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The Scarlet & Black

Faculty compete and bond over racquetball

Paul+Hutchison+and+Monty+Roper+in+the+raquetball+courts+preparing+for+a+match+Tuesday.+%0APhoto+by+John+Brady+
Paul Hutchison and Monty Roper in the raquetball courts preparing for a match Tuesday. Photo by John Brady
Paul Hutchison and Monty Roper in the raquetball courts preparing for a match Tuesday.  Photo by John Brady
Paul Hutchison and Monty Roper in the raquetball courts preparing for a match Tuesday.
Photo by John Brady

Racquetball, the chaotic squash-like sport, is a popular form of recreation among faculty and staff on campus. 

Much like college, the sport of racquetball is fast, intimate and intense. The sport consists of two opponents who attempt to hit a rubber ball off the front wall and back onto the floor such that their opponent cannot return it after the first bounce. The ball may hit a sidewall, the ceiling or the back wall before it hits the floor. The result is a game of controlled chaos. 

Such a game might stress the patience of many but among the faculty and staff racquetball players at the College, a good partner is simultaneously a worthy opponent.

“You only engage with your partner in this sort of epic battle against yourself at the same time because it’s really about finding those shots that your partner can’t get,” said Claire Moisan, Professor of French and Director of the Alternate Language Study Option Program.

Moisan learned of the sport in 2004 after her arrival at the College. Janet Carl, Director of the Writing Lab, who has played racquetball for over 40 years, introduced Moisan to the game. 

“I use to work in the writing lab, and she one day said, ‘Do you want to learn how to play?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I want to learn how to play,’ and I committed to it,” Moisan said.

Carl said the sport is similar to tennis, but even though she plays both, likes racquetball better. 

“You can spend more time actually playing. You can actually get your heart rate up and play because it’s such an enclosed space. You don’t spend all your time running after the ball,” Carl said.

According to head coach of the men’s and women’s tennis teams Andy Hamilton ’85, racquetball is not only an engaging but also a competitive form of exercise.

“At age 51 and three quarters, what interests me about racquetball is that it gets me a great workout. Also, being a lifelong athlete, it’s my one chance to compete. I don’t play any other sports to compete anymore, so when I play racquetball three times a week it’s a chance to compete,” Hamilton explained.

For some, however, the sport acts as an outlet for stress and goes beyond just a form of competition and exercise. 

“For me it’s really cathartic. You can come out and play finesse or you can come out and hit the ball as hard as you want. Sometimes, you’re in the mood where you just want to hit something as hard as you want, it’s fairly safe to do that in racquetball,” said Professor Monty Roper, Anthropology.

Roper, who started playing as a graduate student, picked up the sport again at Grinnell as part of a round-robin tournament organized by the athletic department. It was at this tournament that Roper and one of his current hitting partners, Physics Technical Assistant Ed Dudak, began to play.

Of course, all the fun requires a well-matched opponent. The best opponents are also the best partners even as they smash balls at each other inside an enclosed space.

“You have to sort of get along with the person. That’s a part of finding a good partner,” said Professor Paul Hutchison, Education, who plays with both Dudak and Roper. Dudak and Hutchison commiserate about the Green Bay Packers between games.

“I probably remember the conversations between games more than the games themselves sometimes,” Hutchison said.

Despite these conversations between games, Hutchison and Dudak spend most of their time on the court. Some partners have found expansive friendship through the sport. The friendship between Hamilton and his hitting partner, local real estate agent Kevin Kolbe, grew as they played racquetball together.

“For Kevin and I, it may be even deeper than some of the other duos. I recruited Kevin’s daughter to come play basketball at the College. He watched my kids grow up [and] we’re a member of the same congregation,” Hamilton said.   

The relationship between some duos goes even further, however.

“We met at a summer program, and it was something that we could do together,” said Professor Joseph Mileti, Mathematics and Statistics, of the research program at which he met his spouse, Professor Jennifer Paulhus, also Mathematics and Statistics. 

“You get use to the other person’s tricks,” Mileti said. 

All this and more is possible to do at the College’s racquetball courts, located in the Bear. But the players, while encouraging students to try the sport, emphasized their dominion over the tiny cube-like courts.

“Not during times we play. The courts are full then!” said Paulhus.

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