, after announcing the closure of their facility, the club owners found a management team willing to continue to run the facility as a non-profit organization. Club memberships were recognized by the new management team and several months after the initial closure, the club opened its doors again. The new management team has been very open to working with the CRA, which has offered its assistance with leagues, clinics, in-house tournaments, and sanctioned tournaments.
The CRA has also offered its expertise to each of the national chain clubs in our state. Last summer we hosted an invitation-only singles tournament limited to three divisions of play with 8 players per division at a new venue for the CRA. By keeping the tournament draw to a minimum, we were able to maintain appropriate social distancing, keeping players and club members and staff as safe as possible. The success of this tournament and the excitement generated by the players has motivated us at the CRA to attempt additional small invitation-only tournaments at clubs that previously have never hosted racquetball tournaments. The exposure generated by these tournaments is free advertising for the clubs and helps not only to generate a weekend revenue for them but also to increase their membership while keeping the CRA in the membership’s eye.
As the State of Connecticut clamped down on businesses to mitigate the spread of COVID, all racquetball facilities were shut down. As the weather got warmer and as the State allowed, resilient racquetball players began playing at several one-wall and 3-wall outdoor courts. Not only did they find courts to play on, they found competition! Little did they know there was a core group of outdoor players to compete against who rarely played indoors. This merger of playing styles allowed the CRA to increase its contact list and marketing base. We now look forward to hosting sanctioned outdoor tournaments when the New England weather cooperates.
Despite the recent uptick in the spread of COVID in Connecticut, we at the CRA look forward to further developing the relationships we have built over the past year with new venues, the outdoor racquetball community, and the indoor racquetball community. We will pool our resources to continue to grow our membership and continue to reach out to, learn from, and assist all the New England state racquetball associations who have been so instrumental in our initial successes.
Before signing off we would like to send a shout-out to Connecticut’s own Katie Neils. Katie, trained at UCONN by coach Scott Eliasson (a six-time Connecticut Open racquetball champion himself), made a great impact at the recently held 2020 3WallBall World Pro Championships in Las Vegas at THE STRAT HOTEL. She and her mixed doubles partner Nick Riffel shocked two of the best players in the world, Paola Longoria and her partner Alvaro Beltran, in two games, to get to the quarterfinals. Katie and Nick then continued their winning ways by defeating the #2 ranked men’s player in the world, Alex Landa, and his partner Kelani Lawrence (both U.S.Team members). The bubble finally burst for Katie and Nick in the semifinals when they lost to eventual champions Daniel De La Rosa and Michelle De La Rosa. Congratulations, Katie!
Respectfully submitted on behalf of the CRA and all of Connecticut racquetball,
Glen Gitterman and Trudi Angiollo
CRA Board of Directors - Glen Gitterman and Trudi Angiollo (Co-Presidents), Matt Zalegowski (Vice President), Betsy Keating (Treasurer)