Racquetball Detailed Rules
Paddleball Detailed Rules
Court Layout

written by Aaron Embry


Originating as far back as the 19th century, Racquetball is a culmination of several sports, taking some of the best elements from Squash, Handball and Paddleball. Still played by professional athletes today, the game is also enjoyed by millions of gym-goers as a premium form of fun meets exercise.


Racquetball’s roots date back to the 1800’s and debtor’s prison in England. At that time, when people ran up debt and couldn’t pay, they would go to debtor’s prison. Men moved into the prisons with their families and all of their possessions. Many of them were prosperous and owned tennis racquets. There were no tennis courts in prison, so the men improvised and started playing ball with their racquets against the prison walls. Later, these modified one or three walled courts began appearing outside of prisons (there was never a fourth or back wall). This new game was called Rackets.  Soon the game was being played at schools, and in time migrated into the mainstream.  The British Army brought the game of Rackets to Canada, and it eventually spread to the United States.

Giving birth to Squash

The game of Rackets was also the basis for a game called Squash. There weren’t enough Rackets courts for all of the interested players, so instead of waiting for an available court, people played in the smaller courts designed for Handball. The Rackets ball was too hard to play with on the smaller court, so someone thought of poking holes in the ball to slow it down a bit. It worked well, and when you hit the ball with a racquet, it deflated: the racquets squashed the ball. This was the birth of the game called Squash.

The four-wall game

Four-wall Paddleball was invented by Earl Riskey at the University of Michigan in 1930. The school’s Tennis players often practiced their strokes on Squash or Handball courts when the weather was bad. They sometimes used the wooden paddles of Paddle Tennis instead of Tennis rackets. It occurred to Riskey, the University’s director of intramural sports, that a game played with paddles on a Handball court might be a good addition to the intramural program. He adapted the rules of Handball for the new sport, which he originally called “Paddle Tennis on the Court.” Within a short time, the game became known as Paddleball.


The inventor and pioneer

The modern game of Racquetball was invented in 1949 by Greenwich, CT resident Joseph G. Sobek (1918 – 1998), although he is not credited with coining the name (he called it “Paddle Rackets”).

In the 1940s, Sobek, a Tennis Pro and Squash and Handball player, was dissatisfied with the indoor court sports available and he sought a way to make Handball easier on his hands.  He designed the first short strung paddle and, with a partner, invented a game in 1949 he called “Paddle Rackets”, which combined the rules of Squash and Handball.

Seeking a game with a faster pace that was easy to learn, his experiment was an overnight success.  The sport quickly became popular with everyone except the die-hard Handball players who resented the Paddle Racket players for taking over their courts.  By 1952, Sobek founded the Paddle Rackets Association. He codified a set of rules and printed them up and sent out promotional kits to YMCAs and other sporting organizations to promote the sport.

In 1968 Sobek’s Paddle Rackets Association held its first National Championship tournament in Milwaukee. It was called the Gut-Strung Paddle Rackets National Championship, and Bill Schultz defeated Bill Schmidtke in the finals 21-18 in the tie breaker. Also, in 1968 Sobek connected with Robert Kendler, head of the US Handball Association (USHA).  Kendler was intrigued by the new sport, and the next year he founded the International Racquetball Association (IRA). Kendler used the Handball publications to publicize the sport of Racquetball and build its popularity even further.

Under Kendler’s direction, the first truly open National Racquetball tournament was held in St. Louis, Missouri in February of 1969 where Dr. Bud Muehleisen, using a Dayton “Steel” strung racquet, defeated Charlie Brumfield, using a “wooden” Sportcraft racquet, 21-20 in the tiebreaker. Both Dr. Bud and Charlie Brumfield were experienced Paddleball Champions, and had decided to compete in this new sport of Paddle Rackets only 6 weeks prior to the St. Louis event. The name “Racquetball” was formally accepted at an organizational meeting held during the St. Louis event.  Bob McInerney, a Tennis Pro from San Diego, proposed the name. There was a long debate about the spelling -- “qu” or “k”? -- because certain people in the room did not want the new sport associated with the negative connotation that the word “racket” had. The “qu” prevailed, and the sport has been called Racquetball ever since. At the same meeting, Dr. Bud Muehleisen (considered by many to be the father of Racquetball) was chosen to establish the official rules and approve all equipment development.

The rise of popularity

By the early 70's, court clubs could be found in every state, and the sport enjoyed a rapid and steady rise in popularity. As Americans sought new and challenging athletic activities, the timing was perfect for Racquetball – courts were accessible nationwide and the sport was fun and easy to learn. The late 70's and early 80's saw Racquetball become one of the fastest growing sports in America as thousands of new Racquetball courts were built to satisfy the demand.

The associations

By 1974, there were about 3 million Racquetball players in the US. That year also marked the first professional tournament held by the IRA.  Eventually, the IRA became the American Amateur Racquetball Association (AARA), and in the late 1990s it renamed itself the United States Racquetball Association (USRA). In 2003, the USRA was renamed USA Racquetball (USAR), to mirror other Olympic Games Associations.

In 1979, the International Amateur Racquetball Federation, now known as the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) , was founded with 13 countries as members. In the 1980’s, Racquetball was one of the fastest growing sports in the US.

The Ladies Professional Racquetball Association (LPRA) was founded in 1980. Other recent landmarks in Racquetball history include:

  • 1981: The first Racquetball World Championships
  • 1982: The US Olympic Committee recognized Racquetball as a developing Olympic sport
  • 1995: Racquetball achieved full medal status in the Pan-American games


Times are exciting for the sport. Racquetball is now played worldwide in over 90 countries on five continents with 14 million players internationally It’s now a full medal sport in the Central American Games, the Central American Caribbean Games, the South American Games, Bolivarian Games and the World Games. With this international exposure, Racquetball is sure to continue its expansion. With this growth, comes the formation of several outstanding Racquetball companies like Gear Box and Pacific Sports Warehouse. These companies are advancing the sport in ways Racquetball’s founders could never imagine.

Personal Interviews from: Dr. "Bud" Muehleisen.
Edited by: Matt Schulz..
Sources are: USA Racquetbal, International Racquetball Federation, The History of Racquetball – From Prisons to Country Clubs by Shannon Schwartz, and The Complete Book of Racquetball, by Steve Keeley.