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What better excuse is there for going to Vegas than to play racquetball? I have recently become involved playing some outdoor racquetball since I have 2 courts here where I live. As I've said before, I really enjoy it, because it's different, and it makes you use skills you don't use in 4 wall. So of course, I wanted to see how I would do in an Outdoor tournament. I had never been to Vegas, so when the World Outdoor Racquetball (WOR) association announced the first ever 3-wall Ball World Championships, I knew this was my chance to combine the both. September 23-26 were the dates and the tournament was to be a combined racquetball and handball event. All the top outdoor pros would be there and quite a few of the indoor ones. All time greats, like Cliff Swain and Marty Hogan were in the draw, along with current top pro LAS VEGAS COURTSplayers, Rocky Carson, Ben Croft, Alvaro Beltran, Jack Huczek, Rhonda Rajsich, Jackie Paraiso, and Paola Longoria.The promoters thought they would be able to run the event around the clock, but the city of Las Vegas threw a wrench in that one, telling them they couldn't schedule any matches after midnight. What?? This is Vegas! A 24 hour city! The main host of the event was the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino and the temporary courts for the tournament were being constructed in their oversize vehicle parking lot across the street from the hotel. But there was apartments adjacent to the parking lot the courts would be set up in, so 8 am to midnight was all they could do. The original plan was to build 10 courts plus a stadium court, but after the final number of players were in, it was decided to go with 8 courts plus a stadium court. The final player count was 233 racquetball players and 134 handball players. With 367 players entered, instead of the 600 that the promoters were expecting, I'm sure they heaved a collective sigh of relief when they found out out they could not run the event 24 hours a day. Still, as with any first time event of this size, you have to expect problems and growing pains. It takes a very tight management of your courts to insure that you stay on schedule, and at times the courts were open longer than they should have been. As a result, sometimes they were 2 ½ to 3 hours behind. For those of us that had late night matches (such as myself), we started well after the midnight deadline. My mixed doubles match scheduled for Friday night at 11 pm actually started at 2 am Saturday morning and finished at 3 am. That's a record for me, and I've been at a lot events that ran behind. But hey, it's Vegas, and even at 3 am the city is still alive and rocking. And how did I do? Not too they say. Back to the growing pains that outdoor is experiencing, there are a lot of indoor players adding the outdoor game to their play list. But the game is different and some players pick it up quicker than others. So you have high level players entering much lower level divisions. This is a problem that WOR has to address in order to continue to attract players outdoors. They have to set a standard by which players can only move down a set number of levels. So my men's doubles partner and I met a team that were a much higher level in MIXED PRO DOUBLESindoor and they killed us. It was quick, but not painless, since there was no consolation division. In the mixed doubles, we were actually competitive, but the players we competed against had only dropped one level compared to the men, where they dropped 3 levels. I know from talking to the powers that be in WOR that they understand this is a problem and they are addressing it. I feel confident they will get it worked out, and that outdoor will continue to grow.

I've never watched much handball, so it was interesting to be at a combined event for the two sports. Handball rallies last much longer, and they also play two games to 21 with an 11 point tiebreaker, so they can get stretched out. The players are, for the most part, very athletic. But I'm sticking to racquetball. I just love the speed and excitement of the game more than handball. Plus, the handball crowd seems to be more laid back, where the racquetball crowd is always more upbeat and into the game, cheering and talking trash.

The one thing that indoor players don't experience, and is a factor in all outdoor tournaments, is the heat. In Vegas it was as high as 106 degrees some days. Yes it is a dry heat, but so is my oven. The sun seems to just burn right into you, and it sucks all the moisture out of your skin. I did my best to find a shady spot while I was viewing matches. The promoters set up many canopies around the venue, and you see many umbrellas around, although I never saw a drop of rain. I was lucky that both my matches were at night under the lights. I'll take the steam bath of NC before the oven of Vegas any day. But, like they say, it's what you're use to.

WORLD OUTDOOR RACQUETBALLI really enjoyed this tournament and the trip. Watching the good outdoor players was incredible, as some shots are taken 10 to 20 feet outside the court area. Think about that. Having to chase a ball down 15 feet away, getting it back in the court and then winning the rally. Wow! And the quickness with which shots must be taken, as you have to cut everything off. It's different, but a different I can enjoy. I plan to make the trip to this event next year, and I hope some other players from NC will take the plunge and try it out. It really is a lot of fun. And there's so much else to do in Vegas. Besides the obvious draw of the casinos for some people, there's a lot of great shows in Vegas. I was able to see Cher, and it was a great show. There are also other opportunities for tours. I have always wanted to see the Grand Canyon from the bottom, and I was able to cross that off my bucket list this year with a helicopter trip that landed in the bottom of the Canyon. It was something I will never forget. For photos I took of the event, go to the Gallery and Outdoor, or click the link below. I've also included a link for the racquetball draw and the 3 Wall Ball web site which has even more photos. Check them out, and maybe the outdoor bug might just bite you too!


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