Submitted by Shane Mauldin, McKinney ISD
There is really only one rule to racquetball says Brian Barberis, “Hit the ball.” What comes after is the hard part as young Brian backhands, swats, lunges and plows ahead in a 40 by 20 by 20 square box with one solid goal—hit the ball.
Opponents and friends know Brian is serious about the sport. During a recent workout at LA Fitness in Plano, the 11-year-old bested and challenged opponents four and five times his age. And it is no easy thing to admit that a squat kid half your size is kicking your tail on the racquetball court, especially one who just started playing racquetball two years ago.
“He hits offensive balls,” says Brian’s doubles partner Ann Marie Scott of Plano. A petite woman not much taller than Brian, the pair sometimes plays together and they have named their team The Leprechauns. “They can see over us but they can’t beat us,” she laughs. Scott says Brian’s skills are top notch.
“He concentrates really well,” says Scott who has been playing racquetball since the late 1970s. “He has a much better form than I do.”
A 6th grader at Jack Cockrill Middle School in McKinney, Brian is already a champion in his own right. He won the United States Racquetball Association Junior Nationals last June, was a silver medalist at the Junior World Championships last November and is the Captain of the US National Team 12 and under.
He won the Longhorn Open at the University of Texas in Austin for his age division this month. “I can’t help but play. It’s like an addiction. I just love it. I have a passion for it,” explains Brian during what was supposed to be an off day. But sitting on the bench outside of the racquetball courts at LA Fitness, he can’t resist the temptation to play. He asks the adults walking by, including Ann Marie, if they are up for a singles game, a doubles game, anything. He just has to play.
“I can’t stand to be off the court,” says Brian.
But he does spend some time away from the gym and tournaments. He attends school and practices his trumpet but “I mostly spend my time with adults,” says Brian. That’s partly true. Brian has seven siblings many of whom have played different sports including racquetball and hockey. But Brian is determined to be the best in his family and the best in the world. He wants to play professionally and perhaps develop a company so he can sponsor other young players.
Brian quit baseball and now plays racquetball five days a week for two to three hours a day. He works on repetition, passing, shots, serves and ceiling balls and for anyone unfamiliar with the sport, racquetball is a total body workout. Players lunge, run, use core strength to stay agile but many players still get knee, wrist or face injuries. With rackets and balls and bodies flying across the court, into walls, into each other sometimes, injury is part of the game and so are big bruises.
Brian shows off a bruise he got over the weekend at a tournament. It’s a badge of honor for racquetball players and why gyms require players to wear protective eye wear. A blue ball zipping at your head at high rate of speed can do real damage.
Brian is also incorporating more cardio into his workouts to be more competitive and he has already earned corporate sponsorships and colleges, including the UT Austin, have expressed interest in him. That’s good news for Brian’s dad and coach David Barberis, “Racquetball and squash are the easiest college scholarships to get.”
Barberis was a baseball catcher in college and later played in the majors. He has been teaching racquetball since 1991. And says “as long as Brian is having fun with it,” he will encourage him to play as long as it does not interfere with his school work. “The only pushing that I do is here,” Barberis says, pointing to the gym court.
Indeed, during a match with an adult, Brian became frustrated. He was technically better than his opponent but he was bested by the older man. Barberis looked at his son in the glassed in court, tapped his forehead and mouthed the word “concentrate”. Brian’s small body was covered in sweat and he furrowed his brow in frustration. He hates losing.
Both Barberis and Brian want to see more young people involved in racquetball. It challenges a player on every level but Brian is all too often the only under 20 player in most gyms and schools rarely have racquetball courses for young people. They would both like to see that change. Racquetball is a challenge for young people and a sport that is affordable and fun.
For now, though, Brian is happy playing with the big guys.
Written by Joanna Cattanach