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EAST BREMERTON — No matter the sport — whether it’s something more mainstream like baseball or football — to more niche sports like sailing, equestrian or motocross — finding a place to play and others that share that passion is paramount.

It’s the same for racquetball.

Rocco Vega, head professional at Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center, hits the ball during the President’s Day tournament Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, while playing a match against Blake Converse.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

The Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center has been the home of racquetball enthusiasts for several decades. The repetitive and distinctive “whack” of the racquet as it sends the small rubber ball careening off-white walls is, to the say the least, addictive to those that play the sport.

“This is my one day a week that is my favorite day of the week,” said KTAC member and professional Grace Hughes, who plays at the club regularly. “It’s not just fun, we really do try and beat each other.”

Grace Hughes prepares to hit a backhand during a President’s Day tournament match at KTAC Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2018.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

The center has also been home to the annual President’s Day tournament, one of two popular tourneys it hosts a year. October’s Columbus Day tournament is the other.

Earlier this week players joined together in doubles, singles play, and while many of them face each other on a weekly basis the tournaments add a little spice to the usual matches.

“When you get a tournament like this you start to see the competition really come out,” Vega said in between his matches Wednesday night. “You really find out what players have. It’s fun. It’s a different venue than the Tuesday night league.”

Vega, who’s originally from San Diego and started playing because his father, Danny Vega, was an instructor, started playing at the club five years ago. He was recently named the Washington State Racquetball Association president, along with the head pro at KTAC, and travels around the state as well as nationals and U.S. Open tournaments.

“I love playing racquetball. I love the tournaments. I love the people,” Vega said. “It’s a nice way to get away from everything for a weekend.”

Hughes said playing weekly has increased the camaraderie and competitiveness.

“I think that we’ve all upped our games because of each other,” she said. “We don’t mind who it is on the court, we just play.”

Yas Yamada hits the racquetball during the President’s Day tournament at KTAC Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

Vega said to have players like Hughes, and Gary Jones, who compete at the professional level, playing at the club weekly is a gift.

“I hope people can take advantage of watching them play, getting to know them, learning from them,” he said.

Because Vega travels around the state, he knows who and who isn’t playing in other tournaments. It’s one area he would like to see more Kitsap players involved in — USA Racquetball-sanctioned tournaments in Seattle and Tacoma. With about 80 players that play out of KTAC, there’s certainly enough local players who could make an impact at the state level.

“It just grows the community, it raises the level of competition, and you get to know a lot of people,” he said.

Vega also hosted a junior racquetball clinic for children as a way to introduce them to a new sport.

“Kids, they pick stuff up so quickly,” Vega said. “They get good quickly, and then they have fun, and now they’re doing it with their friends. And now they’ve got an activity that’s healthy that they learn and there’s a lot involved in the game.”

Getting the next generation playing is a second reason why Vega wanted to start a juniors clinic.

“I’ve done a couple of junior clinics here and my focus over the next couple of years is shifting to even more junior clinics, events, and activities,” he said.

KTAC members Larry Tuke, bottom, and Doug Whittle play during the President’s Day racquetball tournament at the athletic center Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

And Vega would know how much kids enjoy playing.

“I was in my dad’s hands when I was a baby,” he said. “He would bet people. ‘I’ll carry my son around and play you,’ and he would, he’d beat them.”

It’s that social aspect of racquetball along with the competition that keeps Vega, Hughes, and others coming back for more.

“This is my favorite place to play,” Hughes said.

President’s Day Tournament

Monday-Wednesday Results

A Singles*

1, Scott Sampson 90 points. 2, John Lewis 70. 3, Brian Miller, Derek Bugg 67.

B Singles

Quarterfinals: Pat D’Arienzo d. Justin Helwick 15-6, 12-15, 11-9. Scott George d. Doug Whittle 15-11, 15-12. Shawn Carper d. Larry Mizar 15-4, 15-1. Will Herbert d. Larry Tuke 15-13, 15-13.

Semifinals: George d. D’Arienzo 11-15, 15-11, 11-9. Carper d. Herbert 15-14, 15-8.

Final: Carper d. George 15-8, 15-9

C Singles

1, JR Rask 59. 2, Mike Betty 50. 3, Ken Hall 15.

3-Singles Consolation

Final: Tuke d. Whittle 8-15, 15-10, 11-10.

Open Singles

1, Rocco Vega 66. 2, Grace Hughes 52. 3, Yas Yoneda 38. 4, Blake Converse 24.

60+ Singles

1, Brian Miller 51. 2, Pat Conners 48. 3, Tuke 24.

*round-robin decided by total points won.

Open/A Doubles

1, Grace Hughes/Gary Jones 100. 2, Frank Steward/Kevin Naud 94. 3, Nilo DelaCruz/Joe Gonzales 93. Also, Tracey Sundquist/James Zeitler 90, Brad Burdyshaw/Pat Conners 80, Jerry Robison/Harley Greninger 56.

B/C Doubles

1, Doug Whittle/Randy Tutterrow 90. 2, Brian Miller/Bill Kennish 72. 3, See Larson/Justin Helwick 71. Also, Ken Hall/JR Rask

*super round robin, winners based on total points

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