NEW ULM - Dennis Jasperson admits he isn't one for "slow moving sports."
While many men his age find both relaxation and frustration playing golf, Jasperson likes to calm himself down with a game of racquetball.
A relatively inexpensive sport, racquetball is probably the fastest game in town and is also one that participants can burn a lot of calories doing.
Staff photo by Jeremy Behnke
New Ulm’s Dennis Jasperson (blue t-shirt) and John Russell play a game of racquetball at the New Ulm Recreation Center. Both Jasperson and Russell have been playing the game for years and they enjoy the challenges the game presents them.
As of right now, there are about 13 people in the fall league at the New Ulm Recreation Center and there is also a winter league that sees about 20 players.
Jasperson was kind of a late bloomer to the sport. He started playing in the early 1980s and he began to take it more and more serious as he learned about the game and as his skill level increased.
"It was something that I could burn off a lot of energy in a short period of time," he said. "I don't golf, I do a lot of biking, I do a lot of water skiing, but I don't do slow things."
By the early 90s, Jasperson had improved enough to start playing tournaments all over southern Minnesota. He played in his first tournament at the age of 35 and he's played in tournaments in Rochester, the Twin Cities, Willmar, Mankato, Fairmont, Owatonna, and Northfield.
He also said that the sport can be easy to learn.
"Racquetball can be learned by basically anybody," Jasperson said. "The general principals are very easy to learn. It's sort of like golf, it's as frustrating as golf. You think you've got it down and then you start hitting the ball someplace where it's not supposed to go and then strategy kicks in. There's much, much more strategy in this game than just blasting the ball.
"You can learn it in a couple of days to understand how to hit the ball and how much fun it is," he said. "But to be competitive and understand the fine points of the game - unfortunately I learned the fine points of the game after my body was good anymore."
As far as the tournaments go, Jasperson said that you can play in either a skill-level tournament or an age-level tournament.
"I've played teenagers, and I got beat real bad in Mankato by a 60-some year old guy," he said. "So age is really less of a factor than skill. Tournaments are based mostly on skill level."
Different styles of play
The game of racquetball can be played several different ways to mix things up a bit. The most popular way is one-on-one, where just two players go head-to-head in a game to 15.
Another way to play is cut throat, where three people play. Everyone is playing for themselves and the only way to get points is if you're serving to start the play.
Doubles play is yet another way, and that tends to get a little crowded. This two-on-two style and players have to adjust to the possibility of running into each other on the court.
And with the speed of the game very fast, it requires a lot of attention at all times.
"It's been quoted as the fastest ball sport, with professionals hitting the ball well over 150 miles per hour," Jasperson said.
Jasperson said its easy for players of all ages to be competitive at the sport.
"One of the greatest things about racquetball is that you can be competitive with other people in your skill level and age group," he said. "That's one of the biggest things about racquetball is that you can normally find someone close to your skill level to make it a competitive game."
Costs of the game and equipment
Before you consider playing racquetball, you're going to need to find a gym or recreational center that has courts. With that, there are of course membership costs for the gym, depending on where you are at.
The most important thing you're going to need is obviously a racquetball court; fully enclosed indoor or outdoor with a front wall. The standard racquetball court is rectangular: 40 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 20 feet high with red lines defining the service and serve reception areas.
Once you've found a place to play, you're going to need eye protection, a racquet, a can of balls to use and good gym shoes [perhaps basketball shoes]. Jasperson also uses gloves to get a better grip on the racquet.
Jasperson said that for a good, durable racquet, it can cost about $100. A can of balls is about $4 and they last about a month if you play frequently. Eye goggles can range anywhere from $20-$30 for regular goggles to $60-$70 for prescription goggles.
Some basic rules
Like tennis, play begins with the serve. According to the website Wikipedia.com, the serving player must bounce the ball on the floor once and hit it directly to the front wall, making the ball hit the floor beyond the short line; otherwise the serve counts as a fault. The ball may touch one side wall, but not two, prior to hitting the floor; hitting both side walls after the front wall (but before the floor) is a "three wall serve," and a fault.
After the ball bounces behind the short line, or passes the receiving line, the ball is in play and the opposing player may play it.
The server is allowed two chances (called first serve and second serve) to put the ball into play.
After a successful serve, players alternate hitting the ball against the front wall. The player returning the hit may allow the ball to bounce once on the floor or hit the ball on the fly. However, once the player returning the shot has hit the ball, either before bouncing on the floor or after one bounce, it must strike the front wall before it hits the floor. Unlike during the serve, a ball in play may touch as many walls, including the ceiling, as necessary so long as it reaches the front wall without striking the floor.
Beginners always welcome
Jasperson said that anyone interested in playing should come down to Vogel Arena and try it out. It's relatively cheap to get into and it's a good source of exercise.
"Price should not be a determining factor because Vogel makes it easy to rent and you can buy a punch [card], so come on down and try it," he said.
Although there isn't a person working at the arena to help with lessons, Jasperson said he's helped with some individuals in the past and he's willing to do it again.
He said if you stay active, it's a sport you can enjoy for a long time.
"I've seen people play in their 70s and be competitive," Jasperson said. "The advantage with this over tennis is you don't have to ask someone for the ball. It just comes back to you somewhere in the middle."