By Donavee Chappell
More than 800 of the world’s top professional and amateur racquetball players descended on Minneapolis once again this October 4-9 for the 2011 US Open Racquetball Championships, the world’s largest and most prestigious racquetball tourney. The event was held at Life Time Fitness — Target Center.
After 14 years in Memphis, Tenn., the US Open Racquetball Championships moved to Minneapolis in 2010 with great success. The region saw more than $4 million in economic impact last year, and that number is expected to increase as an estimated 3,000 spectators will join the 800 players in the Twin Cities for the week-long event.
Of the entrants in the tournament, more than 100 are expected to be players from Minnesota. As a part of outreach and inclusion, the US Open Racquetball Championships seeks to expose more minority youth to the opportunities available in professional and amateur racquetball.
Attending this year’s event were Demarlo Bible, Terence Carter, Demetrius Stalling, Tyron Jenkins, Alia Jackson, Audrey Jackson, Issac Karron, Jordan Karron, Hassan Karron, Shawnda Wilson, Anthony Wilson, Max Wilson, Dion Milligan, Deshawn Milligan, Joseph Milligan, Elnora Parker, Shirley Parker, Anthony Parker, Shaniqua Franklin and Kandis Thomas from MAD DADS (Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorders), North Commons Park, and Up Entertainment and The Miss Black Minnesota Pageant.
Parents and kids alike were exposed to what racquetball is and can be as a recreational sport or a professional career. They were treated to meet-and-greet sessions, photo opportunities with world champion players, access to the week’s events, an article in the US Open newsletter, and website mentions.
Fifteen-year-old Hasan Karron said, “This was the best Wednesday of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun in one day.”
Tyron Jenkins said, “Man, this is really cool. I would have never thought the game was like this. I knew what they did, but not like this until today. I’m glad I came. This is a game I can play, and I will.”
Twenty-year-old Tyron took right to Kane, talking to him about the game and about his history as a player and champion. It was clear that the seed of opportunity had been planted and growth was on the horizon.
Kane Waselenski from Edmonton, Canada, defended his six-time championship record in the Men’s Professional Division. Kane owns a pair of three US OPEN win streaks, the first from 2003-2005 and his current streak from 2008-2010. He also is in the midst of a 113-match win streak on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT).
Waselenchuk last lost a match in January 2009. This year he rallied from behind with heroic athletics and a total will to win to continue his win streak to 122 and seven tour titles.
According to a US Open press release, Rhonda Rajsich, who was the two-time defending Women’s Professional Division champion, was defeated by last year’s second-place finisher Paola Longoria.
Longoria defeated Rajsich in straight sets 11-7, 11-5, and 11-9 to finish the year winning the Tour in May, the Doubles Title in 2010, and now the World Championships 2011 here in Minneapolis.
“This is an incredibly exciting time in the history of the US Open and the sport of racquetball,” said US Open Event Director Doug Ganim. “Minneapolis opened their arms to our growing sport last year, and the US Open is now positioned for continued growth for many years to come here in the Twin Cities.
The US Open partners with Chanhassen, Minnesota-based Life Time Fitness to host the tournament in three of the company’s fitness centers in the Minneapolis area.
The Classic Professional Racquetball Tour (CPRT) is open to men 40 and over. For more information, visit www.usopenracquetball.org.
In the interest of full disclosure, Donavee Chappell is the coordinator of Inner City Kick Start for Kids, an organization that seeks to expose more minority youth to the opportunities available in professional and amateur racquetball. He welcomes reader responses to up firstname.lastname@example.org.