Sez Ozden remembers a skinny teen from Lakeside High School who regularly annihilated anyone who dared to step into a Patriots Park racquetball court with him.
Racquetball player Jason Thoerner warms up before competing.
Photo by Donnie Fetter
Now 30 years old and living in Canton, Ga., Jason Thoerner returned to Patriots Park as a professional racquetballer to compete in the Second Annual Ralph Temple Classic on Saturday and once again defeat anyone with the nerve to play him.
"He used to beat us pretty bad," said Ozden, himself a former U.S. Open Racquetball Tournament champion in the over-45 division. "I think he came back because he wanted to toy with us some more."
Thoerner laughs and swears that's not the case. He came back to honor the memory of a departed friend.
"Next to my parents, (Ralph Temple) was my biggest supporter," he said. "I just wanted to do this for him."
Temple, a retired Navy commander and avid racquetball fan, passed away three years ago after a battle with cancer.
Although competing in the tournament held April 30 through May 2 at Patriots Park, Thoerner came more to perform than to play.
"I just want to have a good time," the 13th-ranked racquetball player in the world said. "There's nothing at stake here for me, so I just want to cut up a bit."
Thoerner first picked up the sport at age 7 when his parents moved to Florida from Pennsylvania and opened a fitness center featuring a couple of racquetball courts. While at Lakeside, he won four national doubles championships.
After his graduation from Lakeside in 1992, he joined the International Racquetball Tour and started making a name for himself.
With a serve clocked at close to 160 mph, he earns, on average, $30,000 a year playing in tournaments around the world.
"That's just a drop in the bucket compared to some guys," he said. "The top eight players can make anywhere between $80,000 to $200,000 a year with sponsorships."
Now married with an infant son, he also owns his own printing business in metro Atlanta.
Despite the demands on his time, Thoerner said he's not ready to hang up his racket just yet.
"I've made a lot of great friends from all over by playing racquetball," he said. "That's why I keep playing. We're a pretty tight-knit group of people. I would really miss those faces if I stopped."
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