Palisades High freshman Dane Elkins had trouble recalling exactly when he took up racquetball. He and his father, Brett, who also plays, kiddingly disagreed on what age Dane first played the sport.
“I started when I was around five,” Dane said.
“No, you were two!” Brett chided.
“Well, I started playing about once a week when I was five,” Dane said, trying to set the facts straight. “My dad was playing. He was like, ‘Do you want to try it?’, and I said, ‘Sure.’ It was a fun sport, so I just kept playing it and eventually started competing in tournaments.”
Today, it’s all academic. Dane Elkins is 14 and has had plenty of success in racquetball, and the Brentwood resident has followed in the footsteps of his father, who played in his youth and is still heavily involved in racquetball.
Elkins won three national racquetball titles this summer, highlighted by the 2013 Junior Olympics in Des Moines, Iowa, where he played in two age divisions. He stormed through the older 16-and-under singles field before defeating Nicholas Zeplin of Lincoln, Nebraska, in the finals, 15-7, 15-14.
Following that victory in June, Elkins won two more age-group titles at the World Outdoor Racquetball Championships in Huntington Beach in mid-July.
Elkins has now won 10 national junior outdoor championships in the past four years, but he actually plays more indoor racquetball, which is more prominent in the racquetball community. He is also a member of the Team Ektelon junior pro development team, receiving free clothing and equipment from his sponsor.
Around age 10, Elkins began taking monthly lessons in Simi Valley with Debbie Tisinger-Moore, who was inducted into the USA Racquetball Hall of Fame in May. As he became more serious about the sport and began playing competitively in tournaments, he started taking weekly lessons.
At first, Elkins practiced in the Westwood area with his father, but his training now extends beyond that.
“My dad and I will do some weights and maybe I’ll do more cross-training with him, whereas with my coach it’s practicing shots and practicing my mental game and more racquetball aspects,” Elkins said. “I’ll run sometimes, but I focus a lot on footwork, and I also do endurance.”
Tisinger-Moore works with Elkins on virtually all parts of his game on the court, though everything primarily centers around one thing in particular.
“The majority of his lessons are spent on mechanics,” Tisinger-Moore said. “It’s also about generating power and taking shots off the back wall, because that’s the number one offensive shot in racquetball. That takes a lot of footwork. So we work on that, and his serve as well.”
Keeping his emotions in check is one of Elkins’ biggest strengths, his coach says.
“He hardly shows any emotion on the court. He’s pretty much focused on what needs to be done, so you can’t tell if he’s upset or happy, and that’s good because his opponent can’t figure him out.”
Elkins now works with his coach twice a week, taking both one-on-one lessons and a drill class with other players, including his dad. Elkins’ younger brother, Cody, is one of the top-ranked eight-and-under racquetball players nationally, and while he does not work with Tisinger-Moore, he often attends his brother’s lessons and soaks up as much information as he can.
Brett Elkins, meanwhile, runs Comedy Traffic Schools and is chairman of the Outdoor Racquetball Hall of Fame and the California/Nevada Racquetball Association junior board.
As for the future, racquetball will likely always be a part of Dane’s life, but playing professionally is not in the cards. Instead, he has his sights set on becoming an orthopedic surgeon, where he hopes he can help other athletes benefit from his racquetball experience.
“It’s very hard to make the pro tour,” Elkins said. “It’s a hard career to go into. I will always want to be playing competitively, but I don’t want to be traveling all over the country playing in big tournaments.”
Added his father: “If you’re a top player you’re required to go to every big tournament as part of the pro tour, and it would be tough if you’re trying to juggle medical school. It’d be time-prohibitive.”
Elkins has two other siblings: Brother Jaden, 12, is a seventh grader at Revere, and sister Madison, 6, is a first grader at Kenter, where Cody is a third grader. Their mother is Deborah.