Back in the day when racquets were small, shorts smaller, and network TV showcased the thrill of victory and agony of defeat, two manufactures dominated racquetball. As the sport powered into the mainstream during the ‘70s, one company made over 50% of the racquets sold everywhere – and its descendant still makes its own racquetball frames and a big impact on the sport today.
Kunnan Lo founded Kunnan Enterprises in 1969, producing most of the world’s racquets for badminton, tennis, squash, and racquetball for Leach Industries. As the popularity of racquetball exploded, two manufacturers vied to dominate the United States market. “The competition for time and viewership was totally different then, because there’s a lot more [media] noise now,” explained former top pro Dave Peck. “Each business tried to sign the best players, offer the highest payouts, and get the most coverage on the few channels that offered national exposure. Everyone wanted those dollars…the Type A personalities and confluence of all the factors really made it fun.”
The rivalries continued into the ‘80s even as the sport’s explosive growth slowed. When another company acquired Leach in 1981, many employees at Leach transferred to ProKennex, the house brand Kunnan had established in 1980 to expand his manufacturing business. In 1983, ProKennex founded a racquetball division named after top pro Marty Hogan, who joined the company after his contract with Leach expired. Player and company representative, Dean Foes, had been involved all along. “From the start, the idea was to get one or two pros who were going to be competing on Saturday or Sunday, and being seen on TV rather than signing as many players we could.” Under Marty Hogan’s name, ProKennex developed the first mid-sized frame in 1987 and their first over-sized head, the Shadow, in 1989, all finished with the familiar black sail logo on the strings.
Mike Martinez joined the company in 1990, beginning an ascent to his current position as CEO/President North America. Although the Marty Hogan division retired in the mid-90s along with its namesake, Martinez’s commitment to the players continued as the pro tour and ProKennex evolved. He’s held fast to a perspective that started in the pro game’s infancy. “I work directly with our factory, and still design the equipment and a brand within ProKennex, Kane Waselenhcuk’s Krowning Moment.” Waselenchuk is the reigning champion in the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT). “The fact that he genuinely likes our sticks first opened the door for us when we first started contract negotiations.”
From bitter rivalries to a more genteel corporate environment today, ProKennex evolved from the people and company behind the gear in racquetball’s early days. That commitment to the game continues, capping the IRT season with the ProKennex Tournament of Champions at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, Oregon, May 15-18.