Davey Bledsoe 3/7/51 – 12/29/19

Hall of Famer Bledsoe was 68. Photo via USRA Hall of Fame

The Racquetball world got sad news over the holiday weekend; former Men’s pro champ and Hall of Famer Davey Bledsoe has passed away.

Bledsoe was born in 1951 in Kingsport, TN. He was one of the earliest racquetball pros in the sport, playing half the events in the first pro season on record (1974-5), then was a full time touring pro until the 1980-1 season.

Here’s a link to Bledsoe’s Player Profile at ProracquetballStats.com, summarizing his pro singles career:
http://rball.pro/7E09C5

Bledsoe’s best pro season was the 1976-77 season, where he made the semis or better in 6 of the season’s 12 sanctioned events and finished the season ranked #2 on tour. More importantly, he won the 1977 DP/Leach National Championships over #1 Marty Hogan​, giving Hogan his sole loss on the season in a 21-20, 21-19 match. Pundits from the era called the match either the greatest match in history, the biggest upset in history … or both. See https://www.proracquetballstats.com/irt/greatest_upsets.html for a fun list of some of the biggest upsets in pro tour history. This win gave Bledsoe the year-end Pro title and he is in a rather exclusive club; only 15 men have ever won a pro title in the sport’s history and he’s one of them.

The PRS match report for this 1977 Nationals tourney is here http://rball.pro/9EC830 . And, If you want to see a fun recap of that 1977 Nationals event … surf to this youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaI-NgBK5Q4&t=4s . Feel free to mute the 70s disco music :-).

As you can see from the video, Bledsoe was tall and lanky, lots of court coverage and lots of emotion in his play. He survived a furious comeback in game two to take the National title over Hogan, who went on to win the next four National titles.

In his prime, Bledsoe also competed in the Outdoor Championships in California, taking the singles title in 1978 (also over Hogan in the final) and making the semis or finals in several other years in the 70s and early 80s.

Bledsoe was part of an interesting group in racquetball lore: the “Memphis Mafia,” a group of top players in the Memphis area who played with Elvis Presley at his Graceland home. In case you didn’t know … Presley was an avid racquetball enthusiast and had two courts constructed on the grounds of his home, where he played along with some of the top players in the game at the time. Bo Keeley wrote about the group well here: http://www.dailyspeculations.com/wordpress/?p=8674 . Its a fun side-note in American history.

Bledsoe retired from the pro tour after the 1980-81 season. He continued to play Amateur tournaments for years and claims 13 National amateur titles. He was inducted into the USAR Hall of Fame in 2010.

After his playing career ended, he began a career in Network Operations, working for major Telecom firms and for some Defense contractors in the DC area before retiring in Atlanta.

Discovering A Life of Racquetball Royalty

Steve “Bo” Keeley in his prime, about 40 years ago.

Editors Note: this post is not written by me; i’ve cut and pasted this story from the author with his permission and request. As you can read, I tried to help Keith in this journey as best as I could, and with the help of quite a few old-time racquetball players he was able to find answers.

Its a good read and a great testament to the strength of our racquetball community. I highly suggest spending a few minutes reading this story about Keith’s search for his birth father, how it touched more than a few of us in the sport past and present, and the great things that Keith now has in his life going forward.

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My name is Keith Koons and I was born in Vero Beach Memorial Hospital on June 17th, 1973. Up until this past year, that was the sole connection that I had to my birth parents since I was adopted at just three days old. I spent a large majority of my life wondering who my parents could actually be, even though I was never the type to really stress over those types of details. I had a great life growing up and countless great friends- [my] adoptive parents are amazing people who gave me everything they could in life.  

So to me, this always felt more like a great mystery that would be fun to solve. Who am I? Where did I come from?

Unfortunately though, there was simply no way to solve it without obtaining a court order after a costly battle with the state. So I spent 45 years of my life wondering- does my mom still think of me from time to time? Did my dad even know that I existed at all?

