WILKES-BARRE — Racquetball at one time was a passion for me. In fact, my friends and I were among the first 100 members at Royal Courts on Route 315 when it opened sometime in the late 70s.
We were really into the game. We would play singles, double and cutthroat (three playing against each other).
The game was fast and furious and it could be dangerous too. A simple lesson — never turn around when an opponent is about to strike the ball.
I have seen some crazy things happen on the racquetball court. From a player striking himself in the forehead with his racquet on a follow-through, to welts the size of, well, racquetballs on a player’s back and buttocks, to severe black eyes.
One friend decided to purchase protective eyewear that would keep the ball from striking his eye. And it did its job on the court. One day, after finishing playing three games of racquetball at King’s College, we decided to head out to the basketball court and play a pick-up game.
My friend decided he didn’t need his racquetball protective eyewear for basketball, so he took it off. About five minutes into the roundball game, yep, he got poked in the eye and had to seek treatment. Lesson learned.
Back then there was a player at Royal Courts who was pretty darn good. Butch Lispi would win most matches he played. Like I said, this was 40 years ago.
Oh yeah, Butch is 75 years old today.
But it seems Butch is still playing racquetball and he remains fiercely competitive. So much so, Butch recently won a national title — the 2018 National Masters Racquetball Association National Championships at the Warren Health and Racquet Club in New Jersey.
Butch captured the men’s maters title for men 75 and over. He played against six other finalists from across the country and Butch didn’t lose a match. Each match is best-of-three and Butch won all six of his matches 2 games to zero.
Butch told me he got a gold medal for winning the national title.
To play racquetball at any level requires quickness, agility, speedy reaction, skill and endurance. To be able to play at all is quite an accomplishment at any age. To be able to play at a competitive level — especially a national championship level — is remarkable and even more remarkable at age 75.
Butch said he has been playing the game he loves for 40-plus years — since those Royal Courts days. He plays five days a week, even on Sundays.
“I play religiously,” he said.
Butch has won several state tournaments in Pennsylvania.
So what’s the secret to his success?
“My secret is knowing where the ball is going to go and be ready,” Butch said.
He said he lifts some weights, but doesn’t overdo it and he does Nautilus.
”I try to stay physically fit,” he explained. “You have to be quick because when your opponent hits the ball, you have to know where the ball is going to go.”
Butch said someone once told him that he plays a smart, tough game and he doesn’t play his age.
If you can’t tell, Butch, a resident of Yatesville, really enjoys racquetball. And he really is proud that he won a national title.
“I’m aggressive on the court,” he said. “I don’t like to lose. I’ve always wanted to come home with the prize.”
Butch did get his wish. He enjoyed testing his ability against players he had never played before and who were the best in their age bracket.
“I always wondered how I would do against top competition,” he said. “When I won, it really made me feel good.”
Butch owns Lispi Brothers Towing on Route 315. His uncle owned Gene Lispi Chevrolet for years.
Butch said his doctor once advised him to find some kind of program that he would enjoy and would keep him fit. He found racquetball and 40 years later, Butch is a national champion.
“My doctor said it would get rid of stress,” Butch said.
Butch had to hang up. He said he had a match at 4 p.m. that he didn’t want to miss.
The national champ was anxious to get to The Athletic Club, just about a quarter-mile from his business on Route 315, to play the game he loves.
Butch Lispi, who once ruled Royal Courts, was now king of his age bracket.
Long live “The King.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at [email protected]