|by Karen May
28 Rocky Hill LIFE OCT99
Pulling into the driveway of the Lerow residence, there is no doubt what the family game is: Bob Lerow’s license plate is RQTBAL. The veteran of more than 20 years of open racquetball tournaments has his two young sons, Dan and Timmy, joining him on the junior circuit.
Both boys are nationally-ranked players in what called “multi-bounce” which describes the pattern of play of this beginner’s version of the game.
In the latest issue of Racquetball Magazine Online, which lists the top 25 players in the country, 8-year-old Dan is number 17 on the 8 and under boys list and Timmy is tied for 10th for 6 and under boys.
“That’s one of the things I like best about playing,” said Dan, whose brother joined in agreement. Timmy said, “Seeing our names on the Internet listings is really cool.”
Dan said, “1 like to use my dad’s racquets and I want to play for the E-force teams, like he does.” “They both really like the clothes, too,” added Michele, the non-playing “reason we can do all this.” Mr. Lerow credits “her willingness to put up with three jocks in the family” as a factor in their success. “The whole racquetball world is like a family anyway, said the self-proclaimed “bench mom.”
Mrs. Lerow actually holds that title for the soccer team. “I filled in for Bob for Tim’s T-ball team with a little coaching help, as well. I enjoyed traveling to the tournaments before the boys were around and it’s a great learning experience for them to go to these events now that they’re older.”
“We spent our honeymoon playing racquetball all over the country,” Mr. Lerow said. “Michele is long-suffering as she sits through the competitions, but it’s the people you meet who become lifelong friends that make it worth it.”
She agrees, “It’s helped the boys, especially Dan, who is a little bit shyer than Tim, with confidence. There’s a comfort level with themselves because of their game. They get a chance to show other kids and find ways to do things with them.”
“Playing racquetball,” Mr. Lerow said, “has helped them with other sports. Dan is a great short-stop and his reflexes are better because of racquetball.”
Someday, Dan sees himself “as a pro baseball player, but I want to play racquetball too.” Mr. Lerow explained that “racquetball has some professional players but the marketing of the game has been as great as other sports. It’s not a television friendly game as it’s so fast, it’s hard to follow the ball.”
The Lerow racquetballers are Dan (Left), the are 8 and under state champion) father Bob, and Timmy, the 6 and under state champ.
Exposure is the name of the game in terms of coverage. There’s some flamboyant players who are coming up like Sudsy Monchik out of Staten Island and Cliff Swain, whose training camp in Boston I’m going to next weekend.” Both boys start clamoring, “Don’t forget to get Cliff’s autograph.” He promises that he will, adding, “Ed Mazur and I have been trying to find some college program that may offer scholarships, but we haven’t found much yet. Right now, racquetball is a Pan-American game and it’s petitioning or inclusion as an Olympic sport, but we’re not there yet.”
Mr. Mazur is in charge of the junior program for the Connecticut Racquetball Association; his 10-year-old daughter Kara won a gold medal at the Junior Olympics competition in Phoenix, Arizona. The former Rocky Hill resident calls himself “the King of Kids. We train over at Healthtrax in Newington:’ Mr. Lerow said, “We’re usually there on weekend afternoons.”
“We held both of the boys’ fifth birthday parties there as well,” said Mrs. Lerow. “Their friends had a great time; we had bandannas and goggles for them. Anything that involves swinging, hitting and balls is attractive to kids.”
Juliet Campbell is the president of the Connecticut Racquetball Association who feels that the social activity is an attraction to the sport. “Since 1993″ if we’ve made it more family-friendly with wives and kids getting involved with the junior programs and kids’ clinics.” She was proud of Team Connecticut which is an elite team of junior members. “Six out of 10 of the kids went to the nationals.”
Both Lerow boys are planning on going to the U.S. Open in Memphis, Tennessee, in October. It’s the biggest pro racquetball event; this is the fourth year they’ve held it. There will be exhibit ions and clinics as well.”
Mr. Lerow had just returned from the Senior World competition in New Mexico. “There were over 7 countries represented at the worlds this year. It’s incredibly competitive in every age bracket and it was really a kick to see there were five men playing in 85+.”
What was more amazing to him though was the wider availability of courts in that area. “There were over 30 courts; there’s only two courts available at Healthtrax that’s specifically for racquetball. There are not as many courts available; multi-use courts have become the norm, so that’s the best time for the juniors in terms of availability in them. The E-force company makes good grades part of their junior sponsorship program. It’s a full well-rounded program.”
“Japanese players are so cool,” said Dan. “They meditated before their games and bowed to the guys they were playing.”
“That’s the kind of educational experience everyone benefits from,” said their dad. “Racquetball is a great workout with great people filled with great experiences like that. It’s not gender-biased or age-related in regards to abilities and playing time.
He looks forward to a time when the boys can play doubles saying, “It will be interesting to see who takes the lead on the court, if they do.” They have already been involved in some father/son competitions. “Tim was the youngest finisher at a road race we went to in Stowe, Vermont over the 4th of July weekend. It was really hot, but he kept on with it.”
The boys came back downstairs wearing their winning medals around their neck from the state competition for a photo opportunity. Mrs. Lerow recalled, “Timmy was actually only S his match because he was tired.” Dad said, “He’s actually got mature mannerisms and a style that is uniquely his own already.”
Mr. Lerow stood up to exhibit his son’s style as, in a typically 6-year-old fashion, Tim was bored with the conversation and was looking through his toy box in the family room. “Dan’s got a smooth backhand and a pretty powerful forehand.”
“The interesting thing about Dan is that he plays everything right- handed but, in soccer, he kicks left-footed.” Dan himself doesn’t think that’s so unusual, but it does exhibit a certain dexterity. Both parents are managers for Aetna Healthcare in Middletown; “Vacation time revolves around racquetball and a lot of the tournaments revolve around holidays anyway so it works out pretty well.”
Families interested in becoming involved in the junior program can contact Ed Mazur, who is in charge of the junior program for the state, at 677-5814.