There are a few constants in racquetball, among them: Swinging harder is not always the answer, speed is no substitute for anticipation, and if you walk out on the court to face an opponent who has a “Wilson” logo on his jersey, you’ve got a big problem.
Rick Anderson, Hy-Vee store director in Marshalltown, has a “Wilson” logo on his jersey.
The athletic equipment manufacturer keeps him supplied with the latest in racquets, shoes and competition gear in exchange for Anderson’s efforts to promote the sport, especially at events like this summer’s Iowa Games in Ames, where Anderson has competed for more than two decades.
“A guy from the company approached me after he saw me play,” Anderson explains. “I tell people that if they pick up a racquet for the first time today, they could be ready by July to play the Iowa Games as a novice.”
Organizers expect more than 15,000 competitors of all ages and skill levels to take part in 50 sports—judo to kayaking, fishing skills to trapshooting, baseball to dodge ball—over three weekends in July.
Hy-Vee is the primary sponsor of the Games, and organizers hope that more smiling faces in the competition will help set a participation record.
Not all participants will be as good at their sports as Anderson—but neither do they have to be.
“Our motto this year is: You can be an athlete,” says Cory Kennedy of the Iowa Sports Foundation. “It’s all about participating in sports at a grassroots level. Anybody get can be involved.”
Got a few buddies from in the produce department who want to work up a sweat? Join the flag football competition. Still got an eye for archery? Think you dominate your weekly pool league? Most of the sports on the Iowa Games schedule have room for beginners, Kennedy says.
And if you’re better than average at your sport of choice, you can ratchet up the competition at a higher skill level. You might even find yourself next to someone like former Iowa Hawkeye and NFL football standout Tim Dwight, who competed in 25 events last year to mark the Iowa Summer Games’ quarter-century anniversary.
“In every sport, you might run into the best the state has to offer,” Kennedy says. “You might even surprise yourself.”
Take racquetball, for instance.
Anderson, who has piled up numerous medals in a variety if divisions over the years, plans to take his swings again this year in the top tier of the 55-and-over age group.
“It’s pretty competitive, but racquetball is a gentleman’s game,” says Anderson, who is rebounding from a torn meniscus in his knee suffered last year. “I’ve never considered myself an exceptional player, but I’ve always been in good shape.”
His love for the game was sparked by watching some players at a YMCA. He and a buddy decided to buy some $19.99 racquets and join in.
“It looked like fun. So we joined a league, and we got our butts kicked,” he says with a laugh. “But we still had a blast. You always want to play with people a little better than you, because that’s how you get better.”
Anderson got a lot better. He was soon traveling to tournaments, organizing leagues, refereeing matches, giving pointers on footwork to first-timers, attending high-level camps run by the country’s top amateur coaches —and paying a lot more for his racquets, which would set him back more than $200 each if Wilson didn’t pick up the tab.
Anderson will have to survive up to eight best of three matches and sometimes stifling conditions (the racquet ball venue is in the non-air-conditioned Lied Recreation Athletic Center on the ISU campus) to bring home the gold. Most of his opponents will be familiar faces.
“I’ve been playing a long time, so I recognize a lot of them,” he says. “But there is always someone new, too.”
Kennedy says new faces are the life’s blood of the event.
“We found that there are a lot of people out there who know about the Summer Games but don’t know how to get involved. Or they think the competition level is too high for them,” he says. “We want those people to know that they can be athletes, too.”
WHAT: The Summer Iowa Games
WHEN: July 7-8, 12-15 and 20-22
WHERE: Ames and other sites around the state
WHAT ELSE?: Included in the Summer Games are the Opening Ceremony, Torch Run, Finals Fest and Sunday Chapel Service.
Want to join in?
The Iowa Games has developed a new online registration system.
Go to iowagames.org and on click on the “You Can Be an Athlete” banner, then select your sport and continue. Deadline is June 25. (To register by mail, select your sport and download an entry form.)
About the Games
The Iowa Games began in August 1987 as a weekend event featuring 16 sports and 7,104 participants. For the first time, weekend athletes, school children and senior citizens could experience the thrill of great performances and satisfaction of doing their best in a statewide Olympic-style competition.