RANGELY I Shirley Parsons likes to make a racket.
On the court, that is.
Parsons, wife of County Commissioner Ken Parsons, has been an avid racquetball player for more than 30 years.
“It’s a great sport,” she said.
Shirley, who recently turned 60, played in a national singles tournament May 20-24 in Houston. She finished second in the 60-and-over open division.
“I took second in the 60-plus (group),” Shirley said. “Anybody who is over 60 can play in it. I would’ve have liked to have done a little better in the finals.”
Shirley played two matches to reach the finals.
“I won both of those,” she said, including a match she won by a tiebreaker.
Two years ago, Shirley played in the same tournament, but in a different age group.
“I took first in the 55 A (Division), and I think I ended up fourth in the 55 open,” she said.
In October 2008, Shirley played at the U.S. Open in Memphis.
“That was my first time playing in the U.S. Open,” said Shirley, who lost in a tiebreaker to the same woman she beat in a tiebreaker in Houston.
“Again, it was a close match,” she said.
Shirley started playing racquetball when the Parsons were living in Grand Junction.
“I wasn’t working, and I had some time, so I was wondering what I wanted to do,” she said. “I’ve always liked sports, so I just started playing (racquetball). I thought this could be fun, and I just took to it. It felt natural.
“After the kids were a little older, I started playing competitively,” Shirley said. “Then, when the kids got older, I started them playing, and they still play today.”
There’s one member of the family who doesn’t play racquetball.
“No, he’s not (a racquetball player),” Shirley said of husband Ken. “But I know I have his support.”
Shirley, who taught math at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely before retiring three years ago, is ranked nationally for her age group.
“I am second, behind this gal I beat (in a tiebreaker at the national tournament),” Shirley said. “With the rankings, you have to beat the same person twice, or beat two people ranked above you, in order to move up. I would either have to beat her again, or beat a person ranked higher. That’s how they work it.”
While ranked second nationally in her age group, Shirley is ranked 87th overall.
“That includes everybody who belongs to the U.S. Racquetball Association,” she said.
Shirley also enjoys playing doubles.
“I do, when I can find partners,” she said. “With our rec center being closed, it’s been a little more difficult.”
Right now, with the Rangely Recreation Center undergoing a major renovation, Shirley has to travel to Roosevelt, Utah, or Grand Junction to play racquetball. The Rangely Recreation Center is slated to reopen in September.
“We’re so fortunate in Rangely to have this public facility,” Shirley said. “I can’t wait until we’re back and going again.”
Shirley has taught a racquetball class at the recreation center through the college and organized a Rangely racquetball tournament.
“I’ve always tried to get people in town, especially kids, to play,” she said. “I ran a youth program when my kids were in school.
“I used to groom kids to be my competition, but then they would go off to college,” she said.
One of Shirley’s practice partners is Jay McLaughlin, who teaches chemistry at CNCC.
“I taught him to play when he first came here,” Shirley said. “He’s young and athletic and quick.”
McLaughlin, 38, said he had never played racquetball before he met Parsons five years ago.
“When I moved here, I was looking for things to do,” McLaughlin said. “And Shirley said I had to play racquetball if I was a faculty member at CNCC. She said it was a prerequisite.”
Asked if he sees himself playing racquetball when he is Parson’s age, McLaughlin said, “I hope to play until I kill over and die, which I think his her plan, too.”
Shirley taught herself to play racquetball.
“I kind of wish I had taken some lessons,” Shirley said. “Maybe I wouldn’t have picked up some of the bad habits I have.”
While Shirley is as passionate about racquetball as she ever was, the sport isn’t as popular as it used to be, she said.
“There are places where it’s strong and healthy, and there are places where it’s declining,” she said. “In Colorado, I would say it’s declining.”
Shirley said there’s a new sport, which is a variation of racquetball.
“It’s called wacquetball, and it’s slower moving, but basically it’s the same as racquetball,” she said. “You still use a racquetball racket, but you use a foam ball, kind of like a practice tennis ball. It’s good for seniors and for kids learning to play. I’m hoping maybe to start that up (in Rangely).”
But Parsons has no plans of giving up racquetball. At least not anytime soon.
“It’s a lifelong sport,” she said. “There was a woman at this (national) tournament who was over 75, and there was a woman at the U.S. Open who was over 80, and there were some men who were competing in the 90 plus.
“That’s my goal, when I’m 85, I still want to be playing racquetball.”
RANGELY I Shirley Parsons likes to make a racket.