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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Kitsap Splat racquetball tournament draws international competitors | Bremerton Tennis and Athletic Club

The Kitsap Splat racquetball tournament drew more than 50 competitors from as far away as Bolivia and Columbia to the Bremerton area on Nov. 3-4.
The tournament was hosted by Bremerton Tennis and Athletic Club, a nonprofit, member-owned club that opened in 1970.
The club regularly hosts tournaments for both tennis and racquetball. Julie Jablonski, the club’s manager, said many of the tennis tournaments they offer throughout the year are sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association, but this is the first time they’ve had a professionally sanctioned tournament for racquetball.
Adam (Rocco) Vega, one of the club’s members, had the idea for the event and set out to bring the plan to life.
“I wanted to bring a sanctioned tournament to Kitsap County because we had not had any,” Vega said.
Vega’s father, a competitive racquetball player, died a few years back. When Vega began work on the Kitsap Splat, he looked for a way to commemorate his father through the event.
A nod to Vega’s father can be found in the tournament’s logo, a picture of Wile E. coyote holding a racquet.
“We loved watching Wile E. Coyote together when I was a kid,” Vega said. “It was something fun that I could do to remember him.”
The event’s name comes from a type of shot in racquetball called a splat, where the ball comes off the side wall and hits the front wall, making a “splat” noise.
The event drew more than 50 competitors. There were a number of local entrants, but many competitors came from abroad to compete in the sanctioned competition.
When players compete in a sanctioned tournament, their results at the event influence their professional standings, so players were competing for more than just prize money and bragging rights.
The tournament offered prize money in every division, which Vega believes is a state first for a sanctioned tournament.
Jablonski said the club has actually hosted much larger tournaments than the Kitsap Splat. The club’s racquetball league has more than 80 players that compete every Tuesday.
Jablonski said even though their numbers are often higher, the Kitsap Splat had excellent turnout for a first-year tournament.
She attributes much of that turnout to the club’s facilities and hospitality.
“Not many clubs host like we do,” Jablonski said.
Bremerton Tennis and Athletic Club has four racquetball courts along with areas for spectators. Competitors were offered catering by Outback Steakhouse of Bremerton and Juanito’s Taco Shop.
The club is the home court of Grace Hughes, one of the world’s top-ranked female racquetball players. According to Jablonski, Hughes both plays and teaches at the club.
Hughes was participating in a sanctioned tournament in Mexico at the time of the Kitsap Splat, so was unable to attend the local tournament.
Gear Box, a racquetball equipment company, was responsible for bringing in many of the international professionals to compete in the tournament, like Sebastian Franco, who ranks 33rd in USA Racquetball Association’s national ranking. Franco won the men’s singles open bracket, beating the highest ranked player in Washington state, Jeff Star.
“(It was) fabulous to see that level of play,” Jablonski said. “It was simply exciting.”
Despite the tough international competition, Jablonski said local players performed well. Vega and his partner, Steven Dark, placed third in the men’s doubles open bracket.
Vega competes each year at a number of tournaments throughout the state and said the level of competition was “about as good as Washington will see throughout the season.”
Jablonski said the club hopes to host the same tournament again next year, once again sanctioned by USA Racquetball Association. Now that the tournament has established itself as a success, she said, they hope to see more local turnout next year.

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