THURSDAY JULY 29: RACQUETBALL (DOUBLES) RESULTS
STORY: Randy H. Milgrom
PHOTOGRAPHY: Marilyn Indahl and Randy H. Milgrom
A Game of Angles
This morning offered fresh breezes and clear blue skies following yesterday's rains. It was a good day
for lying around on the tree-shaded grass outside the Recreation Center in the middle of the campus of the University of Minnesota, and I passed many well-wishers doing just that as I headed inside for the morning preliminaries of the Racquetball Doubles matches, where the competition - and the atmosphere - was decidedly more heated.
A wide pedestrian bridge separates the University Aquatic Center from the Recreation Center, which features, among many other fitness venues, a long hall of gleaming courts, five on each side, with a flag of a Big Ten school hanging above each doorway - and all are encased in wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor glass enclosures - the better to view the action.
The action: an intense and persistent bouncing and banging of hard blue balls, whizzing off taut racquets, propelled to the walls and then back again.
It's a game of impossible angles and low, stinging "kills" - balls hit so low and so precisely into the corners that they nearly drop dead right there, with a return nothing more than a barely formed wish. From the outside looking in, the courts seem large, but on the inside, where the action is, players are set up to be stifled and stymied by cunning strategies designed to cut off wide portions of play. And in a doubles format, the clear cages seem almost cramped, with players crouching under hard returns, using one another to hide and then pounce, tossing a volley high into the opposite corner and then following that with a wicked line drive that barely misses an opponent's ear.
The sign emblazoned on the entry door to each court - "Protective eyewear recommended" - seems a ludicrous understatement.
Scattered along the wide, well-lit, and freshly carpeted hallways are groups of cheering spectators, clustered on benches and huddled around large jugs of cold water set out along the corridor - the easier to provide players with refreshments between games. During the lunch break, there is much fraternizing among the teams -- gentle chiding about the morning matches, and great anticipation about the matches yet to come.
After the morning games, four teams remained in contention for the crown: Missouri/Kansas (represented by Gabel and Green); Pittsburgh (Meyers/Patrizi); Philadelphia (Detwiler/Goodwill); and the New Mexico entry of Phillip Lance and Lou Hubbard. These games began precisely - and simultaneously - at 1:30, and from the start the Philadelphia contingent of spectators was causing the loudest and most persistent ruckus. And the loudest roar of all was coming from the smallest among them.
Twelve-year-old Samantha Scholl, all smiles, was rooting on her Team Pittsburgh team members as she waited to be called to the victory stand following her silver medal winning swim in the 50 meter freestyle earlier that day. Samantha had her first heart transplant - due to a hypoplastic, underdeveloped left heart - when she was just three years old, and needed a new one in 2000, which rendered her unable to complete in the Transplant Games that year after having done so in 1996, at four years old, and again in 1998 in Columbus.
"I was very sick. I couldn't even walk up stairs; I had to use the elevators at school," Samantha says, matter-of-factly, her smile never leaving her. "And I was a gymnast and I couldn't do that anymore. I couldn't do any sports. That was the worst part." She seems to barely remember, and yet she doesn't seem to mind having to recall it. This year Samantha will also be competing in the long jump, softball throw, and 50 meter dash.
Samantha's mom, Denise, and her father, Pat, were also watching the semifinal match in which Samantha's teammates Carl Patrizi and Bill Meyers were participating. Bill's wife, Beth, who donated her kidney to her husband three years ago (at which time they started calling the organ "Lolita"), was also cheering on the team, as was Carl's son, Dustin. Bill was ranked 4th in his age group in Pennsylvania five or six years ago, before the transplant, and Carl, who received his kidney three years ago, won the silver in singles competition in Orlando in 2002. This experienced duo dispatched the Missouri/Kansas duo in two games.
On the other semifinals court, Jessica Lance, whose husband Philip was playing for New Mexico with Dr. Lou Hubbard (reigning singles champ from the 2002 Games) against Jake Goodwill and Jeff Detwiler of Team Philadelphia, was sitting side-by-side with the competition's fans: Jeff's girlfriend, Mary Vetter, and Jake's wife, Beth Goodwill. A little bit frustrated about not being able to hear or know the score precisely (the participants keep the score themselves, without an official scorekeeper), they were all talking good-naturedly among themselves as their loved ones continued to smack the ball around in earnest.
Jake Goodwill received a bone marrow transplant nine years ago, and Beth, his wife of 37 years, reports that all has been well since. He has been competing in both racquetball and bowling since 1998. Mary, formerly Team Philadelphia's Team Manager, met Jeff just a couple of years ago, when both were working for the Gift of Life.
Jessica Lance points out that each of the members of the New Mexico team had diabetes as children, they both had simultaneous pancreas/kidney transplants, and - a racquetball rarity - they both are left-handed. The pace and intensity within the glass enclosure picks up - a signal that the end is near. After a final "kill," all four men shake hands and slap backs and emerge, smiling, from the court. Who won, we all had to ask?
The All-Pennsylvania Final
It was Team Pittsburgh - and it would be an All-Pennsylvania final!
The first game went fairly quickly, with Pittsburgh taking charge, and the large crowd filling the wide middle aisle between the rows of courts swelled as the second match began. Team Pittsburgh got off to another quick start, but then Philadelphia began closing the gap with a number of low kills. Just as they began to build momentum, though, Carl Patrizi turned the tide - and wowed the crowd - with a backwards, between the legs kill.
With the rally halted, Pittsburgh began their climb again, egged on by a chorus of "whoos" a Samantha's rallying cry: "Go Bill! Go Carl!" Mary Vetter and Beth Goodwill rooted on their boyfriend and husband, respectively, but more quietly, and nervously - sensing, perhaps, that the end was near.
As Pittsburgh won its final point, bringing the match to a close - and victory to their side - Bill and Carl hugged one another, and then embraced their opponents.
But each knew it wasn't over: they could well be seeing one another again, on Saturday, in the singles competition.