A Brief History of Racquetball
For a more in-depth look into the history, view the historical timeline and the detailed historical timeline of racquetball.
The game of racquetball was invented by Joseph Sobek. Sobek was a resident of Greenwich, Connecticut, where he was also a professional tennis and handball player. Growing tired of the indoor sports that were available, he sought a fast-paced sport that was easy to learn and play. After he and his partner began using paddles to play handball, he created a set of rules based on those of squash and handball, and in 1949 he named his game “paddle rackets.”
In 1950, Sobek, using the tennis racket as a pattern, developed plans for a new, short strung racket. He had 25 prototypes made and started selling them to other members of the Greenwich YMCA to promote his new sport. The new game was catching on fast, but when players started to complain about the performance of the ball, Sobek decided to find something better. He came across a Spalding rubber ball that was luckily inexpensive, so he bought as many as he could to make his new sport a hit. Later on he founded his own company where he was able to craft balls to his exact specification.
In February 1952, Sobek founded the National Paddle Rackets Association. He codified a set of rules and printed them out into booklets and sent them out to continue the promotion. In 1969, Robert Kendler, head of US Handball Association, founded the International Racquetball Association (IRA). The sport officially had its new name, coined by San Diego tennis pro, Bob McInerny.
The IRA took over the National Championship in 1969, holding their first tournament in St. Louis. In 1973, after a dispute with the board of directors, Kendler parted ways with the IRA and formed two new, short-lived organizations: the US Racquetball Association and the National Racquetball Club. Despite Kendler’s departure, the IRA continued to grow while changing its name to the American Amateur Racquetball Association.
In the 1980’s, racquetball became one of the fastest growing sports in the US. The Women’s Professional Racquetball Association was founded in 1980. The United States hosted the first Racquetball World Championship in 1981, and just a year later, the US Olympic Committee recognized racquetball as a developing Olympic sport.
In 1995, racquetball achieved full medal status in the Pan-American games. During the period of the late 1970s to the early 90s, racquetball popularity exploded. There were approximately 10 million US players and 14 million players in over 90 countries. In 1997, the IRA took the name United States Racquetball Association (USRA) before changing their name for the final time in 2003 to USA Racquetball (USAR).
Source: United States Racquetball Museum