The Ball That Changed Racquetball
Have you ever watched professional players on the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) blast shots all over the court at speeds close to 200 mph and wonder how their arms don’t fall off? Well, turns out the Pro Penn HD might deserve some thanks.
Championed worldwide for its visibility, durability and low-tension impact on players’ joints—not to mention changing racquetball forever with its influence on lighter racquets—the Pro Penn HD recently underwent an updated design. It’s still everything professional and recreational players around the world have come to love, but with enhanced rubber compounds, additional ball texture and even stronger durability.
The HD originally made its way onto the scene nearly 10 years ago. Doug Ganim, Director of the UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Racquetball Championships and Indoor Promotions Manager for HEAD Penn Racquet Sports, recalls the birth and growth of the Pro Penn HD quite fondly. “We developed the HD ball with the help of the top-ranked touring pros. IRT players ranked in the top eight all received samples of different weights, speeds, and textures, and we were able to accumulate all the data from their feedback to come up with a consensus on the best possible product.”
And though the ball was initially designed solely for pro players, the effects eventually transcended outside of the professional game. “Amateurs didn’t realize that hitting heavy balls designed 20-25 years ago with newer, lightweight racquets required their wrists and elbows to absorb some of the shock,” remarked Ben Simons, Sr. Business Manager for Head Penn Racquet Sports. The amount of risk for an occasional recreational player is probably minimal. However for anyone who plays semi-often, especially big-swingers with ultra-light racquets, the HD ball plays a major role in avoiding injuries such as tennis elbow and tendinitis.
Lighter balls had been attempted in the past, but they’d always break shortly into use because of the thinner wall thickness. Engineers were eventually able to develop a compound that worked with thinner walls. The result: a lighter ball to go with the new lighter racquetball racquets. The heaviest racquet on Tour is around 180 grams, according to Ganim, with most players competing with racquets in the 160-175 range.
Durability and additional comfort are just two of the three major components of the Pro Penn HD. After all, it’s named “High Definition” for a reason. Video testing was the biggest factor in selecting a color easily visible for players, spectators and television cameras. The ball needed to show up well on white walls with light wood floors. Ganim, Simons, and their team found that purple fared best. “Wewere able to make a lighter weight ball that can withstand the hardest hitting players in the worldbecause of our proprietary engineering and patented rubber compounds. It’s really quite a unique product in that respect,” stated Ganim.
Ganim would know. He played racquetball professionally for over a decade, having signed a pro player contract with HEAD in 1983 and winning three racquetball World Championships in doubles from 1988-1992. “I was hot and heavy in my playing career back then and was able to do a lot of field testing with new technologies and new products.”
While Ganim’s field testing didn’t directly yield the Pro Penn HD product, it was part of a long road of tweaks that eventually produced the most dynamic ball in the world favored by novices, amateurs and professionals alike. Over the decades, Ganim has seen the evolution. “The HD ball used to be used by only competitive players. Now it’s even sold at Wal-Mart!” These days, everyone can hit with gear the pros use, like the Pro Penn HD ball, showcasing No. 2 Rocky Carson on the label.
By IRT Freelance Writer, Kyle Blasco