At a time when personal tragedy and professional difficulty dominated his life, John Scott found salvation in racquetball. As the voice of the IRT Network drops his mic, it’s his “racquetball family” that has left the largest impression on him.
“What stands out perhaps most isn’t the amazing matches, the complete dominance of Kane [Waselenchuk], or the wonderful places that I’ve been,” Scott, the “Mouth of Racquetball,” commented. “It’s the family that I made. What I look forward to most when I go to events are the incredible amount of supporting fans, friends, and extended family that has joined together to support what I do.”
It began in Bowling Green, Kentucky by accident with a touch of serendipity. “[Former International Racquetball Tour (IRT) Commissioner] Dave Negrete had ESPN360 come to do a couple of events,” Scott remembered. “At the time I was in the radio business and was very familiar with doing play-by-play for several college sports. The announcer couldn’t show up to do the event because he was sick at the last minute, so Dave asked if I would fill-in.”
Like Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees when Wally Pipp fell ill, Scott took the job and never looked back. The network he worked for was another story. It quickly became apparent that the ESPN360 model was not a good fit, so an outside businessman started the IRT Network, where Scott remained as a broadcaster. When the network struggled to remain solvent, Scott scraped up enough cash and investors to make the purchase and keep the dream alive.
During that time however, Scott’s life was in turmoil. He and his wife endured two late term miscarriages in two years. In a twist of heartbreaking irony, both babies were buried on Father’s Day.
His professional life had also gotten unexpectedly complicated. “I had left a great paying corporate job, only to find out that I would be named in a corporate lawsuit,” Scott explained. “I kept that quiet for a very long time, and then when it was over I spoke only to family members about it. It was a horrible attack and thankfully the lawyers proved that it was a hoax. I wasn’t out too much money, but it along with the kids had taken a toll on me.
“During all of that I had started to really withdraw into myself,” he continued. “After about three years of severe depression, sadness, and travel I had felt as lonely as anyone could.”
Racquetball is Life
The Hopkinsville, Kentucky native began playing racquetball as a teenager, eventually becoming a force in the junior ranks. After playing in exhibition with pro Mike Ray and attending a camp led by Jack Newman and Ruben Gonzalez, Scott realized the sport was etched into his DNA.
Today Scott heads a conglomerate called EnetLive.tv, which includes the IRT Network and variety of other sports and interests. It’s through this forum; he hopes to grow the IRT Network and the sport of racquetball.
“One key initiative is a new bundle package that I am working on with our other main court sports that include pickleball and platform tennis,” he explained. “I am working every day with cross promotional efforts and with marketing efforts to get outside industries involved in the entire portion of what we know as EnetLive.tv.
“While the standalone numbers in racquetball, platform tennis and pickleball may not interest an outside industry sponsor, collectively they certainly command a very good value,” Scott pointed out. “It is my goal to bundle what we are doing and bring outside industry into our sport.”
The preliminary signs are encouraging. Last season’s Facebook Live broadcast of the Coast to Coast California IRT Open Final between Kane Waselenchuk and Daniel De La Rosa reached nearly 500,000 viewers and is the site’s most watched racquetball video of all-time. Now that he’s handed the IRT Network’s broadcasting duties off to #12-ranked IRT player Mauricio “MoMo” Zelada, Scott will devote even more energy to the business side of the network.
A revamped IRT Network website is at the forefront. “The new site should help greatly as far as new innovations go,” he pointed out. “The overall customer service experience will be much smoother and easier to navigate. There will be several new social media pieces that people can stay tuned in to while also watching the network. There’s some pretty cool stuff coming down the pipe. I’m very excited about some of the new opportunities of the website, the most important in my view is the increased exposure that racquetball will get.”
“Best and Worst Day”
On February 12, 2015, the racquetball community was rocked by the sudden death of Russ Mannino, Scott’s broadcasting partner and father of former world No. 1 player and current IRT president, Jason Mannino. Scott was beginning his broadcast day when Russ Mannino stopped by to tell Scott that he would “be right back after I go kick this guy’s butt at National Doubles.” Shortly after that a voice came over the intercom asking for a doctor. Since Scott, a volunteer fireman, knew CPR, he rushed to the scene to offer assistance. A man he did not recognize was on the floor unconscious. Scott immediately went into action.
“He was having a heart attack and I started CPR,” Scott remembered. “The folks working at the venue brought an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) and I shocked him three total times in a span of about 11 minutes or so. I kept getting his heartbeat back, and then he would crash again. I could feel his ribs breaking under my hands, (one of the worst feelings but necessary when doing CPR right), as I prayed my guts out. ‘God please don’t let this guy die’ is all I could say. When the fire department got there, I told them who I was, and debriefed them on what I had done. Since I was a fire fighter, they let me continue a bit longer before relieving me.”
Glenn Cunningham survived thanks to Scott’s intervention. While Scott was attending to Cunningham however, improbably another man had collapsed. Russ Mannino had suffered a massive heart attack and there would be no happy ending. He was just shy of his 68th birthday.
“Russ died. Glenn lived,” Scott said. “That day was both the best and worst day in my racquetball career…I do not believe that God calls us to arbitrary places for unspecific reasons, and I know that I was there for Glenn, and that makes me so happy, but losing Russ was a weight that was hard to carry. I have never said this publicly, but not being able to save Russ has been very hard to live with.”
Reflecting back at where he had been in the wake of family tragedies and the lawsuit, Scott acknowledges that people like Russ Mannino had actually saved him. “Had it not been for some of my racquetball family, Russ included, I would not be alive today.”
By David Zingler
David Zingler has been a freelance writer on the Minnesota sports scene for 15 years. He has done work for Minnesota Public Radio, Minnesota Score magazine and Internet Broadcasting, among others.