Back in swing of things

Back in swing of things

Mike Mitchell

Back in swing of things

RACQUETBALL: Sport that was popular in the 1980’s is experiencing a resurgence today in the South Bay thanks to local leagues.

Racquetball reached a peak in its popularity in the mid-1980s with courts being busy at most fitness clubs.

But the sport’s popularity soon waned and players have since been forced to find places to play the high-impact, relatively low-cost game.

Torrance resident Keith Shigeta hopes to reintroduce the sport to the masses as the coordinator of a league at the L.A. Fitness Sports Club in Torrance.

Shigeta believes racquetball is a great way to get into or stay in shape.

“You’re always moving,” Shigeta said. “And it’sfun because it’s more involved than walking on a treadmill.”

L.A. Fitness, which was established in Southern California in 1984, has clubs in California, Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Georgia.

In order to play in the league, players must be members of the club, which charges $42 a month.

Assistant general Manager Tony Beard said the club has added new members thanks to having the league available.

“A lot of people have come in here and have expressed an interest (in racquetball). When they find out we offer a league they get excited about it,” Beard said. “I’m thinking about getting into it. It’s been years since I’ve done it, but I know it’s a great cardiovascular workout.”

Invented in 1949, racquetball features two players in an enclosed court 20-feet wide, 40-feet long and 20-feet high, with a back wall at least 12-feet high.

The players, who wear protective eyegear and use a racquet to hit a rubber ball, try to reach 15 points andwin two games. A third game, if needed, is played to 11 points.

It is a physically demanding sport.

“You’re alwaysthinking or else you’re running,” said Dennis Brown, who plays in the league that holds matches on Tuesday and Thursday. “I like to think two moves ahead. I don’t just go in there and hit it. I use to do that, but now I have a purpose.” Shigeta, who also runs a league at the Long Beach branch of the club, said he was surprised to see 30 people show up when he started the league shortly after the Torrance club opened in October.

With membership now hovering close to 40players, the co-ed league which restarts after each 6- to 8-week season, has added new players and people who used to play.

“There were people coming out of the woodwork,” Shigeta said.

Many of the original league members were former players and Shigeta said many were excited to be able to play competitively again.

“I had people tellingme they were getting back into playing after taking five years off,” Shigeta said. “It’s like riding a bike. It’s a struggle at first but when you get use to it again, it’s easy.”

The league offers three levels: advanced, intermediate and beginner. In order to introduce the sport to people whohave never played, Shigeta said the league has to be open to everyone so as not to intimidate new players.

“The more the better,” he said. “I’d like to see more novices and beginners. I tell everyone it’s a good sport and a good way tomeet new people.”

At the end of each season, L.A. Fitnessoffers tournaments for league champions from all of its clubs.

Twice a year, L.A. Fitness also hosts a tournament forall of its members. The last tournament, in May, offered $15,000 in prize money.

There are also inter-club challenges and Shigeta is putting together an all-level team to answer a challenge from the Yorba Linda club.

“Those are a lot of fun,” Shigeta said. “But we’re playing to win. Once you’re off the court, then you can talk and meet people.”

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2002

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