2014 San Luis Open Nitropiso in San Luis Potosi by Jesus Navarro Avalos

Growing with the IRT Satellite Series in Mexico

Fans pack the stands for the San Luis Potosi 2014 IRT Satellite. Photo submitted by Jesus Navarro  Avalos

Fans pack the stands for the San Luis Potosi 2014 IRT Satellite. Photo submitted by Jesus Navarro Avalos

Racquetball has always been a popular sport in Mexico. Boasting two of the top players on the International Racquetball Tour, #3-ranked Alvaro Beltran and #4-ranked Daniel De La Rosa, the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) continually looks to further expand its presence in Latin America.

“Right now we are really focused on Mexico because the entire country is so passionate about the game and we don’t really have as strong of a presence in Mexico as we should,” former IRT professional and current IRT Vice President of Event Development, Adam Karp, said.

Mexico, along with South America, offers a great future in the sport of racquetball. The tournaments in Mexico feature a lot of pageantry. “Each tournament we go down there for is not just a tournament, it’s an event,” #1-ranked Rocky Carson said about playing in Mexico. “The media covers it very well. The event usually has opening, closing and award ceremonies…They really cherish the time they have the pros down there.”

Currently Mexico hosts two tournament stops on the Tour, in Juarez and San Luis Potosi. Neither stop is a tier one tournament, but both have been expanding with their sights set on tier one status.

Of the two tournaments, Juarez hopes to be the newest tier one tournament on the pro tour in the 2015 season. The level of tournaments the city has hosted has increased from tier three in August 2013 and February 2014 to tier two last October at the Racquetball De 1RA 2014. “It’s grown over the three years we’ve started with that event,” Karp said. “When we started three years ago there was a lot less prize money, it wasn’t nearly as big of an event… We had a couple of pros come down there and started generating momentum…Those tournament directors were able to go out and build on the previous year’s success and raise more money and get more sponsors. It was kind of a snow ball effect.”

The Racquetball De 1RA 2014 featured top Mexicans #12-ranked Alejandro Landa, #28-ranked Polo Gutierrez and Beltran along with Carson, #5-ranked Jose Rojas and #7-ranked Chris Crowther. (Rankings as of December 2014).

Tijuana native, Beltran, defeated Carson in three games after beating Gutierrez in a four game semifinal. Carson bested Crowther in the other semifinal before losing to Beltran in the finals.

Tournament Director Salgab Renteria said the games were conducted with professionalism and the players gave their all. “I felt it was an unforgettable experience,” Renteria said. “For the first time in many years top players assembled in this discipline. It was an event that took place in two sports venues. I think that was the only downside, as there was a great distance from one to the other.”

Renteria added that the fans were very satisfied with the event, including players and spectators who came from Chihuahua, San Luis Potosi, and Cuauhtemoc.

San Luis Potosi has held a tier three tournaments the past two years. San Luis Potosi Tournament Director Jesus Navarro Avalos said the goal in 2013 was to have the biggest racquetball fiesta in Mexico and they invited a lot of players to come.

This year the city hosted the San Luis Open Nitropiso. Karp said the IRT is still in talks to grow the tournament into a tier one. Avalos said the tournament had a smaller budget but still featured local top pro De La Rosa of Chihuahua, Beltran, Rojas and Landa. Avalos added that the goal of the tournament was to provide an outlet to showcase and to teach racquetball as well as provide children with role models. “We did not just do sports activities, the players came and taught the kids how to protect our planet and showed our kids that they’re humans with a lot of things to give,” Avalos said.

The IRT continues to make a mark on the racquetball landscape in Mexico and that is evident by their two tournaments in Juarez and San Luis Potosi. Both tournaments benefit the local Mexican communities as well as increase the visibility of the sport and the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour.

By Eric Mueller

Eric Mueller started working with the IRT after joining the 2014 UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Racquetball Championships Media Team, where he garnered coverage for top racquetball pros and amateurs in their hometown media while also helping to provide updates to the racquetball community during the tournament. With a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota, Mueller also brings experience in sports reporting and news writing for newspapers like the Pioneer Press in St. Paul as well as the Southwest Journal and the Downtown Journal in Minneapolis. He has also worked in marketing for the St. Paul Saints professional baseball team and for Gopher Sports Marketing at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.