Oldest Juniors Program Still Going Strong
Over 500 hundred kids from almost twenty high schools participate in the Missouri High School Racquetball Association (MOHSRA). Established in 1979, it’s the nation’s longest running junior racquetball programs and one of the largest high school racquetball programs in the nation.
“Historically the league has evolved and developed over the years, but it continues to grow and is now the largest it has ever been, despite a perspective from some that racquetball is in a decline. This many kids playing a winter sport is a testament to racquetball still going strong,” stated League Director, Dan Whitley.
Whitley is the man behind the more recent growth of junior racquetball in the state, joining the program in 2002 and changing the landscape not only for the Junior Racquetball program, but in St. Louis as a whole.
The MOHSRA offers a league consisting of a ten-match schedule along with four tournaments culminating with the state tournament. This program greatly helps racquetball grow in the state as it encourages the junior players to branch out and play in state tournaments, both locally and across Missouri, and to continue their participation past their high school days. Also it is exciting for parents and older athletes to see the enthusiasm and camaraderie the younger players have for the sport, exemplifying to them that racquetball is alive and well. For example,Whitley’s club, Vetta Sports – Concord, offers two different racquetball summer camps for juniors. One focuses on skills and conditioning while the other is a ladder format, allowing for ample playing opportunities during the often-slower summer months. Instructors like Whitley offer complimentary lessons during both camps.
The MOHSRA’s successful, first-of-it’s-kind program has proven to be a workable model, with its teams and players consistently placing well at high school nationals. St. Louis University High and Cor Jesu Academy won their respective team titles in 2011. It’s a showcase for junior and up-and-coming talent in our sport, and also the countless hours of selfless work given by coaches, like Whitley, and volunteers, such as previous players who have returned to give something back to the league that provided them with so much.
The league’s development really inspires true friendships between players and coaches, creating memories that last a lifetime. For me, I realized a passion for racquetball that I never thought I could. The competition, while very intense during the matches, brings about wholesome friendships afterwards in a way I have never seen matched in any other field of play.
If you went to the MOHSRA state tournament and didn’t know any better, you might assume it was a family reunion. Almost everyone that I come into contact with on a daily basis I know because of my time with MOHSRA. My club racquetball team at the University of Missouri consists of all former MOHSRA players representing many of the high schools in the league. Racquetball in Missouri is truly a life long sport that starts with the high school program in St. Louis.
By Brendan Giljum
For more information on the Jr. Program, its history, or how it works, go to www.mohsra.com