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Army Takes 4 Racquetball Crowns; Air Force, 1

By Rudi Williams and Cleo Brennan
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 14, 1998 – Army athletes smashed their way to first place in all but one division of the Army Invitational Racquetball Championships at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, May 18-21.

More than 70 racquetball players came from Europe, the Pacific, Korea and 40 military installations across the nation. They competed in roughly 100 games over a five-day span. Racquetball became an Army invitational sport after it was dropped as an armed forces sports event in 1993.

Staff Sgt. Jimmy Lowe, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan., garnered first place in the men's open division. His victory proved especially sweet this year as he defeated nemesis Senior Airman Rob DeJesus, 429th Electronic Combat Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. DeJesus beat Lowe last year and went on take first place in the 1997 national championship. In their rematch this year, DeJesus won the first encounter, but Lowe came back from the loser bracket to beat DeJesus, forcing and winning a final match.

"I've returned every year since 1983 and this is the strongest, most talented field of players I've seen," said retired Col. John Fuhrman. Hes a former Air Force racquetball team coach and the father of two current team members -- 1st Lt. Tom Fuhrman of Altus Air Force Base, Okla., and 1st Lt. Mark Fuhrman of Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.

All-Army racquetball team coach and master's division player Army Chief Warrant Officer Jim Gillhouse agrees about the quality of the players.

"We have some tremendous athletes in this competition, everything from people who are just breaking in to open levels of competition to world-class national championship-level players. There's a lot of diversity and there's always the unexpected," Gillhouse said.

"It's a very close-knit group. That's the nice thing about the racquetball community," said Lt. Col. John Davis, Air Force team coach. "This is the third year we've played together. There was a hiatus for about four years because of budgetary cuts, and they cut racquetball out of the armed forces sports program.

"But there was enough uproar that they decided to bring us back, so we're really just getting the sport back in the limelight again," Davis said. "It's been strictly because of the support of the Army and Air Force sports program. The support we've gotten from Fort Sam has been outstanding."

"Players are here primarily for the spirit of competition and camaraderie," Gillhouse said. "Regardless of how fierce the competition is, it's always a combination of competition and camaraderie."

Racquetball is more than a high-speed competition. Common denominators are a desire to compete and a love for the sport, Gillhouse said. "Racquetball is truly a lifetime sport. You can play this game from the beginner level to the expert level. It's something people can be introduced to as a young adult or child, and they can grow and play the game their entire life," he said.

"If you look around, you'll see every height, every shape, every personality in the world, Davis said. The key to this game is conditioning and mental toughness. It's just you against somebody else in there, and it's definitely not a team sport. It's an individual sport, and how well you do well, talent has a lot to do with it, but probably more than talent is mental toughness. It's a self-measure. I think that's what drives most of us.

"It's a very, very fast-paced game," he said. "From a workout standpoint, I think, of all the things you can do in calorie burn- off in an hour, racquetball is in the top three. A game of racquetball averages 700-800 calories an hour. It's a heck of a workout in a short period of time. Unlike golf, you don't have to chase the ball very far. You can easily lose five pounds a match."

(Cleo Brennan is a public affairs specialist in the Public Affairs Office, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.)

Division Winners

Men's Open

First: Army Staff Sgt. Jimmy Lowe, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.

Second: Senior Airman Rob DeJesus, 429th Electronic Combat Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.

Men's Seniors

First: Army Sgt. 1st Class Miguel A. Santiago Cruz, Academy Battalion, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Men's Masters

First: Army Lt. Col. Gilberto Rodriguez, Defense Special Weapons Agency, Alexandria, Va.

Second: Army Sgt. 1st Class Jesus Moctezuma, 588th Engineer Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas.

Women's Open

First: Air Force Capt. Tina Bragdon of the 76th Space Operations Squadron, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Second: Army Staff Sgt. Rosemary Anderson, 100th Engineer Co., Fort Bragg, N.C.

Third: Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Ynez Slaymaker, Combat Support Squadron, U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

Women's Seniors

First: Army Sgt. 1st Class Gladys A. Leonard, Northeast Army Reserve Intelligence Support Center, Fort Dix, N.J.

Top players represented the armed forces May 20-25 at the national championships in Houston. Team members were medalists Lowe; DeJesus; Santiago Cruz; Rodriguez; Moctezuma; Bragdon; Anderson; Slaymaker; Leonard; Marine Gunnery Sgt. Fernando Gambrizio, Marine Corps Air Station, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Army Sgt. Bouaphet Phanvongsa, Brooke Army Medical Center Troop Command, Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Duane Stevens, McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSenior Airman Rob DeJesus, 429th Electronic Combat Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., finished second in the mens open. He was the division winner in 1997. Cleo Brennan  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSenior Airman Rob DeJesus (left) defeated Army Staff Sgt. Jimmy Lowe to win the 1997 racquetball open division championship, but Lowe turned the tables this year. Cleo Brennan  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Staff Sgt. Jimmy Lowe fires his victory shot against Senior Airman Rob DeJesus to capture first place in the men's open division racquetball championship. DeJesus defeated Lowe for the title last year. Cleo Brennan  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSeniors division racquetball champion Army Sgt. 1st Class Miguel Santiago of the Academy Battalion, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, anticipates the path of a ball during the armed forces racquetball championships. Santiago will represent Puerto Rico at the Central American Games in Venezuela in August. Cleo Brennan  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. Bouaphet Phanvongsa, Brooke Army Medical Center Troop Command, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, prepares to serves during the women's open division racquetball competition at held at that installation. Cleo Brennan  
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