Racketlon, ‘the Ironman of racket sports,’ calls Northampton home

  • Seated from left to right, Patrick Moran, Jeremy Easterbrook and Bryan Song wait their turns on the tennis court of the Smith College Indoor Track and Tennis Facility during the Massachusetts Racket Masters Racketlon Tournament. The event raises money for Smith’s squash team. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Allen Fitzsimmons, left, and Bryan Song play table tennis next to a squash court where Michael Moshan and Ken Wu, right, play during the Massachusetts Racket Masters Racketlon Tournament held at Smith College. Fitzsimmons, of Belchertown, was the only local to compete in the elite class of the event. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bryan Song, left, and Jeremy Easterbrook face off on the squash court. Easterbrook says, “Because you are never the best in all sports, everybody is very humble.” STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jeff Kolodney competes in the badminton portion of the event. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kevin Ng, shown playing table tennis, traveled from Hong Kong to compete in the tournament. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Patrick Laplante of Canada plays against Kevin Ng (not pictured) of Hong Kong during the Massachusetts Racket Masters Racketlon Tournament held at Smith College on Saturday, April 27, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Rachel Meyers competes in the tennis portion of the event. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Patrick Laplante of Canada plays against Kevin Ng (not pictured) of Hong Kong during the Massachusetts Racket Masters Racketlon Tournament held at Smith College on Saturday, April 27, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kevin Ng of Hong Kong plays against Patrick Laplante (not pictured) of Canada in the Massachusetts Racket Masters Racketlon Tournament held at Smith College on Saturday, April 27, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 5/13/2019 4:05:59 PM

Holyoke is the birthplace of volleyball, Springfield lays claim to basketball’s beginnings and Amherst touts its founding role in Ultimate Frisbee. But did you know that Northampton is the center of Racketlon in the U.S.? Yes, that’s right, for the last three years, Smith College has hosted The Massachusetts Racket Masters.  The only officially sanctioned Racketlon tournament in the U.S., it attracts top players from all over the world. 

You might be thinking, what the heck is Racketlon?  Dubbed “the Ironman of racket sports,” each tournament consists of one game of table tennis (ping pong to us plebes) followed by badminton, squash and tennis. It might be easier to think of the order in terms of racket size, smallest to biggest. Each game goes to 21 points, and the points are all cumulative, so the person with the most points wins. A player may have four matches in a day and can end up on the courts for five hours, thus the sport earns the “Ironman” sobriquet.  The sport started in Finland in the ‘80s, then spread to the rest of Scandinavia. Today, it’s huge in Europe, big in Canada and starting to take off in Asia. But the States… not so much. This is where Andy Stenson, a guidance counselor at Four Rivers Charter Public School in Greenfield, and now the grand poobah of U.S. Racketlon, comes in. 

“I’d been playing squash and tennis at Smith for a couple of decades,” Stenson explained, “and one year the former Smith squash coach hosted a Racketlon taster event. He saw that I was pretty good at table tennis and suggested I should compete in Canada. So in 2014, for my 50th birthday, my whole family went up. It was grueling, people working to tire you out, but I had a blast!” After playing more tournaments in Canada, Stenson was encouraged to organize something in the U.S. Besides being his home base, the facilities at Smith were perfect since the gyms allow all four sports to be played under one roof. Stenson and Smith struck a deal, whereby the entrance fees would benefit one of their teams. It made sense to designate the squash team since they had been recently demoted to a club sport. The women on the squash team work the registration desk and keep score and in exchange, they have netted up to $1000, which their current coach, Randima Joubert, says “is a huge deal, because our funds are limited. It helps us pay our travel expenses when we go play other schools.” Joubert has also enjoyed competing in two of the last three events.

This year’s tournament, held April 27 and 28, attracted many elite players, including the top two in Canada, the number one in over 55s in the U.K., and a competitor from Hong Kong. They were looking to rise in the international rankings by racking up points, but there were participants of all skill levels — including people who had never played before. 

Speaking with the competitors who were there, one gets a sense of why this quirky sport has its fans. The points are cumulative, “so every point counts” Stenson says, and “calls are very important.” You think that would lead to tempers flaring and the unique possibility of throwing four different rackets. But as top Canadian player Jeremy Easterbrook points out, “Because you are never the best in all sports, everybody is very humble and players have greater empathy.” A lot of the elite players used to compete when they were younger in one of the four sports, but most didn’t have what it would take to compete at the top of their respective sports as they got older. When they come to Racketlon, everyone is a beginner again. Patrick Moran of Brooklyn, who took a team of five to Vienna last year to compete as Team USA, explains that “In Racketlon, even if you have leveled off in one sport, you can enjoy the ability to improve in each of the other disciplines.”  There is a sense of camaraderie among players who plan business trips around events and get to know people from all over the world. Kevin Ng, who came to Northampton from Hong Kong, said, “I got into it last year, and got addicted.” He has already traveled to Thailand and Vienna to play. 

 Racketlon is a bit of a tough sell in the States where badminton can be a stumbling block. Patrick Laplante, a player from Canada, says, “to me, it’s crazy how few people play badminton in the U.S. In Canada, it’s part of P.E.”  But that didn’t stop Northampton local, David Starr, from competing with other First Timers. “I hadn’t played badminton in 30 years, but for me, it’s a dream to play four sports in one day. It’s really fun, and as a local squash player, I’m certainly invested in the keeping the Smith squash team vibrant.” Andy Stenson and Patrick Moran are committed to growing the sport in the U.S. Maybe they just need a catchy slogan. “Racketlon players do it four times!” is up for grabs, as one player noted.

To learn about participating in upcoming Racketlon events and the results from the tournament, go to racketlon.net, the Federation for International Racketlon’s official website.




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2019 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy