I stepped nervously through the glass door of the main exhibition racquetball court to start my semi-final match.
A large crowd sat around the glass walls that made up three sides of the court and they also watched from the balcony where the match official would call the games.
Apparently all these people thought there was something to see.
As I latched the door it became very obvious to me they were not wrong.
Racquetball was a very popular sport in Houston, Texas back in the late 70s.
I belonged to three different clubs and played almost every night somewhere.
Weekend tournaments were hosted across the city. This particular time I had fought my way into the semi-finals, yet I had a sinking feeling in my stomach this next match would not go well at all.
My opponent was a very popular defensive lineman for the Houston Oilers NFL football team.
The Oilers had just finished a season that saw them in a massive battle to get past the Pittsburgh Steelers as the teams tried to make it to the Super Bowl.
The Oilers failed in that attempt, but around our city these guys were legends.
They were also massive. I was barely 175 pounds at the time, so this NFL player was like a huge oak tree standing mid court. The intimidation was complete and his physical strength was on clear display.
The winning strategy in racquetball, as with many sports, is to occupy center court.
You move your opponent off center and you make sure they stay off center. This guy was so big he only had to move a few feet in any direction to return my shots.
He controlled center court and I paid the price.
His arms were so strong he could just lean over and snap the racquet sending the ball against the front wall with a deafening report.
Several times I got in front of such a return and received huge red whelps on the back of my calves as the rubber ball slammed into my body. I lost a very physical game one.
As the second game started my coach reminded me that racquetball is also about adroit skill, not just power.
I changed my strategy by hitting long arching shots that would angle off the high upper walls and the ceiling.
I returned to playing my game not my opponent's. Some of my shots were so precise they dropped into the far corners of the court with a spin that sent them slowly rolling across the wooden floor. This hulk of an opponent could not move as quickly as many thought and he had trouble digging the ball out of the corners.
I won the second game and threw the match into a tie breaker.
Professional athletes have the ability to dig deep into their souls to produce amazing physical results. They can seize the moment, turning a loss into victory with the blink of an eye.
The tie breaker, I am told, was a match to behold.
As strength tangled with finesse and power tackled geometry - the battle raged until it came down to match point. My last serve arched through the air high on his backhand side and it fell dead in the dusty back corner. It didn't even roll back out onto floor.
I had won the battle by one point.
I lost in the finals to another finesse player, but to me it didn't really matter. I had overcome stark fear during that semi match and I had figured out a different way to win the battle against an opponent that I truly thought I had no prayer of overcoming. That lesson and that feeling was better than any little plastic trophy I could have received.
The next time you step onto your personal court to battle life, remember that sometimes you can win with finesse instead of just using power.
Charlie Auvermann is a longtime Dawson County resident and former editor of the Dawson Community News. He is also the executive director of the local development authority.