Nearly 30 years after winning his first men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) pro stop at the Davison Athletic Club in Davison, Michigan, Cliff Swain took to the courts with his newest competitor—his two-year old son, Liam, who was born on the tenth anniversary of the death of Cliff’s dad, Red Swain, in whose honor the tournament is named. They can already plan for the rematch. Tournament Director, Don Schopieray and IRT President, Jason Mannino, locked down the Red Swain Shootout dates for the for the next three years.
“I wanted to sign with Jason so we could take advantage of advance opportunities for promotion and planning,” explained Don. “We’re already pumped up for next time. It’s like having a racquetball party at your club, with all of your friends and the best players in the world arriving for the weekend.” The party started on Thursday, as amateur and pro competition lead to Saturday’s semifinal and final matches for both the Open and Pro divisions (although the Open final was forfeited). The “wildly popular” schedule made for entertainment opportunities around the action on the center stage. #13 ranked Head/Penn sponsored Brad Schopieray and Ektelon’s #9 Andy Hawthorne set up a demo section around the court, allowing people to try out racquets while giving them pointers as they hit with the newest line of gear. With other pros hanging around, everyone had the chance to mingle while getting playing tips.
Fans also had the unique opportunity to hear the kind of insights on the pro matches not usually apparent to the amateur eye. Cliff Swain stepped up to answer audience questions. “There were so many questions during the match, from why one pro was hitting harder than the other and why Kane is so dominating,” recalled Cliff. “I realized people don’t completely understand what’s happening. I plan to answer questions at this and any other tournament when asked. Fans enjoy knowing more about what’s really going on.” Obvervations about the game from someone with Cliff’s experience brought aspects to light than what many of us normally see.
#1 Kane Waselenchuk demonstrated his mastery, rolling through to the final, giving up only 31 points in 12 straight games while all of pros battled him and each other on their way through the draw. #7 Shane Vanderson and #4 Jose Rojas gave the fans a closely fought quarterfinal match down to the tiebreaker. #3 Alvaro Beltran fought off a nagging back injury and #6 Tony Carson to five games in the quarterfinals before taking #2 Rocky Carson to another tiebreaker in the semis. At first, the match did not look like it would go to five games. Rocky walked off of the court in frustration for a -1 score in the first, but came back to win games three and four. In the end, Alvaro came out ahead -1, 1, (12), (11), 12-10 to face Kane in the final.
The competition off of the court heated up, too. Don described the high-level table tennis program at the club and how an impromptu challenge started up—in Ping Pong. “There was a group in the VIP area trying to beat each other. Rocky was the king of the table. Ben Croft was big in it, too. One of our local players from one of the Detroit clubs really held his own. He might have been a C or B racquetball player, but at table tennis he’s really good. Ben had the best score in the basketball shooting game. He walked around with his chest puffed up.” Don laughed about all the trash talking that went down, not centered on racquetball. “Everyone was feeling good. It’s a benefit of a Saturday night final.”
Don described how his staff, including Keith Bryan, Tom Blakeslee, and Rich Westerbrink do “99% of the work” for the tourney, so fans, sponsors and players had the chance to play a well-run match schedule and interact in other unique ways. Instead of a Sponsored Pro/Am doubles, fans could bid for an hour with a top-eight pro. “Kane spent an extra hour on the court, which he didn’t have to do. Chris Crowther wound up chatting in the VIP Lounge. All that his sponsor wanted was to ask him some questions over a couple of beers. The sponsors loved the chance to spend time playing or chatting with their favorite pros.”
Providing the chance to mingle, and watch world-class racquetball is 100% worth the time and effort, according to Don. “There are so many things that go on during the week of the tournament that are priceless. You can’t get that kind of stuff anywhere else. The players are so cool to work with, doing what I asked without complaint. I don’t know how many people told me what a nice guy Rocky is. Ben, who comes off as really competitive on the court, is also such a nice guy in person. I can see that he just really wants to win.”
This tournament takes Ben back to his home territory. “Growing up just north of Chicago I’m a little biased toward the midwest,so I love going to Davison for the Red Swain memorial. It’s such a lowkey, but very competitive atmosphere, and the people are very down to earth.”
Don enjoys the other tournaments at the club, but it’s not the same as having a Tier 1 pro stop. “The members can’t believe it when they see the event and already are talking about how they can’t wait for next year.” Ben joins those who are glad they’ll have the chance. “Davison overall is just a fun place to play. The old school club, smoothly run tournament, and down-to-earth people reminded me why we need more tournaments in the midwest!”