Catching Up with...T. J. Baumbaugh!
by USA Racquetball
Editor’s Note: T. J. Baumbaugh serves as Commissioner of the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT). She is a highly respected “force to be reckoned with” in Racquetball. Her quiet demeanor belies the impact she has on the sport: past, present, and, most assuredly, future.
In this compelling read in her own words, T. J. shares her history and perspectives on her earlier days, her time on the pro tour, her career and volunteer roles, her current focus, and what pandemic life has looked like over the past year. You’ll come away feeling like you know this special person in our Racquetball universe!
I grew up in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, where my parents, Wayne and Sharon, owned the local newspaper. My father worked at this paper while he was in high school and again after serving as a Sergeant in the Marines. Around this time, my mother moved to the area from Pittsburgh when her father went to work for Mack Truck. Although an interior designer by trade, my mom began writing and editing articles for the paper, and eventually my parents purchased the newspaper from the owners. Growing up, my sister Traci and I had all kinds of jobs working in the family business: anything from paper delivery, to typing, to laying out advertisements. We both decided that the newspaper business was not what we wanted to do when we grew up, but we certainly valued our experiences!
I was a highly active kid who was involved in a lot of sports. I was into the swim team, gymnastics, softball, basketball, one ballet class, and golf, to name a few. I knew what racquetball was, since my dad played at the local YMCA and I would tag along. I would whack some balls on the open court or play a few rallies with my dad when he was finished with his games, but I also wandered over to the gymnasium and the swimming pool. There were no juniors or even women playing that I remember, just my dad and his buddies, so at the time it was just a fun activity.
I got rather good at golf when I was in high school, enough to make regionals after only playing one month and not really knowing golf etiquette or all the rules yet. I was good enough to earn a spot on the Penn State Golf Team during my second year at the university, but I also realized then that I just did not love golf enough––specifically the driving range––to invest that many hours. I was looking for a fitness/sport activity, and that is when I discovered the Penn State Racquetball Team.
I should add that golf did lead to a great summer job at a local golf course and the perk of free golf any day that I worked. Once again, I got rather good at the sport, enough that the head pro and owners of the golf course asked me to go through the certification program to be a teaching pro. This was the second time I turned down golf. My interests were elsewhere. My other summer job was as a director at a summer sports camp for kids. This was a busy camp full of activities and sports, and it was free for any kid under 18 who lived in that community. This was a great place to introduce kids to all kinds of activities including things like flag football, soccer, whiffle ball, and team handball. (Just imagine if that park had had outdoor racquetball courts!)
I lived in Pennsylvania until 1998 when I graduated from college. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and moved to the metro Washington D.C. area where I had planned to work for a few years and then go on to graduate school. I spent two years working in a private school while also working part-time at a health and racquetball club. The health club job led to full-time work as a trainer and racquetball instructor, and I still work for that company today. The health and racquet club is where I met racquetball players Doreen and Dan Fowler, and this was really the first I had ever heard that there were professional racquetball tours. Around this time, I also met Ed Willis. Ed was running frequent DC area racquetball tournaments including states, and then regionals, which typically drew 300+ players. Racquetball was popular in the area, so there were plenty of leagues to join and clubs to drop in for challenge courts. Ed eventually took the position of commissioner of the women’s professional tour, and at one point Ed said, “T. J., I entered you in the women’s pro division.”
COMPETING ON THE PRO TOUR
I played the pro tour for a little over 10 years. I loved how competing in racquetball inspired incredible motivation to work out, so I trained in strength, speed, agility, footwork, and cross training. I made sure if I happened to lose, it was not going to be because of fitness. Looking back, I should have worked just as diligently on the psychological and mental toughness aspects of the game.
I really enjoyed playing the tour, and racquetball in general is an amazing sport. I met some of my dearest friends, like Karen Grisz and Candi Linkous, through racquetball. I met my husband and former doubles partner (only couples will get that!) Ira Holland, through racquetball. And I have some of the best memories of traveling with the other tour players including my adventures with Jen Saunders and Damonique Davis. There were just so many unforgettable moments both on and off the courts.
GIVING BACK TO RACQUETBALL
After about 10 years of competing on tour, I made the decision that before I was done playing, I would give (my time) back to the tour. This is something I learned from my parent’s example: always give back to your community. As long ago as I can remember, my parents volunteered in civic organizations, church groups, little league, or Girl Scouts, to support their community. Even in retirement, they are still volunteers for the local library. So, I got involved. I ran for player representative on the WPRO Board of Directors. That time is almost a blur now, because before I knew it, I was involved more and more in the actual organization and running of the tour. Getting involved just seemed to happen. Anyone who has ever volunteered for something they care about will know exactly what I mean by that last statement!
THE PRESENT: LPRT COMMISSIONER
In some ways there is an advantage to having the perspective and experience as a tour player before digging into the management side of things. I observed what I believe were both good and not-so-good examples, ideas, and management styles. It has been a learning process, one that I am enjoying although at times it can be frustrating...at other times rewarding...and always challenging. It has taken some time to build the talented core of people working/volunteering for the LPRT, but that is part of the process. We all do it for the good of the sport, and for the players, and we hope to make a difference.
Obviously, a global pandemic created new challenges for everyone, for every business and sport, Racquetball included. Personal Training, too. I am thankful for the outdoor public courts that are five minutes from my house. They stayed open and busy during the nice weather months, so I put in many hours there.
A positive aspect to the amount of time at home is more time to spend with my two precious, funny, mischievous, spoiled dogs. Mack is an American Bulldog who will be eight in July. Mack (Mack-nado, Big Mack, Bubba) is 90 pounds strong and loves to demolish toys of any kind. He also loves his adopted rescue brother Calvin, who is three. Calvin does not see very well due to being very sick when he was a puppy, but you would never know it. He is a joyful, friendly, happy, and hungry Am Staff and Aussie Shepard mix of some sort, who loves to ride in the car. With these two in the house, there is never a dull moment.
Ira and I have spent a lot of time over the past “stay at home” year renovating our house, which was built in 1983. We have completed many projects including building a new fence, repairing house trim, and most recently renovating a bathroom. I can add drywall to my list of skills. This spring our projects include another bathroom remodel and rebuilding our deck. I like to cook, so I have also had plenty of time to do that. I try constantly to make the best out of an unfortunate situation while looking forward to the day when the pandemic is a memory and when racquetball courts and tournaments are thriving once again!