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Racquetball is a lifelong sport–just ask the local “Godfather” of racquetball Rod Cline. Or his son, Brett. This weekend marks the 35th anniversary of the Shamrock Shootout, the longest running racquetball tourney in Montana.

Not many organizations, companies or events can boast that they have been active for 35 years. But one single event, held right here in Cut Bank, can say just that and say it proudly.

The Shamrock Shootout, a racquetball tournament that has been held in Cut Bank can make the claim that they have been around for 35 years. The tournament can also claim that the person who started it 35 years ago, is the same person still in charge of organizing this very popular event. That person is Rod Cline. 

“The Shamrock Shootout is the longest running and most successful tournament in the state of Montana,” Rod said. “While the competition is excellent every year, this tournament is more about the camaraderie and getting the players together. It is a casual tournament with good competition, but with a social aspect too.” 

The tournament is aptly named Shamrock because it is always held on the weekend around St. Patrick’s Day and is always held at the Joe Meagher Memorial Civic Center. This year the Shootout is being held March 13-15, with play starting on Friday the 13th at 5 p.m.

“We are expecting about 80 players again this year, which is a good number for us. We have had as many as 126, which is a lot,” said Rod. “While it isn’t necessarily a new thing, we have a younger crowd to an older crowd coming in for play this year. Our youngest age is seven and our oldest is 82 years old.”

Something that is new at the Shamrock Shootout this year is a different round in play. “We are trying a pilot program this year at the tournament where we will start play on Friday with all the single events, playing those through to the championship. Once singles are done, doubles play will begin,” he explained. “We think this will be a good way for those players playing multiple events, to focus on just one event and not have to be in two places at one time during the tournament.”

One of the best things about this tournament is all the repeat players returning year to year. Many players plan their vacations around coming to this event in Cut Bank and others playing only a few tournaments a year, mark their calendars for this one every year. 

“We get players from all over the state as well as from Canada, Wyoming, Washington, Arizona and this year a player is coming all the way from Nova Scotia to play. He lived a lot closer last year but moved to Nova Scotia and wanted to come back for the tournament. That is a long way to come, but I guess it says something about our tournament.”

There was a time when the game of racquetball and all the leagues and tournaments associated with it, were a big thing and very popular. Then came a bit of a lull in all of it and many facilities across the country were pulling out courts and pulling the plug on holding tournaments too. 

“Many places were seeing a downfall in racquetball and we saw some of that in Cut Bank, but not in this tournament. Our numbers have fluctuated through the 35 years, but we have always had good numbers coming to play here every March,” Rod shared. 

Even if the future of racquetball is a bit “iffy,” in some places, that is not the case everywhere and certainly not here and Rod believes he knows why. “This is a lifetime sport, which is evident by the fact that we have an 82 year-old playing the game and many around the same age joining in. It is a sport for all ages,” Rod said. “The other reason racquetball is so important is that it is a sport that can help athletes in other sports they may play. Racquetball makes better tennis players, better basketball players and so on. It has so many fundamentals that are used in so many other sports.”

Rod understands the sport’s value because it has been a huge part of his world for a long time–since his college days. 

“I started playing in college and when I moved back to Cut Bank after college in the early 80s, I wanted to play here. At that time, there were six people in town playing. I started organizing some leagues and getting more people interested and a few years later, we had 96 people playing in leagues. Now, the oil fields had a lot of people in town at that time, so that helped. Nevertheless, the courts at the Civic Center were full every hour of every day,” he said.

When the oil field work slowly died out, “we lost some players, but not all that many,” Rod said. 

Rod continued playing through the busy times and even in the slower times. He has taught a number of lessons at the Civic Center, formed and played in a number of leagues and found himself playing in tournaments in Cut Bank and around the state. He has quite a few state championship titles to his credit in almost every category, “except in the open category,” he said. “I haven’t won a state championship in that one.”

He added, “Speaking of state championships, because Cut Bank has successful racquetball tournaments here, we were asked to host the state singles championship tournament here in April,” he said. The tourney will be held April 3-5.

That is a great event for the little town of Cut Bank to host and for Rod to organize. Once again reiterating how well-run, well-attended and well-loved racquetball tournaments are in Cut Bank. 

“None of the racquetball events we host here could happen without the amazing support of the community and the sponsors we get every year,” Rod said. “I would like to thank each and every one of the sponsors who make these tournaments happen.”

The dates for the Shamrock Shootout are fast approaching, but Rod said it is not to late to be either a sponsor or a player for the event. Contact Rod at (406) 229-0627 to become a sponsor, register for play at the tournament or for any questions about the event. 

And if you are not a racquetball player, you can still come down to the tournament and see for yourself the high level of play that happens each year and the fun that is had. It will also be a good time to check out the Civic Center, if you haven’t been in there for awhile. There have been a lot of positive changes at that place, some of which are thanks to the dollars made at this tournament.

“We funnel our proceeds from this tournament back into the Civic Center each year. It might be for some piece of exercise equipment or it might be for some items needed for exercise classes or maybe for something else the Civic Center needs. I believe in the Civic Center and am happy we are able to help sustain it through our successful racquetball tournaments.”

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