One other little wrinkle to my story is that mom had an affair while separated from her husband. She was young with a small child and a family of her own, still trying to figure things out in life while making her marriage work. Once the pregnancy became known, the husband presented her with an ultimatum- have an abortion or file for divorce. My mom took “option C”, which was to move out on her own, deliver a healthy baby boy into the world and then place him up for adoption…even though it was the toughest possible choice.

Unfortunately, to this day I don’t know what happened next. Did the husband ultimately forgive her? Was my real dad around at all for support? There’s just no way to know.

In the Spring of 2018, a client of mine called and asked if I’d be interested in staying with him in LA for the week to help work on marketing for his upcoming book. At this point of my life I had been working as a freelance copywriter for almost a decade, and I was slowly trying to transition over to being a full time ghostwriter since I love telling stories.  So I jumped at the chance to help my friend Steven Griffith while taking in the LA culture.

As the week drew to a close, Steven said that he wanted to give me a gift for all my hard work- a DNA kit from 23 & Me.  I’ve always been too humble to be an avid gift recipient so I protested at first, but then told Steven a little about my adoption story and how I had always wondered.  I was a big guy in high school, 5’ 11” and 220 pounds of lean muscle, but I also had speed as an athlete and an IQ that bordered on genius level.

Could my dad be a professional athlete? That always nagged at me not knowing.

Once he heard my story, Steven absolutely insisted on the DNA kit and I finally relented.  After all, I did want some answers…but the prospect of finding those answers was terrifying. I mean, what if my father was a criminal or a legitimately bad person? Did I even want to open that Pandora’s Box and risk the glimpse inside? It might not make a lot of sense on the outside looking in, but sending off that DNA kit was one of the bravest things I have ever done in my entire life.

Once the results arrived, I found links to thousands of relatives with a lineage tracing all the way back to Ireland and beyond. I was Irish? Although it means nothing, it was also the discovery of a lifetime looking over my family tree for the first time. I went from knowing nothing to having thousands of years of ancestry, and I can’t really express in words what that felt like. I experienced every emotion in the spectrum as I absorbed every last piece of knowledge that was available.

The closest relative that I found was a 5% DNA match, making him a 2nd cousin or a 1st cousin once removed (meaning, it was a cousin right around my mom’s age). I reached out and we chatted briefly, but this cousin was in poor health and couldn’t really give any insight. It was mostly a dead end at the time.

About a month later though, I receive a message from 23 & Me in my inbox saying that new relatives have been found. I’ve learned over time that these are just standard monthly emails with no significant meaning, but this one in particular changed my entire universe- there was Greg, a 22.8% match to me that made him my half-brother.

And poof- my mind was 100% blown.  Almost 45 years of searching and I find my brother through an app? It felt so random that it was almost impossible to process.

Of course, I immediately reached out and discovered that Greg was also adopted, but his mother knew his birth mom personally and he had extensive details on our father.  Most of the written stuff was lost, but Greg told me that our dad was a world championship racquetball player named Steve and he travelled the US in the 1970’s. He couldn’t remember his last name though- and looking back it made this journey 1,000 times more special.

You wouldn’t be reading this today if it wasn’t for that one oversight.

Since I’ve worked as a writer a good portion of my adult life, I instantly hit the net researching world champs from the 70’s named Steve. I came up with a few great candidates on the Pro Racquetball Stats website but quickly realized that I needed an expert in my corner. So on a whim, I sent an email to the site briefly telling my story and asking for some guidance. And within a few days, Todd Boss replied with EXTENSIVE detail on every pro Steve from the 1960’s, 70’s and beyond.

Our leading candidate was none other than Steve “Bo” Keeley, one of the best athletes to ever step on a racquetball court and often considered the forefather of the modern game.

