South Charlotte

Area’s top players prep for racquetball event

Jason Bledsoe (blue shirt) and Dennis Myers (black shirt) are preparing for the Fall Classic Racquetball Tournament at Dowd YMCA.
Jason Bledsoe (blue shirt) and Dennis Myers (black shirt) are preparing for the Fall Classic Racquetball Tournament at Dowd YMCA. JOE HABINA

When Dennis Myers was growing up in Myers Park and attending Dilworth Elementary School, he played some of his first organized sports at the nearby Dowd YMCA.

Myers was a regular in the youth basketball leagues. He picked up racquetball by emulating his mother, Janet Myers, who was a professional player. He’s pretty sure his family has video of him playing on the Dowd racquetball courts as a 2- and 3-year-old.

Now 31, Dennis Myers is one of the favorites to win his skill division at the Fall Classic Racquetball Tournament on Sept. 19-21, one of two annual tournaments hosted by Dowd.

“I’ve grown up (at the Dowd YMCA),” said Myers, a South Park resident who works as a tennis pro at the Charlotte Tennis Academy in south Charlotte. “I’ve played all over the country. It’s just fun to have your family there and to sleep in your own bed. But it’s a little nerve-racking when they’re there watching.”

Myers plays in the open division, the highest level of competition, which he won in 2013. Though he continued to play recreationally, Myers has not played in a tournament since the spring of 2014 when he won the N.C. State Singles tournament.

The Fall Classic represents the start of the new racquetball tournament season in the state and Myers figures it’s a good time to play competitively again.

The tournament is co-directed by Dowd YMCA athletic director Austin Neiheiser and Eric New, a Charlotte-based player who serves as the vice president of the North Carolina Racquetball Association. The Fall Classic is sanctioned by USA Racquetball.

Registration filled up at 140 players for the fourth consecutive year, according to New who added that the Fall Classic is the largest tournament in the state. Players from as far away as Iowa, Maryland, and Florida will compete.

Prize money is awarded to the winning players in the top singles and doubles divisions.

“I love that it’s local,” said Alice Wilson, 44, from Highland Creek. “They are courts I’m familiar with. I love the speed at which the balls come off the walls. With 140 players going in, I love the energy. Everyone is so excited to play. Everyone is so supportive.”

Like many Charlotte-area players, Wilson plays recreationally at Dowd a few days a week on one of its seven courts. She and doubles partner Sonja Leitner, a High Point resident, are defending Fall Classic champions in the Women’s Open A division.

Fellow University City resident Jason Bledsoe, 38, has won the state singles championship twice since moving from south Florida to Charlotte eight years ago. Injuries have kept him from playing in tournaments outside of Charlotte over the last couple years but now he’s looking to become more involved.

Bledsoe will team with Keith Taylor, a 41-year-old Ballantyne resident, who grew up playing at the racquetball club his father owned in Virginia Beach. He’s sponsored by a major equipment supplier to promote its products and the sport.

Bledsoe and Taylor won the Fall Classic men’s doubles open division championship in 2014, the first year they teamed up.

“Keith and I are probably one of the top teams in the state,” said Bledsoe. “He complements me real well. I have a really good backhand. He’s really great on the forehand side. He has good footwork. He reaches a lot of the shots I can’t get to. He cleans a lot of things up for me.”

Though Myers played a lot of racquetball growing up, he spent even more time on tennis courts. He graduated from Myers Park High and played competitively at N.C. State and UNC Wilmington.

After returning to Charlotte, he picked up racquetball again.

In 2013, he qualified for the prestigious U.S. Open in Minnesota. He won the age group championship and finished in the top 32 in the open division.

Now that he’s picked up racquetball again, Myers hopes he can play well enough to reach the U.S. Open again.

“I’d like to expand a little more, play more pro events,” said Myers. “I want to go to nationals in Denver and maybe some more local events (in the Southeast).”

Joe Habina is a freelance writer: