Pro players in many sports are wined, dined and raking in large amounts of money. But just ask any pro racquetball player and they tell a different story. Unless you are Nos. 1-3 in the world, many times you are left scrambling for table scraps.
Not in the case of #6-ranked men’s professional International Racquetball Tour player (IRT) Jansen Allen, who has taken a different approach on the pro circuit. First and foremost, Allen earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees before going on Tour full time.
He’s had success, winning college titles, state titles and a Gold and Silver Medal at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, on his 25th birthday no less. Some would say he’s had success, but gold and silver medals don’t pay the bills for the guy from little Rice, Texas, a small town just outside Corsicana about 50 miles south of Dallas. He recently made the move to Dallas, right in the heart of downtown.
“Playing in Texas all of my life has really been great for me,” Allen said. “There are so many players here, especially in the North Texas area. Living in Dallas has really been good for me. Anytime I want to play there is always someone at the gym. Coming from a small town, it is nice to see so many people playing all the time. I have met a lot new people since moving to Dallas a year ago, and the move has definitely been worth it for me.”
Texas is chock full of tournaments, players and gyms, giving Allen a chance to play in his home state and in front of family and friends in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Austin and Wichita Falls, to name a few.
“Most all of the tournaments I play in are out of state, so it is always nice to be able to drive to a few here and there,” he said. “Playing in Texas also gives my family a chance to come support me. My dad and I have a great relationship. He has always been very supportive and has always wanted to see me succeed.”
“I have an amazing support team, my mom, stepdad, brother, girlfriend, sponsors, Texas racquetball and so many friends here in Texas that I am so thankful for.”
However, one place stands out among all of his Texas stops – the historic Maverick Athletic Club in Arlington. Arlington may be home to the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers, but it’s also home to numerous tournaments every year, including the Texas State Singles Championships.
“I started playing at the Maverick when I was really young, and I still enjoy playing over there,” Allen said. “[Owner] Bob Sullins and [Program Director] Leo Vasquez have always been big supporters of racquetball and without them Texas racquetball definitely would not be the same as it is today.”
Vasquez watched Allen grow from a high level junior player to the pro he is today.
“When I first think of Jansen, I also think of his mom and dad, Jim and Debra, who were the ones who supported him and took him to all of these tournaments throughout Texas and across the country as well,” Vasquez said. “Watching him rise to the top of the pro rankings was fun to watch, especially since he grew up with our Texas racquetball family.”
“Jansen hasn’t forgotten where he came from either, as he also travels to the USAR Junior Olympics and coaches the kids at the event all week. How many other kids can say their coach is one of the top players in the world?”
Allen’s family has always been supportive. You can find his father, coach, confidante, etc., Jim Allen, at many tournaments. Although his father does not stand out from the crowd with his quiet and unassuming demeanor, he is always there during his son’s matches to help with strategy during critical points.
Before he left for the Pan American Games Allen’s hometown newspaper, the Corsicana Daily Sun, published an article in which his family spoke about his progression from a top junior player to where he is today. It’s not surprising Allen turned out to be a great player, considering his parents met playing racquetball.
“Back in the ‘80s in the U.S., that was racquetball’s hey-day. Racquetball was huge and there were tournaments all over,” Jim Allen told the Daily Sun. “Before aerobics came along and everyone started running and before the spinning classes, racquetball was a huge issue.”
Debra Schnieder, Allen’s mother, ran racquetball tournaments and that’s how she and Jim met. They were both active in the sport when the Corsicana YMCA ran tournaments. Both played racquetball and wanted to share their passion with their children. Both sons — Jordan, now 29, and Jansen — learned the game when they were young.
By the time Allen was 10 he was playing in tournaments in the C and D divisions against opponents three and four times his age.
“They couldn’t get over how good he was,” Schnieder told the newspaper.
“Yeah,” said Jim. “Some guys didn’t like it. It was funny watching him playing guys who were 30, 40 and him beating them.”
