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Eldridge Recreation and Fitness Center hosts last racquetball tournament

The Eldridge Recreation and Fitness Center will close on Dec. 3.

ELDRIDGE, Iowa — Correction: This story previously stated that Eldridge had a YMCA facility. That is incorrect, and News 8 apologizes for the confusion. 

Local racquetball enthusiasts held a racquetball tournament at the Eldridge Recreation and Fitness Center last weekend, offering over $2,000 in prize money.

But to many of the participants, the tournament represented something that can't be won: friendship.

The Eldridge Rec Center will close on Dec. 3 to make way for a newly built YMCA that will open two days later on Dec. 5. However, the North Scott Community YMCA, of the Iowa Mississippi Valley, will not have any racquetball courts. 

The North Scott facility will be the seventh YMCA location to open in the Iowa Mississippi Valley. 

The next closest public space with racquetball courts is in Rock Island, but there are only three courts there. DeWitt's rec center also offers racquetball.

According to tournament organizer Josh Paul, that isn't enough to hold big tournaments like the one he has held for eight years at the recreation center.

"This is the largest racquetball venue that we have in the Quad Cities," said Paul. "So for us to run a tournament of 70+ players, we need a facility that's got as many courts as this place does. We just don't have anything that's that big."

Eldridge residents voted in 2019 for a public review of the City's plans to build the $14 million building. And now that it's been completed, the old one will close, leaving some racquetball fanatics sad.

"These friends that I've made over the years playing racquetball, I won't see them here in the Quad Cities next year," said Paul.

It's a sentiment that Eldridge Recreation and Fitness Center worker Tim Shoemaker shares. 

"I believe it'll be extremely hard to stay in contact with the clients here and also with the racquetball players," said Shoemaker. "It'll be more and more difficult."

Shoemaker has worked at the front desk for more than six years and has come to meet and make friends through his time playing on the racquetball courts after work. Friends like Paul.

"[Racquetball has] been a part of my life since I was going to St. Ambrose way back when, in like 2000," said Paul. "And I've been playing racquetball ever since."

And that love for the sport is what convinced and motivated Paul to set up a Quad City-based racquetball tournament. 

"I just like running this event because I like to give back to the sport and I like to have people here [and] make some friendships here in the Quad Cities," Paul said.

The tournament over the weekend saw 73 players sign up, which in the eighth year of the tournament, was a record number, beating the 2019 record of 71 registered players.

And of those 73 players, one was a 14-year-old from Minneapolis who currently sits on Team USA's Junior National Racquetball team named Elizabeth Denler.

"We have to get a bunch of tournaments and training in, so we decided that this would be a good tournament to go to," said Denler. 

She is currently training for the World Junior Championships to be held in Guatemala later this year.

"I thought this was a pretty fun tournament," said Denler. "I've never been here before and I did not know it was closing down so that's news to me, but like that's really sad because this is a nice club."

And according to Paul, without playing on Eldridge's courts together, a new tournament in a different facility just won't have the same feeling.

"It's not gonna be quite the same, but racquetball is a big part of all of our lives and we're gonna continue playing," said Paul.

There is no membership arrangement between the Eldridge Rec Center and the new YMCA facility.

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