June 13, 20015: “Where It All Began” 2015 Summer Newsletter article by Lou Giampetroni, “The IM” 2015 Newsletter article by Jim Owens.
Posted June 1-3, 2015: Recollections from Mike Czabala, Andy Mitchell, and Charlie Brumfield, Picture of the Platinum Division at the 2008 Midwest Singles Championships, Pictures from April 18th gathering.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN …
Ann Arbor, Michigan — Aahhh … the Old IM (for intramural) Building at the University of Michigan.
It conjures up some wonderful memories.
This is where it all began — in the courts of the cavernous Old IM Building at 606 E. Hoover St. It was the first such structure. There now are two more bright and shiny IM facilities on campus.
The late Earl Riskey, generally credited with the development of four-wall paddleball, had a lot of false starts in the 1930s before the game blossomed. He was on the physical education staff and tore covers off tennis balls in an effort to get a ball that could be used for the sport.
There is a lot of paddleball history in the hallowed halls and 14 courts of the Old IM Building.
The court walls seemed to be indestructable — made not of plaster, as most courts are, but of wood. They have been known over the years to be the bane of power hitters who suddenly find their power shots are negated by the resilient wood.
Four-time national singles champion Steve Wilson hated to play in tournaments there.
Wilson, who probably hit the ball harder — all the time — than anyone in the sport, felt he lost his edge when he played there.
For many years, the lights in the courts jutted out from the left wall and ceiling area so that they required a protective metal grate to be placed at an angle from ceiling to wall the length of the court.
Now get this — if the ball struck the grate on the serve, it was a hinder. But once a rally got going, the grate was in play!
Some players got very adept at using the grate to their advantage. What might appear to be a lob toward the back, suddenly would hit the grate and drop near the front wall. POINT!
And to get to the courts was an adventure. Over the years, players were banged and bruised while going down the circular staircases to the courts from the balcony level.
Each staircase opened into two courts. Thus, there seven courts on each side of the playing area. And you got a tremendous workout just going from the second- or third-floor locker rooms to the court areas.
Then, around the mid-1980s the showers were modernized and many players said the place was sissified:they now had hot water!
While the courts have seen some of the best players in the history of four-wall paddlebal, perhaps the most memorable match ever played there was the 1979 national singles final beween Steve Keeley and Marty Hogan.
Keeley, a Michigan State University graduate, eventually won five national singles titles and two national doubles crowns.
Hogan, the national racquetball champion from San Diego, had never played in a National Paddleball Association tournament. Keeley was giving away nearly 10 years.
The match was played in Court 14 and the viewing area was jammed. It was an exciting match and Hogan eventually won in three games. It was the first of Hogan’s two NPA national singles titles. He also won in 1987 over Wilson in a tiebreaker.
The Old IM Building is an old structure but many paddleballers wouldn’t trade it for anything. — LOU GIAMPETRONI
Lou had written the previous article, “Where at All Began,” without knowing that the Intramural Sports Building at the University of Michigan, the “IM,” would close for a massive renovation April 20th. Those fourteen vintage hard courts described by Lou, the courts in which Earl Riskey started NPA style paddleball in 1930, will be completely removed.
Forty to fifty players and former players gathered April 18th to play or to watch others play paddleball one last time at NPA paddleball’s most historic site. Phil Conlin sought and received the approval for the gathering from the building supervisor. In Phil’s invitation to players, he noted: “On April 20th, 2015 the Intramural Sports Build in Ann Arbor is closing as we know it, a $22,000,000 renovation.” When the “IM” reopens in twelve to fourteen months, it will have only three new courts.
Times certainly have changed. In the 70s and 80s, it was hard to reserve a court at the “IM.” On Sunday mornings while the building was closed to the general public, the U-M Paddleball Club had claim to all fourteen courts. Preston Martin, a regular Sunday morning player, noted in a newsletter article a couple of years ago: “I recall those gatherings at the “IM”. In the heyday of paddleball, the ‘70s and early ‘80s, all 14 courts often would be filled with players and several players would be waiting for open courts.”
I have certainly had some great times at the birthplace of NPA paddleball, had and watched countless fantastic matches, met a lot of good people, and developed several long term friendships. The “IM” was unquestionably my favorite place to play.