“Some of the guys got mad when [Jansen] would beat them 15-1, 15-1,” Jordan Allen said in the article. “They would say, ‘That kid!’ I played in tournaments, too, but he was just that good, he beat everybody.”
Jordan remembers one particular time when he and Jansen were playing doubles together.
“We were playing a tournament in Houston when we were kids and a guy hit me in the back with the ball. It really hurt. And the guy said to me, ‘You need to learn to get out of the way.’ About a minute later, Jansen hit the guy in his backside with a shot, and the guy turned around in pain. Jansen said, ‘You need to learn how to get out of the way.’ It was nice to know that my brother had my back.”
Who is Patrick Sanchez?
In 2015, another person entered Allen’s racquetball world – Patrick Sanchez. Sanchez is behind the scenes and not often well known by other racquetball players. The question, “Who is Patrick Sanchez?” is often heard around the courts. Only Allen can answer that question.
“I met Patrick at Texas State Singles in 2015. Dr. Mike Gray (Allen’s chiropractor and one of his sponsors) introduced me to Patrick about possibly taking some lessons from me, and ever since then we just became great friends and he has really been a big part of my success this past year. He and [his wife] Deborah have been so supportive and I can’t thank them enough for that.”
Despite knowing each other for less than two years, the bond between Sanchez and Allen is evident. At an event at Sanchez’s home after Allen returned home from Toronto with the gold and silver medals, Sanchez became emotional when discussing Allen.
“I really feel blessed to have such a great friend like him who helps me out so much,” Allen said. “He always takes time out of his schedule to help me out anytime. It’s always nice to have someone in your corner at a tournament. It always helps me focus more on playing after travelling all day and running around to get settled in.”
Sanchez isn’t just Allen’s racquetball confidante.
“Jansen and I are not just racquetball buddies,” Sanchez said. “We talk or text each other almost every day about racquetball, daily activities and personal things. We have developed a trust in one another to the point we discuss the strategies on how he plays against top players. I also have a close relationship with his family and girlfriend, Paige.”
A unique way
Despite having a few naysayers a year ago, Allen has come out smelling like a rose on the business end of racquetball. Some might say he’s put his business degrees to good work. But sitting in an office all day isn’t as appealing to Allen as being a pro racquetball player, travelling the U.S. and internationally winning gold medals. Go figure. He’s living every club players’ dream right now.
“A lot of people laughed at me when I first posted a year ago on Facebook about having an agent [Sanchez] help me find sponsors,” Allen said. “When I met Pat he asked me why I didn’t have more sponsors, and at the time I thought what I had was pretty good. I found out pretty quickly that Pat knew what he was doing, and before I knew it he had already found two sponsorships for me within a month.
“Patrick’s brother professionally raced motorcycles a few years ago and Pat helped with sponsors. Corona was one of their major sponsors, so he had a background with negotiating and sponsorship-type deals. I do think it helps having someone who can help negotiate and initiate sponsorship deals for you. It can be tough as an athlete to handle deals on your own in my opinion.
“I definitely believe [the way I’m lining up multiple sponsors is the way to go for most pro players]. It is getting harder every year to find sponsors.”
Sanchez had a plan when he decided to help Allen with sponsors.
“Jansen has a huge support team that helps in a lot of different ways,” Sanchez said. “The role I play is getting sponsors for Jansen to take some of the financial burden off him so he can concentrate on playing and not on how will he get there. At the beginning of the 2015-2016 season, I set out to get five sponsors. We got the five sponsors and have a unique relationship with each one.”
“I help with his social media, making of fan cards, shirts, setting up photo shoots, demos and even shag balls for him while he’s working on his drive serve.”
Sanchez put to rest any rumors that he’s receiving something in return for his help.
“I’ve had several players ask me what’s my cut or what do I get out of it,” he said. “The day me and Jansen met I was playing in a state racquetball tournament and having trouble against a left-handed player. Jansen was a spectator and signaled for me to call a time out and coached me through the rest of the match. He later gave me lessons and taught me more about racquetball than I learned in 25 years. I would have never thought the No. 6 player in the world would have taken the time to help an amateur A/B player like me just because.”
