Editor’s Note: This story was written by Theresa DeGross
For an institution with a history that spans 110 years, what students see on a daily basis is not what has always been there nor even what remains to be explored now. Through a few twists of gray halls, down concrete steps and a narrow hallway, there are two grand rooms labeled two and three. With a flick of the switch and an echoing click of current, the flat ceiling lights illuminate the space with a soft, bright glow. Fading red, blue, and green lines mark the Sienna hardwood. Smudged and peeling whitewashed walls leave the artistic imprint of soaring objects and competitive fun. You can almost hear the laughter bouncing off the walls like a resounding memory.
These spaces are the remaining racquetball courts at Saint Mary’s. Still and quiet now, they contain the air just a few yards from pickleball tables or squeaking gym shoes. The courses and clubs hosted in this space may be reduced to paper filings, but for those whom the courts represent more than just a phrase in the handbook, the story is still teeming with life.
Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Tim Gossen revealed that at one point there were four courts open to the public. One was repurposed a couple years ago for storage and one has been reallocated for use as the throws area for track and field. It is sensible for the university to use the space they have to fill a need, but there is also the potential worry that this marks a trend for the available courts; that the next move could be from two to one and finally to none.
Falling to disrepair would be the primary contributor to this, but luckily for the courts, they have maintenance on their side. The visibility of lines and functioning lights is made possible because the university still recognizes the need for it.
“The issue within those spaces would be the cracking walls because of the age of the building,” Dr. Gossen said. “Things are on a rotation for fixing so sometimes the wood floors have to be stripped down or stained.”
Aside from imperfections, the comfort of the court’s value is at least adequately recognized for the time being. Nevertheless, there remains the question of precisely why. In a world of budgeting and squeezing usage out of spaces, the instant gains of the sequestered rooms seem low. One likely leading factor is hope and a vision for the future, something reflected in how Dr. Gossen perceives the collective status of racquetball.
“I know a number of years ago they were used a lot more than they are now, but that doesn’t mean that the sport wouldn’t come back at some point and more people would get into it,” he said. “I know a number of individuals really got a good workout from doing that.”
Since there are usable racquetball courts, it can come off as surprising that there is no racquetball course listed on the PE offerings for next semester. There is, however, Racquet Sports, which Dr. Gossen explained as being a deliberate move to include more under a bigger umbrella. Without a cultivation of knowledge and interest for racquet sports, the courts lack practical value. The future of opportunity for more students to learn racquetball is largely handled by PE Coordinator John Tschida, who develops the courses and makes sure they are of proper quality.
The factors considered in deciding what to offer are safety, whether it is a lifetime activity and if it is something that is healthy and active or something mental that will help students in the future.
“It is supposed to benefit the mind, body and spirit,” Tschida said.
It is the best use of instructors if courses can handle more than 10 people and receive as many in signups.
The problem with the racquetball courts is that “it’s hard to have any numbers down there,” Tschida conceded. “If we had 15 racquetball courts, it’s easy. It’s a no brainer. Use them. If you had racquetball courts that had glass windows, that would be easier also for the instructor to observe and teach.”
The courts are also only accessible by stairs, meaning offering courses in the space might exclude students, and the narrow hallway in front of the courts poses a safety risk during waves of COVID-19.
Tschida pointed out that the goal is to have courses that avoid the likelihood of certain participants dominating in matches. Tennis and racquetball are sports that this can happen in. “If you were to play somebody that has played a lot, it’s, “I serve and that’s the end of it.””
Student interest is still very much kept in mind through questionnaires as well as communication with Intramurals and the Student Activities Committee. The success of the February 22nd Ping-Pong tournament hosted in the Toner basement by Intramurals and the university tennis team led to the purchase of two additional tables, and with a couple more, an instructor could teach down there. If the unique space is seen as an opportunity for sports like handball or wallyball, then the systems of communication in place will help ascertain if it can be done.
Even with the concerns of facilities and flexibility, multiple PE options tout the benefit of focusing on maintaining proper health and wellness for playing racquetball or any sport. One such example is Student Athlete Success, which covers concentration, confidence, and the psychology of injury. Owing to the fact that PE courses are required, yet not-for-credit, Tschida aims to make sure that what is offered reflects skills students are missing that they do not typically get in the classroom.
“It’s not just that sport, you’re also gonna teach them fitness and health and wellness principles along with that, so all the instructors have that from being coaches,” he said. The instructors are not only well-rounded in qualifications, but are holistically aware of why students need the space to be active and have fun.
“We want something they are good at and like doing so they get excited to teach the class,” Tschida remarked. “We all know that being healthy is important mentally and physically.”
If a student wishes to play racquetball on their own, that is meant to be possible.
“Not every student has their own equipment or has the funds to purchase that equipment so that is why we have that available,” Dr. Gossen said.
This is technically true, but inquiring at Gostomski Fieldhouse or the Campus Safety desk will not yield the desired result. Somewhere the equipment can be discovered is in red locker #24 just outside the doors to the courts. About seven sprawled rackets and six canisters of small round spheres eager to bounce are caged in, waiting for someone who knows the code to free them. The possessor of this coveted knowledge is unclear, but now is not the time to lose hope. The courts have years of promise ingrained in them and continue to remain a minefield of excitement and adventure for anyone who feels a touch of inspiration.