John Sharman: Making a Difference

In the olden-days of racquetball, way back in about 1969, when wooden racquets and metal encased rubber eyeguards with no lenses were the tools of the game, John Sharman played his first racquetball game and fell in love.

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“By the end of my first game I thought it was the best sport I ever played and was hooked for life. Nothing in the last 45 years has diminished that opinion; however, the thing that has caused me great consternation over the last 25 years has been the continuous decline I have seen of racquetball clubs, racquetball courts and racquetball as a sport."

After John's racquetball club closed several years ago he joined the YMCA in Mooresville, N.C., for the sole purpose of playing racquetball because it had two very nice composite courts. At that time getting court time was reasonably easy; however, a few months ago they converted one of the courts into a weight lifting area, and the state of racquetball in the area changed drastically. To make things worse, he and his fellow racquetball friends saw that few people used the converted court most of the day.

Needless to say, John and his racquetball friends were unhappy about this situation and sought an equitable solution. He was encouraged to talk to the Facility Director about the racquetball players’ concerns.  During a short meeting with the Facility Director, they talked briefly about why the court was re-purposed and scheduled a meeting to talk more in depth.

At the second meeting, John shared his knowledge of club operations and understanding of how difficult it can be to defend a 20’ by 40’ piece of real estate to people who don’t play or understand the sport. He told the Facility Director that the majority of racquetball players at the club only used the racquetball courts and no other part of the facility – not the basketball gym, not the weights, not the swimming pools and certainly not the cardio equipment. John says with a smile, “As racquetball players we do our cardio on the court, playing the sport we love.”

IMG 0428The Facility Director was very receptive to his input, and together they began to collaborate on how they could get more people involved in racquetball, utilizing the courts more fully. She then asked John to meet with her athletic staff to share his ideas and opinions. The idea for the after-school program Seniors for Juniors was born at that meeting.

Once they had the concept for the Seniors for Juniors program developed, the next steps were to get enough volunteers to staff the after-school program to teach the kids the basics of racquetball, and how to get the equipment necessary to conduct the program safely and at minimal expense.

John began by asking many of the seniors he knew who played racquetball if they would consider helping with this program. 

Because racquets, eyeguards and balls were needed, John reached out to the United States Racquetball Foundation (USRF) and its President, Shannon Wright for advice. They spoke at length about what he wanted to do. Then, Kathleen Klukas, USRF Executive Director, shared a great deal of materials, and suggested that he ask for support from the North Carolina Racquetball Association (NCRA). The NCRA was indeed interested, and not only provided seed money to get the program going, but also many of the racquets needed. John then asked Racquetworld for support, and they generously provided 12 sets of junior eyeguards and several cans of balls.The response was overwhelmingly positive, and he soon had enough volunteers to staff the program

Seniors for Juniors was a big success and is planning to start up again as the new school year begins.The first week 8 kids signed up. The second week 8 grew to capacity. John anticipates that number will continue to grow as word spreads. He says, “The kids are embracing the game – learning to play the correct way, and both the juniors and seniors are having tons of fun!”

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John concludes that “this experience has evolved into more about saving the sport we all love, rather than saving a single court in my home town. If those of us who have received so much benefit from racquetball don’t get involved in bringing more players into the sport, the game will disappear altogether. I hope to expand this program regionally, statewide and eventually nationwide.  I want to thank the United States Racquetball Foundation (USRF) for giving me invaluable support. The USRF will be crucial in helping us take programs like Seniors for Juniors to the next level.”

 Seniors for Juniors is an after-school program designed to introduce youth to the great sport of racquetball. The initial target group is an after-school program run by the YMCA in Mooresville targeted for at-risk youth as they come to the YMCA after school Mondays through Thursday.  In the interest of starting the program in a manageable manner, we limited the racquetball program to Monday’s from 4 to 5 PM.  

This article published in the 2015 Fall issue of "Racquetball Magazine"