Top-ranked racquetball players to compete during Lombard's Shamrock Shootout
Top-ranked racquetball players to compete during Lombard's annual Shamrock Shootout
Professional racquetball player Juan Martinez III of Plainfield says he has participated in the annual Shamrock Shootout in Lombard every year since he was a kid and always looks forward to it.
But this year's tournament, which runs March 12 to 15, is special because Martinez won't have to travel far to compete against some of the best players in the country.
"I'm looking forward to seeing racquetball at the highest level in the Chicago area," said Martinez, who has played in tournaments across the United States and internationally.
The 2015 Shamrock Shootout will be a Tier 1 Men's International Racquetball Tour Pro-Stop event.
That means the players are among the tops in their sport, said Dan Jaskier, president of Glass Court Swim and Fitness at 830 E. Roosevelt Road in Lombard, where the tournament is held.
Professionals competing in the event will include nine-time world champion Kane Waselenchuk and Ben Croft, the fifth-highest ranked racquetball player in the world who originally was from Lake Bluff.
"It's like baseball. Everybody plays, but when you see the pros, you see how much better they are," Jaskier said.
The Tier 1 event has a $20,000 purse to divide among winners, with $3,500 going to the champ. Amateurs can sign up to play against lower-seeded professionals in qualifying matches that could allow them to move up in rank.
Jaskier said the Shamrock Shootout, one of the larger racquetball tournaments in the Chicago area, drew 172 players last year. This year, he's expecting more than 200 players, plus about 100 spectators.
Even without the pro event, the Shamrock Shootout normally draws players from neighboring states and from as far away as Colorado, Arizona and Florida, Jaskier said.
"I have people who schedule their vacations around it," he said.
Martinez, who in his non-sports career is youth pastor at Calvary Church in Naperville, said there's a reason the Shamrock Shootout is so popular.
"What sets apart a great tournament from a mediocre one is the hospitality and the family atmosphere," he said. "You want to play the tournament there. It just feels good."
Jason Mannino, president of the International Racquetball Tour, said Glass Court was chosen for its central location and excellent facilities. Three of the four walls of the racquetball courts are glass.
"It has the best viewing of any court. The club has a history of producing players," he said. "Racquetball has a very long-standing tradition in Illinois, especially in Chicago."
Renown for its hospitality, the Glass Court's Shamrock Shootout includes a Party with the Pros on Saturday night with a DJ, a St. Patrick's Day buffet with the traditional corned beef and cabbage, souvenir shirts, dinners on Thursday and Friday, three meals on Saturday and two on Sunday.
Zach Archer, a pro who grew up in St. Louis, said he's played in the Shamrock Shootout since moving to the Chicago area eight or nine years ago.
"It's a great social and athletic event," he said.
At a time when many clubs have gotten rid of their racquetball courts, Glass Court boasts eight full-sized courts, in-house racquetball leagues and travel teams that it sponsors.
Racquetball players agree their sport isn't as popular as it was about 30 years ago. But they say that's a shame because the game is exciting to both watch and play.
When pros hit the ball, for example, it can travel at speeds of 180 to 200 mph.
"It's a very exciting sport to watch," said Keith Minor, who has played racquetball for 30 years and in pro events sporadically.
Athletes of all abilities can play, Archer said.
"It's such a great workout. Anybody can pick it up," he said. "It really is a great sport and a great time."
Admission is free to the professional qualifying rounds on Thursday, but fees are charged for the professional matches. Those who do not attend the tournament can watch it streamed live at IRTNetwork.com.
If you goWhat: Shamrock Shootout and Men's International Racquetball Tour
When: March 12-15
Where: Glass Court Swim & Fitness, 830 E. Roosevelt Road, Lombard
Cost: Qualifying matches free to spectators, fees for professional matches