The organizers of the Keystone State Games like to think of their events as premier competitive outlets for amateur athletics in Pennsylvania.
The activities include some of the more popular sports in the country and world, including basketball, baseball, ice hockey and lacrosse.
The Keystone Games, however, also feature some niché competitions, including bocce ball, cornhole, disc golf, darts and horseshoes.
Lying somewhere between those two lists is racquetball, a game that is more than just a summer cookout-type activity, but not quite as mainstream as baseball or basketball.
On Thursday, the 35th annual Keystone Games got underway in York for the second consecutive summer and eighth time overall. One of the feature events of the opening day was racquetball. For the second straight year, the Athletic Club of York hosted the competition, and after a disappointing turnout for last year's tournament, this year's event featured a larger pool of players from several different states.
National championships on the line: That's because this year's Keystone Games offered much more than just a chance to capture a gold medal. On a larger scale, the Keystone Games offered the athletes a chance to qualify for next year's senior national championships, one of the few events that offers such an opportunity.
That led to competitors making the journey to York from as far away as New York. They came in the hopes of securing a berth in the 2017 National Senior Games in Alabama. Marian Sullivan made the 80-minute commute north from Brookeville, Maryland, to compete in her first Keystone Games. She arrived as a relative beginner in the sport, but, her dreams of making it to Alabama next year were enough to get her to show up in York.
"This is the start of that cycle of my racquetball career," she said. "I've only been (competing) in leagues at my club, but now, this year, I'm going to be competing as a master's player. ...I want to qualify for the National Senior Games in 2017."
Karen Simon, the nation' fifth-ranked woman in the age 60 division, traveled about 3 1/2 hours from Virgil, New York, to try and earn a national championship berth. She's easily one of the more experienced players in the field. She is based out of Michigan, New York and Florida, depending on the time of the year. She plays in tournaments year around.
The stiffer competition is a welcome change for some of the local athletes. Mike Young of West Manchester is competing in his third Keystone Games and has been playing the sport for more than 20 years. He doesn't travel much to compete in tournaments, so to have the event hosted by his home club was a plus. The improved competition was an added bonus.
"This year, since it's a qualifier for nationals, it's much more competitive than it was last year," Young said. "Last year, we were here and it was mostly guys from this club, so it was guys I play all the time, which isn't the point of going to tournaments. But, some of these guys, they're from all over now."
Racquetball hot bed: It's only fitting that York County plays host to the competition, according to the director.
"Racquetball in this area is very strong," Keystone Games racquetball director Travis Aldinger said. "Pennsylvania is a strong state, but, fortunately, our club is probably the top club in the state. We have a lot of players, all levels. From a traveling and competitive standpoint, racquetball is very strong here in York.
Aldinger himself is a professional and world ranked and is the co-owner of the Athletic Club of York. He said that the top three finishers in the round-robin format will earn a berth to the national championships next year.
The singles competition for racquetball concluded on Thursday.
Friday will feature the doubles portion of the event, also held at the Athletic Club. That will begin at 9 a.m.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com