“What I get out of it is every club player’s dream. The opportunity to play on a weekly basis with the world’s best right-side doubles player, No. 6 IRT player and a great friend.”
Allen remains young at 26 [he’ll be 27 in July] and has already accomplished so much in his career. He’s going to have to set some lofty goals to beat the medals at the Pan Am Games.
“The Pan Am Games was easily the most exciting highlight of my career in racquetball,” he said. “That will be a hard one to beat for sure. Winning a gold medal on my birthday is about as good as it gets. With the Pan Ams only coming around every four years, you never know if you will get the chance again in your career. You have to perform your best when it counts and get a little lucky as well. My family was also there to enjoy the experience with me and I will definitely remember the Pan Ams the rest of my life.”
“Right now I want to keep playing to see how far I can go. I’m lucky enough to have the support by so many sponsors and I want to play as long as I can. I have a master’s degree in business so when my racquetball career is over I feel confident that I can fall back on that.”
Quiet but passionate
Allen may be the most docile professional player on the courts. He’s his father’s son – quiet, unassuming and smooth on the court. But don’t let his calm demeanor fool you. He’s passionate about racquetball and all other sports he plays.
“I have always been an athlete and loved playing sports, not just racquetball,” he said. “I played a lot of baseball in high school. I shot a 72 in golf my senior year in high school and won district so I have always been competitive and loved being active all of my life.”
“With racquetball it can sometimes be tough to stay motivated because I have played so long, but I know that there is only a small window of time in my life that I can compete at this level and want to look back when I’m older and know that I went as far as I could go. I think when I look at it that way that is what motivates me the most.”
That small window closes fast and Allen understands that. Week in and week out beating yourself up on the court and surviving on the road isn’t always fun and exciting.
Playing the tour
“Playing the tour full time can be a grind at times,” Allen said. “It can be tough to get in a routine when you are always eating out on the road, staying in hotels, flying sometimes every week and trying to stay focused as well. Playing every week takes a toll on your body and luckily I have Dr. Mike Gray who keeps me healthy and ready to go week to week.”
Reaching the top 10 on the IRT is a goal many professionals seek to achieve. But make no mistake, Allen isn’t satisfied with the No. 6 ranking he maintained all season.
“Of course I am happy to be in the top 8 on the IRT, but I really feel like I have the ability to be even better. I feel like I have made it to No. 6 really just on athletic talent and my experience playing racquetball over the years. It takes hard work both mentally and physically and I think if I can continue to improve in both of those areas of my game, then I can move up even higher in the rankings.”
Many players come straight out of high school and attempt to play the tour; however, Allen took the college route so goals were slightly different than most.
“When I first started playing the tour, I was just coming out of college so I really didn’t have much of a ranking on the IRT. When I first started playing the tour, my goal was to be in the top 12. It took me a full year of playing the tour to really boost my ranking into the top 12. From there, I just chipped away and before I knew it I was in the top 10 and then the top eight.”
In his spare time, Allen keeps busy by conducting lessons and continuing to promote the sport he loves.
“I try to give back to the sport as much as I can, especially during the offseason,” Allen said. “I play at some of the local clubs here in Dallas with a lot of the local recreational players and they just love it. I play players who would never get the chance to be on the court with a pro and that really means a lot to them.”
“This is also my second year helping Junior Team Texas at Junior Nationals and I really have a lot of fun with that. The kids really look up to me and I am happy to help in any way I can.”
So, don’t be surprised when you see Allen at your local club in the Dallas area, hitting balls, chatting up sponsors, signing autographs, conducting lessons or just hanging out with his racquetball family. He’s smooth on and off the court and so far, that has led to success in both areas.
By Dale Gosser
Dale Gosser is the Ektelon Regional Advisor for North Texas and racquetball coordinator for Life Time Fitness in Mansfield, Texas. He is the managing editor for the Cleburne Times-Review and Johnson County News newspapers as well as Community Life Magazine.