Before pickleball, racquetball bounced to the heights of popularity in sports.

The fast-paced game boomed in the 1980s and into the 1990s – then faded from the limelight. But that doesn’t mean racquetball has vanished in the Spokane area, said longtime player Rich Carver.

Carver expects 100 enthusiasts will join a May 17-19 racquetball tournament at the Spokane Club.

“Yes, people are still playing – quite a few, actually,” said Carver, 56, a Spokane Valley resident who began the sport as a teen. He estimates about 150 people play regularly at local courts from Coeur d’Alene to Cheney.

“It definitely does not have the numbers we had in ’80s and ’90s, but there’s still a core group.”

Carver leads tournaments and is a racquetball coach and member at the Spokane Club, which has four racquetball courts.

Other courts can be found at Spokane-area MUV Fitness sites, Peak Health and Wellness in Coeur d’Alene, Parkfit Athletic Club’s North Park and Central Park, Spokane Fitness Center sites, and Eastern Washington University.

Younger people do play the game, using a racquet to slam a small rubber ball against the court’s walls, floor and ceiling. Carver’s daughter, Megan, represented Washington State University at the National Intercollegiate Racquetball Championships March 14-17 in Arizona.

As WSU’s sole competitor, she finished third place in singles. Her dad and mom, Debbie, shared the game with their three daughters since they were young.

Megan Carver, 22, jokes that racquetball was daycare growing up, when she and twin sister Hannah went into another racquetball court while their parents played. She first played competitively at age 7.

“Hannah and I would just make up our own rules and hit the ball around,” Megan Carver said.

Today, she sees college students playing the sport for fun, but she has fielded questions from peers.

“Usually, the first response I get is, ‘What is racquetball?’ I feel racquetball is a lot more popular in the older generations,” she said.

“Now in college, there are actually a lot of college students who enjoy playing racquetball for fun with their friends, so there are a lot more people who know what it is.”

At times, Rich Carver said he’s played racquetball up to 17 hours a week, but recent hip replacement surgery slowed that. He just got a doctor’s OK to return. His father, turning 75 this year, taught him the game and still plays in Alaska.

Carver said there’s been improvements since past decades to the sport’s racquet, which is tethered to a player’s wrist. Wearing eye protection is still a must.

One challenge here and in other U.S. cities is finding places to play, and most courts are at membership-based fitness clubs. Some cities have outdoor courts, such as in Kent, Washington. The Washington Racquetball Association lists available sites statewide on its website.

Two main courts still are found at EWU’s Sports and Recreation Center that can be used by students, employees, faculty and area residents. They’re open to the public for a $14 day-use fee, which also gives access to other campus fitness spaces.

Built in 1977, that rec center once had 13 racquetball courts – many in an upstairs area – along with three adjacent courts on the main level, each with a tempered-glass backwall and visible from the hallway.

Today, two of those visible courts are used by players regularly, while the central one was turned into the “Fueling Station” for varsity athletes to get snacks around practices. The two courts on either side get used for racquetball on average about 10 hours a week, said David Early, EWU sports and recreation facilities director.

Among the 13 racquetball courts, some are used for storage or for club sports, Early said, including one each by a boxing club, powerlifting club, crossfit group and golf program. Two racquetball courts upstairs are kept open as backup to the two main-level courts.

Today, players use those main courts regularly.

“They have their game for two or three days a week for an hour, or an hour and a half,” Early said. “We see more activity on them during the winter months than we do during summer or spring.

“There are no formal racquetball classes any longer. We saw a lot of use in the ’80s and ’90s – when racquetball was still a big sport – and really even by the ’90s, the game had diminished quite a bit in terms of its popularity.

“Of course, now pickleball has usurped almost all racquet sports.”

Oscar Carrazco, 60, is an EWU racquetball regular and has played the sport since he was 20.

“I like to play with friends, and it gives you a good cardiovascular workout,” said Carrazco, a Cheney resident. “I play three or four days a week.”

But it doesn’t seem as popular, he said.

“It’s kind of died down now because a lot of people play pickleball, I guess. I can play pickleball; I prefer racquetball because it’s fast.”

Esteban Rodriguez-Marek, 48, works in EWU’s computer science and electrical engineering department. He’s played racquetball for about 18 years but less often these days, after COVID and having a broken meniscus.

“I haven’t kept up, but Eastern does have amazing courts,” Rodriguez-Marek said. “I do see people playing now, when I go by there.”

He used to play regularly at noon with an EWU group. “I was busy, and this was a way to release some stress.”

There are no plans to remove remaining EWU racquetball courts, Early said.

“There is always a struggle to find space as athletics and sports change, and interest waxes and wanes in particular areas,” he said. “We try not to change spaces from their original intentions, so if the trend is to reverse itself in time, we have a place to fall back to.”

Meanwhile, Carver has played pickleball and is well aware of its popularity.

“My little joke, if people ask me if I play pickleball, I tell them, ‘If it has a ball and you keep score, I probably play it,’ ” Carver said.

“Pickleball is enjoyable; it’s not racquetball. For me, playing racquetball is a great workout. Pickleball, if you have an equal in doubles, it’s a good workout and singles is always a fantastic workout, but racquetball is my go-to for fitness.

“In my opinion, racquetball is one of the best cross-training sports for all sports, because of hand-eye coordination, footwork, agility, quickness. It’s got everything.”

By admin