Two years ago, at the US Open Racquetball Championships in Minneapolis, Minn., Bailey — spurred on by his buddy, Rob Lyons — decided to re-enact his junior racquetball days. But instead of jumping up and down in the elevator like he did as a teen, he simply elevated a bit on his tiptoes, acquiescing to his middle age and aching joints. Sounds harmless, right? Well, the elevator stopped mid-floor — for three hours, with five grown men trapped inside.
While retelling the story, Lyons couldn’t help but laugh. Bailey, of course, was blamed for the ordeal and Lyons loves to rib his pal about the experience. The two men — who met decades ago on the junior racquetball circuit — need to get along because they are organizing the 2017 Florida IRT (men’s professional International Racquetball Tour) Pro/Am racquetball tournament on April 27-30 at the Sarasota Family YMCA.
Bailey tends to be the straight man, handling a lot of the details of the tournament, while Lyons — the talker — manages the moving parts during the weekend competition.
Together, they have been running racquetball tournaments for three years, with the help of many family members and volunteers. It’s a “brotherly” relationship, Lyons said.
“Rob is kind of my right-hand man,” Bailey said. “He’s the one that’s there at the tournament desk with me…He was away from racquetball for a long time but now he’s come back. He came to one of my tournaments in 2012 and I kind of got him back interested in racquetball. Now, he’s on the (Florida Racquetball Association) board with us. And he runs tournaments with us.”
A six-time president of the association, Bailey joked: “I’m old and out of shape. But on my best day, I’m a decent open player. I can be one extreme to the other, from day to day. I can be really good one day and really bad the next.”
He doesn’t play as many tournaments as in the past, partly because he helps host seven to eight tournaments a year including the Galaxy Custom Printing IRT Pro/Am in Lilburn, Ga. It takes a lot of juggling because he and his wife, Crystal, have five children ranging in age from three-years old to 21.
Bailey — who participated in just about every sport in high school, even cross-country running — admitted that he’s “extremely competitive” and just kind of latched onto racquetball.
Over the years, the 44 year old has paid the price in the form of injuries. The past-and-present list of ailments includes: a “nasty” pinched nerve in his neck; a torn meniscus in his knee; a suspect ACL (anterior cruciate ligament); and sore elbow and shoulder. “It is what it is,” he laughed.
This time of year is especially tricky for him because it’s tax season. When they took the tournament over three years ago it was at the beginning of March — not good in terms of his day job as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). “It’s almost impossible,” he confided. The next year they moved it to February. Now, it seems to have found a home at the end of April, after the accounting chaos.
“It’s no big deal,” Bailey said. “We’ve done so many of these tournaments that we got a system. We have really good vendors and people for food and all that kind of stuff. It’s just a matter getting the orders in with them and everything else pretty much runs itself.”
He noted that there are usually four or five key people assisting with the tournament, as well as a lot of people pitching in right before the event. “I kind of float around and do a little bit of everything,” he said.
Last year, the Florida IRT Pro-Am tournament drew about 180 players and the draw in the pro and open divisions was “loaded,” according to Bailey.
“We’re in Florida in April, so it doesn’t take much to entice people to come,” he said. “They come usually on Wednesday and don’t leave until Monday. When the tournament is over on Sunday, they kind of hang around and do the beaches.”
While the tournament is a lot of work, Bailey is motivated by his “love” for the game and was excited when the IRT gave him an opportunity to retain a pro stop in Florida.
“These IRT Pro Stops and the US Open they just have a completely different feel,” Bailey said. “I don’t know if it’s the fact that the top guys are there standing around talking to people. I like that. It’s like the difference between going to a college football game and a pro game. You just feel the difference.”
By Jim Medina
Jim Medina is an award-winning journalist who got hooked on racquetball at the former Dan Gamel’s Racquet Club in Fresno, CA. A graduate of Fresno State, he now lives in Oxnard, CA. He is an A-level player striving to raise his game with the help of a thriving racquetball community at LA Fitness in neighboring Ventura. He is a media consultant who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.