The racquetball connection with my father absolutely meant the world to me because it was one of my favorite pastimes as a teenager.  While I never played in serious tournaments, I absolutely fell in love with the game my freshman year in high school since it was a killer cardio workout while having a lot of fun at the same time. I was on an indoor/outdoor racquetball court daily for almost a decade, so discovering that my father could potentially be one of the best that ever played flooded me with emotions that I didn’t know were possible- I was an absolute wreck trying to decide what to do or how to process these details.

For those of you who haven’t kept tabs on Steve Keeley (he now goes by Bo), he’s lived an adventurer’s lifestyle since stepping off the courts in the late 70’s.  He went to veterinary college for several years and picked up multiple degrees, but I got the feeling that he simply missed the open road too much. He never was able to hold down a job for more than a few years without getting that itch to head out on a grand adventure.

Since racquetball didn’t have huge sponsorships back in the early 1970’s, Steve and other tour players would often hitchhike between destinations or even hop trains. And during these travels, Steve met countless hobos that would travel the world on mere pennies while living off their charisma and good fortune. Steve was drawn to this lifestyle because it represented everything great about America in that era. While some would view hobos as bums, Steve saw them as the  richest men among society because of their true freedom.

Steve eventually settled down in Slab City a number of years ago, which is our country’s last true outlaw town. You can find stories from Steve online discussing accounts of murders, meth-head zombies, the art of robbing your neighbors and too many other unsavory concepts to discuss. Yet this was Bo’s paradise since it was the closest version to the American Dream that he’s been chasing for the past 50 years.

As I’m reading all of these facts on Bo, I’m thinking to myself that there’s no way I could reach out to him- he lives among rapists, drug cartels and murderers. But I did see that he was semi-active on Facebook and couldn’t resist taking a chance- I sent a 3-4 paragraph introduction explaining why I believe that he’s my father. And for the next month, all I heard back was crickets…I figured that he’d never reply.  Until he did.

Bo messaged me saying, “I had a vasectomy years ago and don’t have any children. Don’t message me again.”

And just like that, I was heartbroken. My dad wants nothing to do with me and he won’t even acknowledge his son (or sons for that matter, let’s not forget about Greg). So I decided to just let it go and consider that it was the happiest possible ending I was going to get.

Only, Todd Boss contacted me again a few days later with additional news.  He told me that there weren’t any pro racquetball tours in the Vero Beach area in 1972, so Bo wasn’t as solid of a candidate as we thought.  Since he was hopping trains back then there’s an outside chance that he had a layover in that area and met my mom, but it sure didn’t feel like an ironclad fit. Maybe we were looking at the wrong world champion named Steve…

Then came the golden nugget of wisdom from Todd that I desperately needed- had I considered amateur players? They could also be known as world champions within their circles.

Unfortunately, Todd’s site didn’t have statistics for amateur play back in the 1970’s, but he agreed to keep searching while asking a few of the top pros if they had any ideas. This story is as much Todd Boss’s journey as it is mine because he went so far above and beyond for a complete stranger.

But the more I searched, the more I realized that the racquetball community from the 70’s and 80’s is a family in their own right, with everyone happy to help and reminisce during my own journey.

My friends, I talked to dozens of the best early players that had ever picked up a racquet and these were folks calling me out of the kindness of their heart, super eager to step in and provide assistance however they could.  Every contact led to five more people to talk to, with more calls and emails flooding in by the hour.

I truly felt like racquetball royalty in that stretch and eventually decided that my search was finished- all of these great professional athletes were my new family.  It just didn’t make sense to keep searching since I had ultimately found something even better than I was looking for.

Before I could completely close the book on my adoption journey though, there was one email left to send- Bo Keeley.  I messaged him apologizing for what must have been a shocking email a month before, and I told him Todd’s new theory of my dad being a top amateur. And Bo replied almost instantly with two messages- first claiming that he could in fact be my dad (he wasn’t) and second, to introduce me to one of his friends named Scott…a Florida amateur player with a photographic memory that definitely would have met my dad.

