Happy New Year to all Racquetball Players in Washington State. I am looking forward to a wonderful year as your Board of Directors continues the journey of restoring and growing the WRA. In 2023 we expect to sanction more frequent events, re-introduce multi-day tournaments, and expand to venues across the state including outdoor racquetball and a summer picnic.
Since November’s letter we enjoyed a highly successful Fall Classic in Bellingham thanks to the team of Brian Porter, Jessie Scott and Wanda Collins. We have restored the functionality of the WRA website and provided numerous Facebook posts to keep you informed of opportunities and developments. We hosted an open forum via Zoom in December. We have begun our search for additional board members, established fund-raising goals and tools, solidified our operating budget, and sanctioned the Kent Singles Shootout (January 14) and the Washington State Championships (January 28-29 at the Washington Athletic Club). All of this is due to the tremendous efforts and support of your Board members who put in countless hours. Kudos to Yen-Vy Van, Secretary; Phil Nelson, Treasurer; Bill Napier, Director of Outreach and Micah Miller, Director of Media.
As I write this on January 14, 2023, I realize that the WRA is at an inflection point. This has been churning in my mind ever since the United States Racquetball Association (USAR) made public their profound financial difficulties and loss of all their employees. The USAR is currently run by a volunteer Executive Director Mike Grisz who replaced Mike Wedel; a volunteer Director of Operations Karen Grisz who replaced Renee Isherwood; and an Intern Director of National Events who is replacing Connor Shane. The USAR has seen plummeting membership, decreased participation in National Events, and increased costs associated with all aspects of the organization. It has initiated numerous creative fund-raising initiatives just to stay viable.
These significant developments at the National level have tremendous impact on State Associations like the WRA. The USAR provides the overall resources that the WRA depends on and cannot duplicate such as a membership database, ranking systems, rules, insurance policies, SafeSport and Background checks to keep players and tournament directors safe, referee certification and pathways for youth development. Without sufficient membership, financial resources, venues that will host events, solid leadership, and player participation in events, the USAR is at risk of eventually folding. They are not at that point today but are clearly at a moment when significant changes are occurring which will determine the course of our sport.
I now realize that the WRA is also at an inflection point just like the USAR. We face many of the same challenges. Fortunately, our membership is on the rise with an 85% increase in the past 15 months. Fortunately, we have venues that permit us to play the sport we love. Fortunately, we have tournament directors willing to go through the work to host an event. And lastly, we are fortunate to have you, the racquetball players of the state who keep playing the game and supporting the WRA and its Board.
This leads me to the upcoming Washington State Championships tournament scheduled at the Washington Athletic Club Saturday January 28 and Sunday January 29. I have received a lot of questions and concerns about the Board’s decisions surrounding this event. Questions center around the venue selected and the associated entry fees.
- Venue. The Board voted to select the WAC as the host venue after seeking access to other facilities in the state which permit tournaments and have at least 4 courts. Some are geographically remote from the majority of the membership, others already had sanctioned events planned on the WRA tournament calendar and others were deemed cost prohibitive.
- Fees. Those of you who have run a tournament know that there are budgets created to determine what the expected costs of the event will be and what revenues will be necessary to provide the intended experience. You also know that costs continue to rise and venues to work with continue to shrink.
- Food. Some TDs enjoy the benefit of access to low-cost hospitality including meals that can be brought into the venue. This is not an option at the WAC. The WAC will only allow food from the Café or its on-premises bar and grill. This is by far the largest expense, approaching $20 per day per player.
- Shirts. The board has elected to provide a high quality, customized tournament shirt for all players as well as significant volunteers who cannot play due to injury.
- Awards. The board has elected to provide high quality medals for all players who place first, second, third and win consolation. With relatively low overall expected turnout, but still a high level of expected divisions, the costs of awards add up quickly on a per player basis, especially for doubles.
- Other. Other costs include fees to the USAR for their services (see above); board member certifications in SafeSport and Background checks to be able to run and oversee the event; and expense reimbursements for direct costs incurred by the Board and key volunteers for necessary activities to provide a quality experience. Fixed costs spread across a small base of expected players have the unfortunate effect of increasing costs per player. Comparing a small event like we conservatively envision to national events run by the USAR or pro stops run by the IRT or LPRT with 3-5 or even 8 times as many players and stronger financial support from sponsors is unwise.
As a Board we are charged with the fiduciary responsibility of ensuring that the WRA stays viable and does not incur losses like the USAR did on the 2022 US Open and some of its other programs. I don’t think many of you are aware, if the fact that the State Championships (usually two separate tournaments) have served as the WRA’s fund-raising vehicle in years past. There have not been any State Championship events since State Doubles in early 2020, resulting in erosion of reserve funds to cover annual fixed expenses. There has not been a Director of Fundraising for the WRA since before I rejoined the board in 2020, leaving cultivation of sponsorships unattended. As President, I am the Acting Director of Fundraising due to the vacancy.
Due to the uncertainty of sponsorship support and low player participation in events since the end of the pandemic restrictions, the Board elected to combine the two state championship events into one hybrid tournament as a way to keep costs down for the WRA and the participants. One shirt instead of two, one sanctioning fee, one travel/accommodation cost and one weekend of your time instead of two seemed like the best plan. Coupled with the expenses summarized above left us with a fee schedule for the Washington State Championships that is higher than we wanted to charge, but is necessary to ensure that the inflection point we face does not inadvertently tip us over the edge into fiscal ruin and discontinuing to function as a viable body that so many of you have worked to sustain over many years.
Let me close with gratitude. The WRA is grateful for the players who have recently renewed their memberships. We are grateful for those of you have decided to join us for the first time in many years or are brand new to being part of our Association. The board is especially grateful for the initial response of sponsors who have very recently provided support that will help sustain future viability. While I cannot list everyone, I choose to specifically express thanks to the following people or organizations:
- Brian Filbert, DDS
- Ethan Janson, DDS
- Yen Vy Van and family
- SAA, LLC
- Head Penn
If you would like to be part of the solution by sponsoring future events or volunteering your time and expertise, feel free to reach out to me anytime. I will be at the Kent Singles tournament today and at the Washington State Championships at the end of the month if you would like to discuss things face to face.
David Stob, President
Washington Racquetball Association