SUN PRAIRIE — Rocky Carson knows how to win over a crowd.
Carson, the reigning five-time world champion racquetball player, demonstrated that the most recent time he competed in the Lou Bradley Memorial Pro-Am Tournament at the Prairie Athletic Club.
During one of his matches Carson paused between rallies to wipe the sweat from his brow. As he lifted his shirt he revealed a red Motion W on his chest, much to the delight of the crowd that was heavily weighted with Badgers fans.
“Everybody went nuts and he became the crowd favorite,” said Paul Krueger, PAC sports coordinator.
Which was the whole idea, Carson said.
“I think a couple of the ladies may have talked me into that one,” Carson said in a phone interview from his home in Ladera Ranch, California. “I had to do it for the fans. I’m a Southern California fan, but I did it to get them laughing a little bit. ... It was a lot of fun. It always helps to have the fans.”
Carson, currently the No. 2 ranked player on the International Racquetball Tour, will be looking to win over more fans this weekend when he returns to compete in the 19th annual Lou Bradley tournament, named in honor of the late longtime racquetball coordinator at the facility.
Matches will begin this afternoon and continue through Sunday afternoon; admission is free. The championship for the pro draw will be 8 p.m. Saturday. The field of about 20 pros will include five of the top 10 IRT players, led by Carson, No. 4 Alvaro Beltran and No. 5 Jose Rojas.
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They will be joined by top players from around the Midwest and former Wisconsin state champions Andy Thompson, Tracy Chynoweth, Jay Wollenberg and Matt Stamborski.
The total purse for the tournament is $10,000, with the winner receiving $2,500. There also will be competition at other levels, including juniors, doubles and beginners.
But the big draw will be the top touring pros who generally stick to Tier One events, but several make an exception for the Lou, a Tier 3 tournament.
“I don’t play too many events outside of the Tier One events because I’ve been doing this for a long time and this is how I make my living and I have to rest my body,” Carson said. “This is obviously one of the biggest events of the year. For us pros, we love coming up there. The hospitality is great and the people are great. It sets up for a fun event and that makes it fun for us pros.”
Krueger, also an accomplished player, said the gap between even elite amateurs and the pros is significant.
“These guys are the LeBron Jameses and Kevin Durants of the racquetball world,” Krueger said. “If you haven’t seen them, it’s absolutely amazing to watch these guys play. Their athletic ability is off the charts.”
Carson, 37, said a big part of his motivation for playing in this tournament is to help promote the sport and show how it’s played at the top level.
“I see all of us as ambassadors for our sport at the pro level,” he said. “Players, fans and the general public who get to see it fall in love with the athleticism and excitement of the game at the pro level.
“We’re playing the game at a much different level, at just a faster pace. The ball is traveling up to 175 mph consistently, so we’re moving quickly, explosively. And with all that, there’s strategy going on in the middle of that split second.
“Our goal is to grow the sport. Our goal is to make more money and we can’t do that unless we grow the sport. Our job is to go out there and promote not just our sport, but ourselves, and the athleticism of what we do. It’s hard not to enjoy, if not fall in love, with the sport.”