Truthfully, I can’t tell you how the next few days unfolded. There were dozens of emails from Bo, Scott, Todd and others, plus I knocked out countless research on my own.

Through that process I eventually found my dad- Steve Chapman, a world champion amateur that was born and raised in Vero Beach, Florida. It was bittersweet though because Steve had passed away over 25 years ago from a brain tumor.

I will add this though- Bo and several others told me that my dad was right on the verge of being a professional.  He had every shot in the book down pat but even more importantly, he was a fantastic athlete that would simply outwork you on the court. Even in series where he was clearly outmatched or outclassed, he would push you to the point of exhaustion and slowly creep back in the match.

However, there were a few more wrinkles to this story. While I was researching Steve Chapman, I found an old newspaper article that interviewed his nephew Shane in the late 1990’s. Steve was Shane’s idol growing up and he grew up fascinated by his accomplishments, taking up the game at an early age and quickly becoming a top-ranked amateur himself. Shane still travels Florida to this day playing in local tournaments.

My first phone conversation with Shane was awesome- we have a lot in common and instantly shared a bond. As I was hearing his story though and picturing my dad mentoring him, it was probably the only time in this journey were I let jealousy get the better of me. I couldn’t help but think, “Man, that should have been my life…why did Steve take that from me?”

The feeling quickly passed though because as I said earlier, I really don’t have any complaints how my first 45 years turned out.  I really can’t name a single point of my life where I wasn’t happy.

I did get to drive down to Vero Beach to meet Shane and a few other relatives in person this past Fall, plus I still chat with Bo Keeley from time to time about whatever he currently finds interesting in life. Bo has unofficially adopted me as his son and since he’s currently working on a book about Slab City; we will possibly get together in the next few months so I can help him edit it. I’ve introduced Bo to an agent as well…the same agent that handled my friend Steven Griffith’s book out in LA at the very start of this story.

If the first Stephen didn’t buy me that DNA kit, I never would have had two dads named Steve in the racquetball hall of fame. How ironic is that? My journey literally went full circle in the span of four months.

What does this story mean?  I don’t know…nothing. Everything.  It’s the story of me but it’s also so much more than that because of my ties to racquetball and all the fantastic people I’ve met along the way. Bo Keeley is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in my life and I’m proud to think of him as my dad- I think we’ll become great friends in the waning years of his life. He’s still in fantastic shape though and walks miles daily through the desert- he’ll probably outlive us all.

Steve Bo Keeley is completely free and living life 100% on his own terms- there’s something all of us can learn from his unconventional lifestyle.

I also owe a massive “thank you” to Todd Boss- I promised to write this story for his readers since it was the only thing I could think of as a pitiful form of compensation for his countless hours of research. I’ve never met him in person or even talked on the phone, but Todd will always be my brother from here on out. Maybe he didn’t think of his help as a big deal but it was absolutely life-changing for several of us.  

The one final chapter to this story is my half-brother Greg. He was a basketball prodigy in high school with multiple division I scholarship offers. Unfortunately, he fell into the wrong crowd and he’s spent most of his adult life in and out of Florida prisons. He genuinely seems like a good person at heart though and he’s moving in with me next month, so I can teach him marketing and show him a different path in life. If you’re the God-fearing type, maybe throw a prayer or two our way as my family helps him start a brand new chapter in life.

Who knows, I may even bring him out to the racquetball courts with our cousin Shane so he can see where we actually came from. After all, the sport is definitely in our blood.

To the entire racquetball community- from all the former world champions to aspiring players who just bought their first racquet last week, I want to say thank you for being a crucial part of revealing my life’s story. All told, I spoke with over 50 current/former players and each of you were absolutely amazing. Under different circumstances, I would have loved to document all the incredible stories that were shared about your life on tour, the camaraderie among professionals and just great memories.

I was simply in a state of information overload at the time and couldn’t process it all…but I do want you to know how much I genuinely appreciate each and every one of you. So thank you, my friends, and please don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s anything I can do to ever return the favor.