On our courts, any hinder called is played as a non-malicious, unintentional safety hinder, and therefore, as a friendly do-over. No “avoidable” hinders get called. Sure, there may be some good-natured griping, but we have always agreed to get along, practice safety first, and eschew conflict.
But, is the hinder worm turning? Here’s Terry Croyle’s take.
Our best player, our “Alpha Dog”, has opened up Pandora’s Box recently by broaching the subject of the avoidable hinder. He is understandably frustrated about having to play with lesser talent … we have a limited number of dedicated players in our town. These players run the gamut from youngsters in their 20’s, Testosterone Tots, to curmudgeons in their 60’s, Gandolfs. They range from big and tall, see Albatross below, to short and squat … from powerful to powerless … from emerging open level talent to apologetic C’s, with most OK B’s or legitimate A’s. With this variety of skill levels and employed strategies, it can get kind of confusing and crowded, if not a little chippie. But, make no mistake, we all feel better walking off the court with a win.
Alpha Dog, usually paired with the Apologetic C, relishes the challenge. But he also expects special dispensation as his reward for being so superior. If Alpha Dog misses a shot, it certainly can’t be his fault. The avoidable hinder has become his new focus. Of course, he has to hold up on a shot at times, and sometimes he hesitates and then doesn’t execute perfectly – but that happens to us all. So, he might take the shot or call the hinder, mumbling that “these” types of hinders should be called avoidables, and he is being kind to his pack by not enforcing these clear violations of official Racquetball Rule 14.037, Avoidable Hinders (doubles): Who Gives a Rat’s …?”
He then escalates the situation by issuing a stern warning that these obstructions may not be so easily forgiven in the future. Alpha Dog plays the next few points with furious intensity, swinging extra special hard in order to emphasize his level of frustration. At this time his partner, Aploogetic C, who already must confine himself to nine square feet in the back right corner, may as well leave to check his hash tags, because his services will not be required for a while. It’s kind of funny and the other team has been known to share a snicker or two.
Next day, Alpha Dog, VP of a local business establishment, busily texts during an important meeting to one of his underlings, who also plays, about the merits of enforcing the avoidable hinder rule. This guy, known as Albatross due to his nine-foot wingspan, is a perpetual hinderer. But he is oblivious to this fact. Albatross, the perfecter of the z-serve that ends up right behind him every time and forcing a ceiling return, texts back, “Right on, Alpha Dog”.
Some guys, honestly, would love to never be in the way. After all, it hurts when a ball hits us. But, poor Gandalf, wizened more than wizard, claims he is too old and slow to get out of the way, and would you please forgive the old codger for daring play the young man’s game? When they do get hit, these old guys get bigger bruises, since they not only have fragile capillaries but are also on blood thinners.
The ex athlete, who is now woefully out of shape, is another of the hindering types we see on our court. The Squatter (aliases: Heavy D, Back at You, Wheezer, and Who Me?) has skills but can only last two games, and that is only if he can pick a spot in the center and hunker down. Applying the principle of “Squatter’s Rights” to racquetball, possession of the center permits him to live in the center. To paraphrase lyrics from my favorite Modest Mouse song, his logic “holds no water, but he uses it like a dam”. Maybe the Alpha Dog has a point.
The Alpha Dog wannabes often dress like the Alpha Dog – on our court this usually involves a bandana. This has become such a fixture of the better players that the B’s and C’s never dare wear a bandana, so as not to be construed as pretenders. But, I digress.
The Bandana Boys are good players and they know how to get out of the way, but they also now how to get in the way, legally – adhering to the letter of the law but not the spirit. One guy gets so close to his opponent as the opponent is preparing to hit, especially when there is a wide-open set-up or likely kill, that his opponent knows what the Bandana Boy had for lunch. Non-bandana players can’t try this. It is clear that the Bandana Boys can lose perspective as well as their sense of humor about the game, sometimes acting as if racquetball is their day job.
The Commando (a.k.a., Sargeant Hulka), is ex military; he has a different approach. The broad-shouldered military retiree, who can still do one-handed push-ups, figures a few racquetballs in the back are a relatively small price to pay when compared to a career spent stemming the tide of Godless communist aggression. He also knows that if he can get you into a no-holds-barred game, he’s got you. His idea of a hinder is that there is no hinder. There’s also no holding up. The safest way to play with The Commando is to say, “excuse me, I have to go home to pick up dog poop or write my alimony check”. Anything is better. We can go weeks without a solid strike, but in 30 minutes the Commando will have pelted everyone on the court. And, though not privy to the sickening thwack of BHB (ball hitting butt), a crowd gathers from the nether-reaches of the YMCA to find out what all the wailing is about. Seeing The Commando land one in the ear of an opponent sends the crowd recoiling in revulsion like the feeling you get watching street magician David Blaine mutilate himself with a knitting needle.
Well, I wonder how you handle the avoidable hinder in your neck of the woods. In our small, genteel town we never call avoidable hinders, we just mumble, mumble, mumble – just loud enough for the opponents to know we are mumbling. If they ask whether there was a hinder, in a gesture of sportsmanship and magnanimity, we say, “Naw, I took the shot”. And then we mouth toward our playing partner, who can’t read lips, “but I should have held up … next time I might not”. At least that’s how it usually works.
International Racquetball Tour (IRT) contributor, Terry Croyle, is an ophthalmologist in south Georgia. His masochistic, as well as futile, approach to the denial of aging is to subject himself to regular racquetball beat-downs by the younger players (and they’re all younger).