Standing Room Only: Seattle Pro/Am Plays to Packed House
Seattle’s historical-landmark designated Washington Athletic Club (WAC) set the stage for the last Tier 1 Pro Stop before the IRT’s holiday break. “Seattle’s always fun,” said Richelle Kulju who participated in the event. “It has such a great energy because the WAC’s in the heart of downtown. Players love to come to stay, play, and shop.”
“The urban setting is one of the unique aspects of the event,” explained Co-Tournament Director and Hall of Fame coach, Fran Davis. “Seattle is such a young, vibrant, and progressive city…it’s exuberating.” The club’s amenities, including the host hotel, dining, shopping, and spa services located inside the club along nearby cultural attractions like Pikes Market, Puget Sound, and the Space Needle proved popular, attracting almost 200 entries from three countries and at least five states. Where else can you walk to the waterfront for breakfast or take the elevator to your room for a post-match shower?
As soon as Davis and George Brewer, a former heavyweight lifter turned national racquetball competitor, decided to bring an IRT top-tier tournament back to Seattle after its long absence, they knew the kind of experience they wanted to create. “We wanted to bring the excitement of a national tournament to players locally. To give them that excitement in our community,” according to Davis.
The local community includes newcomers and long-time racquetball fans, like John Delany, a major tour sponsor from the ’80’s into the ‘90’s, who felt that the tournament was “first class.” Delany cited the quality of today’s professionals and how well they serve as ambassadors of the sport. “Off the court, I mingled with a great group of guys. Inside the four walls, I could see they came to win. The rivalries and aggressiveness are there now like they were before. It’s still exciting to see, which is the beauty of the pro stop. You won’t be able to witness this level of athletics otherwise.”
Brewer noted how organizers focused on the details to get it right from both an amateur and pro player perspective, keeping start times running close to schedule and making sure anyone entering the club would know it’s a big event. “From the moment attendees stepped off of the 8th-floor elevator, they saw larger-than-life-sized posters of the pros and racquetball memorabilia from major tournaments on the walls. On-site, a stringer, massage table, and manufacturer reps were there to provide services. To truly make it a professional event and to thank all the many sponsors, contributors, patrons and volunteers who made the event possible, they printed programs with all the professional player bios.
The impact of the racquetball event was evident, yet Brewer knows that’s only part of the experience. “I travel to tournaments as much for the camaraderie as the high caliber of play. That’s the fun part for me, learning your trade and getting your comeuppance. You won’t win every time, but meeting everyone and the enjoying different cities is fun.”
Bringing a mini-US Open experience locally was a major goal, yet raising money for their local charity, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, was equally important to them, too. Scott Martini, who owns Recycled Cycles, has played racquetball biweekly for the last ten years and planned to support the event individually. When he heard that money was going to cancer research, he invited his business partner, Steve Donahue, to make it a company effort. He’s glad they did. “I was amazed at the turnout, which went from 80 to 180 entries in the last couple of weeks.”
Holding the dinner with the pros and charity auction twenty-seven floors up at the Top of the WAC surrounded by city views provided a boost. “I have never given to a charity before,” wrote IRT referee and #9-ranked pro, Charlie Pratt. “But this time it felt right. Thank you for putting on a great event. It was unique in many ways. You did all the right things: the sponsor dinner was excellent…the “Meet and Greet with the Pros” on Saturday night was great, and the constant keg was genius!”
The player and fans attending the event and donating to the auction raised $4,268 for the charity. “It was great to give,” making the event “a plus-plus,” according to Martini. “I’d expect to see a bigger draw next year.”
They’d better sign up early to join the enthusiastic players and fans enjoying ample seating and full-glass viewing of amateur matches, dining while watching at the “Café Court,” and “packing in to the rafters” for pro matches on the stadium court. With Seattle’s urban amenities along with world-class racquetball, this no-car-needed tour stop is back as a popular event.
Photos submitted by Kevin Savory. Check out Kevin’s FB page, ksphotography racquetball media, for more.