Recollections, photos, Lou’s article “Where is All Began,” this article, and other articles on the “IM” will be compiled and posted on http://paddleball.org For those of you who have played at the “IM,” I encourage you to share a memory, multiple memories, or photos. Send them to me at email@example.com for posting. To view this compilation, find the tab under the NPA drop-down on paddleball.org, “IM” Courts Remembered URL: http://npa.paddleball.org/npa-info/im-courts-remembered/
Hall of Famers Andy Mitchell and Charlie Brumfield and University Michigan alumnus Mike Czabala have submitted some of their recollections, which are posted.
A positive note: We have been assured that the NPA’s historic collection of photos and artifacts will be safely stored, and that a new case, probably a bigger one, will be built for the NPA’s collection and proudly displayed in the renovated Intramural Sports Building.
From Mike Czabala
I certainly do have a lot of fond memories of the old IM. I remember some of my first paddleball tournaments ever being played there. As a youngster (and I today as well), I was always a huge University of Michigan fan, so playing on the courts made me feel like I was playing where the football team and basketball team practiced (or at least I thought so at the time!). I remember on the long walks up to the locker room stopping by and shooting a basketball around and hoping to spot someone famous. Once I eventually got to college, I was glad I got to live a block or so away from the IM. Not only did I have a ton of paddleball memories, but it was also a place where I played basketball, worked out, etc with my friends from college. I even picked up squash during college and played a couple of times a week with my roommate. We had some drawn out battles as we were on even ground with that sport as he was an avid tennis player. Paddleball wise, our weekly 1 hour matches where you (Jim Owens) taught me the value of killing the ball quickly were certainly great times.
If I had to narrow it down to one thing I loved about playing paddleball at the IM was the feeling of a connection to paddleball history every time I stepped on the court, walked down the spiral stair case, had a ball take an awkward bounce off a loose or dead board, or made the long walk hot walk up to the locker room. It was and still is one of my favorite places to play paddleball even though the playing conditions were not always ideal. I wish I could have been there for the final weekend of paddles. I understand the need for the university to upgrade the facility, but it’s certainly an end of an era of paddleball I wish everyone (especially the next generation of paddleballers) could experience.
From Charlie Brumfield
I will note that my first experience at the OLD Courts occurred in the summer after my first year of law school at USD LAW (1971). I was spending the summer with Mr. Keeley and with the Baldori boys in East Lancing. Played some paddles that summer with Andy Homa and one match with Mr. Keeley (who was full time as a Vet Student at that time). The trip to Ann Arbor was to play racquetball with Craig Finger, by whom I had been beaten in the 1970 National RB Singles Finals in St. Louis at the JCCA. Things did not go well for Craig at the Old Courts, and I vividly recall he uttered a string of comments during and after the match with which even I was unfamiliar. Paul Lawrence was not in attendance that date or he may well have experienced a substantially similar fate. More than forty years later, I again enjoyed the hallowed halls of OLDE. My opponent was Gordy Hatt. I do not believe my paddle friends gave me a requisite due process warning.
From Andy Mitchell
A couple of tidbits:
I can remember that my legs hurt so bad that I had a hard time getting up and down those spiral staircases and only one person could go up or down at a time!!
I remember that the locals could serve the ball and hit the air vent in the back left corner by the door and there were no court hinders. Also seeing the ball hit the crack along the wall and bounce or not bounce!!
I remember the cages by the lights that would deflect shots from hitting the front wall and the wood slat walls that would sometimes let ball slide down them.
I also remember watching Marty Hogan beat Steve Keely in the Open finals. What a great match!
Im pretty sure the refs were smoking cigarettes while reffing my match!:)
With all of that, it was always very nostalgic to play on those courts and there were a lot of great players that came form there and a lot of great paddleball was played there. I made many a trip to compete against the Old IM crowd!!
Submitted by Paul Jones, Platinum Division (65+)–2008 Midwest Singles Championships at the “IM.” In Paul’s words: “Here’s a photo from Jan 2008 of the old guys playing then.”
Pictures of the Old IM taken April 18th. Forty to fifty players and former players gathered to say goodbye to the courts where NPA style paddleball began in 1930. Phil Conlin noted in the invitation to gather at the “Old IM” that “On April 20th, 2015 the Intramural Sports Building in Ann Arbor is closing as we know it. ($22,000,000 renovation)”