Richey Racquet Club is 32 years old and has the wallpaper to prove it. But the club built by James "Buzz" Adamek in 1980 is about to be revitalized with a dose of mixed martial arts.
Daniel and Christine Blevins of Gator MMA recently signed an agreement to lease out the 20,000-square-foot facility at 8836 U.S. 19. Two of the racquet club's rooms are being converted to accommodate martial arts and mixed martial arts. The Blevinses have plans to add several more features, including a wide array of fitness classes, including karate, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, folk-style wrestling and mixed martial arts.
The classes will be led by volunteers with impressive fitness resumes. Corey Hill is an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran. Craig Pitman is a SWAT team member who is also a five-time Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling world champion. Perhaps the most notable instructor is the Blevins' 8-year-old son, Ethan "Lionheart" Blevins, who Daniel says is the youngest athlete in the country to be sponsored by a major apparel company — Fear the Fighter.
Other changes to the gym include the addition of three 60-inch televisions, two of which will be placed in the lounge area (which includes a bar), and one for the cardio room. There are also plans to get a moveable basketball hoop that can be added to any of the seven indoor racquetball courts. The couple will devote a couple of months to observing which machines don't get used. That way, they can update some machines, without removing any of the equipment that longtime members know and love.
One of Daniel Blevins' main goals is to maintain an environment that's friendly to those who want to sit, have a drink and chat after a racquetball game or workout. He hopes to host social events in the gym's bar, like Super Bowl Sunday.
"We want it to be the social outing that it was designed to be," Blevins, 37, said. "Every aspect of Richey Racquet Club was designed to be a social outing."
The gym chain Planet Fitness notably has a "lunk alarm" that sounds when a member grunts too loudly or makes too much noise. Blevins wants to avoid that type of environment, and instead encourage members to work out the way they want to. The gym also has free weights and allows members to lift over 75 pounds, which often isn't the case at newer gyms.
When Richey Racquet Club began, racquetball was in its heyday. Buzz got into the sport after he went on a date with a woman to a racquetball club in Crystal River. Though he never saw the woman again, Buzz's relationship with racquetball had just begun.
"It's an equitable sport," Buzz said. "You can be any size and in almost any physical condition. It's an easy sport to learn and there's not much involved in price."
But Buzz knew the racquetball courts and a small weight room alone wouldn't be a sustainable business.
"There's not a racquetball club in the country that is still just a racquetball club," Buzz said. "There's just no possible way to make ends meet with just racquetball."
By 1985, he added 1,600 square feet of Nautilus equipment. Buzz says the club's low membership fee, the rock-climbing wall and the racquetball courts are what have set it apart from what he estimates to be nearly a dozen gyms between State Roads 52 and 54.
Now, as the racquetball club heads for another facelift, Blevins acknowledges that the integration of Gator MMA will bring some more youthful faces into the gym, but he is adamant about serving the club's present members, an estimated 300 to 400 who thrive in the gym's homey, no-frills environment.
"We don't want to in any way change the nature of the gym," Daniel said. "We're just trying to add to it."
Gator MMA will become the name of the competition team, while the gym will continue to operate as Richey Racquet Club.
Buzz plans to maintain an office at the facility and remain a staple on the racquetball court.
Samantha Fuchs can be reached at (727) 869-6235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.