In the midst of all the fast-paced, outdoor competition that takes place each week at Patriots Park in Evans, an unlikely trio has cornered the market on the lesser-known indoor sport of racquetball.
Lew Carlisle, Sez Ozden and Haley Rollins practice and play on the two racquetball courts at the Patriots Park Gymnasium Complex several times a week. Three weeks ago, they took a road trip to represent the area at the 10th Choice Hotels U.S. Open Racquetball Championships in Memphis, Tenn.
"As far as numbers, it's the largest tournament there is," Ozden said. "The competition there is excellent."
During the five-day tournament, the three friends represented Columbia County and competed alongside 700 other players.
All three came home with medals.
"I'll be the first to say that I get nervous, but it's still fun," Carlisle said.
Carlisle, an Evans resident, took the bronze medal in the Men's 55-plus C category.
His weekly partner, Ozden, competed in both the Men's 55-plus A and Men's 55-plus B categories. Ozden, a Grovetown resident, won the bronze and silver medals in those categories, respectively.
"I lost in a final tie-break," Ozden said of his silver-medal finish, "but I got one more point closer than last year. I'm making progress."
The third partner in the medal winners hasn't been playing the sport as long as her friends.
In fact, Haley Rollins, a 16-year-old Evans student from Martinez, wasn't even born when Carlisle and Ozden got involved with racquetball.
"There's not many 16-year-old girls playing racquetball, but there are some," Rollins said.
Competing in the Women's 24/25 B category, Rollins came home with the bronze medal.
Rollins said her racquetball skills came from watching her father, Scott Rollins, play.
"I went to a few tournaments to watch him play and fell in love with it," she said. "I was 12 years old when I played in my first tournament."
Since then, Rollins has competed in two or three tournaments per month. With willing competition coming from Ozden and Carlisle, Rollins has improved each year.
"Her mouth and racquetball playing grew together at the same time," Ozden said with a smile.
"We're going to have a female professional racquetball player here soon."
Rollins said she is working toward a pro career.
Her immediate plans include a possible spot on the racquetball team at the University of Alabama after she graduates from Evans.
"I've heard they were interested in me," Rollins said. "I'd like to get a scholarship then get on the pro tour."
Rollins isn't the only one with racquetball plans. Carlisle, 62, and Ozden, 58, both are already training for next year's U.S. Open.
"We plan to continue to compete in state, regional, nationals and the open," Carlisle said. "We want to win a gold."
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