When former men’s professional International Racquetball Tour player Adam Karp joined the IRT Team as Vice President of Event Development in 2011, one of his first orders of business was to get some events in Texas and start building towards a Tier 1. “It’s one of the biggest states in the nation and one of the biggest states for racquetball,” Karp said. “It was kind of a shame that we really didn’t have a presence there for pro racquetball.”
Home to 10-time season ending #1-ranked player Kane Waselenchuk, the Lone Star state faced a lull of over 10 years of professional top-tier racquetball until last Sept. (2014) when the Krowning Moment Pro Invitational and The Bobcat Open reversed the trend and brought the top 8 pros to San Marcos, TX. “Being the #1 player I felt a bit of responsibility that there wasn’t a tournament in Texas,” Waselenchuk said of being an IRT representative and bringing an event to his state.
Waselenchuk’s namesake tournament will celebrate its second season at Texas State University (TXST) Oct. 22-25 and mark the third straight Tier 1 tournament in Texas since 2014. His brand, Krowning Moment, hosted a second tournament during the 2014-2015 season April 30-May 3 in Edinburg at the University of Texas-Pan American.
So how does a state previously with no Tier 1s make a turnaround of epic proportions to currently call home to multiple satellites and two Tier 1s?
You start from something small and build momentum to grow it to something larger and get passionate people to lead and host tournaments.
JoAnna Reyes, the National Director of Player Operations at Pro Kennex, was one of those passionate people who started directing tournaments in 2007. “She was one of the first people that I spoke with to kind of get this going back in 2011,” Karp said. “She was on board with the same kind of vision that I had.”
Reyes started working for Pro Kennex in 2011 and was encouraged by Mike Martinez, President of Pro Kennex USA, to bring the pros back to Texas. She started with Tier 4s and Tier 5s in Corpus Christi named The Kane Train Series of Texas presented by Pro Kennex and now called the PK Tour IRT Satellite Series. Her goal with the satellites is to attract top Texas talent like Eddie Sada from Weslaco, TX and Patric Mascorro of Fulshear, TX and provide the opportunity for more professional players to make a living from racquetball.
Both initial satellites in 2011 featured top IRT professionals like Rocky Carson, Ben Croft, and Charlie Pratt along with Daniel De La Rosa who has been a constant at her tournaments. “We’ve always had the support of Daniel De La Rosa,” Reyes said of De La Rosa’s involvement in the satellites at Corpus Christi. “He is instrumental in the success of these Satellites because he didn’t care if it was a Tier 5, whatever it was, he was here. He’s the one who made the Satellites a tournament to be at with his great personality and athletic ability. Fans just love to watch him play and visit with him.”
She has also grown two tournaments into Tier 1s because of her connections. Reyes approached her Pro Kennex colleague, Jody Morris, to add The Bobcat Open to the PK Tour IRT Satellite Series at TXST in 2012. “I lean on her a lot especially as we’ve grown this from a [Tier] 5 to a [Tier] 4 to a [Tier] 1,” Morris said. “I look forward to the future and doing it as long as we can do it and be productive and give back to the sport.”
Reyes then used her relationships at the University of Texas-Pan American from her past years of assisting and supporting their tournaments to bring a second Tier 1 to Texas, The Krowning Moment Pro Invitational Internacional, as a fundraiser for the H&K Club in the second half of the 2014-2015 season. “I saw that as a perfect opportunity because there were a lot of players that we have across the border [in Mexico],” she said of bringing the pros to Edinburg in South Texas. “The border is only 20 minutes from that university. So that would truly make it an international event.”
At both tournaments, Reyes has made it a priority to have the juniors play on the courts next to the pros. “By having those juniors be able to see Kane in their home state and say ‘Wow that’s Kane, I can now relate to Kane. If he can do it, I can do it,’” said Reyes. “One of my goals is to have the juniors involved with the pros so that they can see that they can live up to their potential and possibly earn a living at it.” She has also been involved in assisting the junior division at another IRT Satellite, The Longhorn Open, the largest event in Texas.
Waselenchuk plus Reyes is a winning combination in Texas that can hopefully continue this resurgence for many years to come. “So between Kane there, the #1 player in the world, and JoAnna Reyes kind of going out and actually getting all the work done,” Karp said. “Those are the two biggest factors in why we’ve had some growth in the Texas area for sure.”
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-Twin Cities, 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. Mueller has also worked in marketing and public relations for the St. Paul Saints professional baseball team, Gopher Athletics at the University of Minnesota and the 2015 Cowles Cup Champion Chicago Bandits professional softball team.