Rackets swish and balls whiz through the air, slamming off the walls of the echoing white cube. Onlookers chat and pair up as they prepare for their next game in the tournament. It’s a familiar scene for Bill Proll, instructor for Cal Poly’s one-unit Beginning Racquetball (KINE 132).

Proll tallies scores on a dry erase board as students take turns playing each other, emerging from the courts out of breath. As the last two students finish their game, Proll steps into one of the Recreation Center’s six courts to warm up. Now it’s his turn to play. One of the students, realizing his fate, nervously laughs and picks up his racket. Proll serves the ball, and the game begins.

Only a minute in, it’s clear that this is not Proll’s first time playing. He’s in his element.

A history on the courts

Proll is a sporty, stoic and quietly confident part-time racquetball instructor at Cal Poly. But that’s not all. He’s many things: patrol lieutenant, Cal Poly alumnus and county director for the law enforcement torch run for Special Olympics. But on Monday mornings, he dedicates his time teaching students racquetball, just as he’s done for more than 20 years. Proll is not an average Cal Poly lecturer — he’s a volunteer.

Growing up in Danville, California, Proll was a tennis player. Somewhere along the way, he picked up racquetball and was hooked. He’s never looked back.

“I switched to racquetball for some reason before I came to Cal Poly,” Proll said. “It’s a great cardio sport, a great strategic sport and I really just love the sport.”

While attending Cal Poly, Proll spent his time studying political science and playing racquetball. He said it was common for faculty to play racquetball at the time. Noticing his aptitude for the sport, the head of the kinesiology department asked him to help teach a racquetball class.

“That was 20-something years ago … and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Proll said.

Volunteering in the classroom

Being a volunteer lecturer is not much different than being a regular lecturer. Proll attends mandatory meetings, diversity and sexual harassment training, and first aid and campus emergency training as other faculty members do. The only difference is he isn’t paid.

His reason for dedicating his time to teaching the class for more than 20 years?

“I just like it,” Proll said. “I like interacting with young people and it’s a great sport for people to learn.”

Graphic by Amanda Newell

On patrol

The Recreation Center isn’t the only place Proll interacts with Cal Poly students: sometimes he sees his students at one of his other jobs, a patrol lieutenant for the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD).

“I don’t announce to my class where I work, but somewhere along the way they find out,” Proll said.

With a smile, Proll described run-ins he’s had with students off campus over the years.

YouTube video

Video by James Tweet

Though Proll said not a lot has changed since he was a student at Cal Poly in the 1980s, he noted one major difference.

“I would never get into the school nowadays,” he said. “You guys are brilliant compared to when I was let in here.”

Keeping the sport alive

Proll continues to interact with Cal Poly students through his dedication to teaching racquetball. Without his passion for the sport and his ongoing willingness to teach unpaid, the class would not exist at all.

“There’s no funding for racquetball,” Proll said. “I literally do it because it wouldn’t be offered if I wasn’t doing this.”

Graphic by Amanda Newell

Proll’s students are quick to express their appreciation for his dedication to the sport and to teaching the class.

“I think it’s pretty generous of him, and selfless really,” environmental management and protection sophomore Alexandria Zewiski said. “You can tell he wants to be here, and he does this because he likes it, and so that definitely adds a lot to the class.”

In the class, Proll aims to impart tips he’s learned over his years of playing.

“I actually play for a racquetball company, and I’ve done a lot of tournaments over the years,” Proll said.

His outside experience shows when teaching students at the Recreation Center.

“He’s probably the best racquetball player I’ve seen,” business administration senior Eric Tang, who played tennis for most of his life, said. “It’s really nice of him to take two hours out of his Monday morning to come teach racquetball.”

Proll’s volunteer work doesn’t end there. He holds a position as the country director for the law enforcement torch run for Special Olympics. He’s also the president of the Stampede Club for Mustang Athletics, which provides funding for student-athlete scholarships.

“There’s a lot of gratitude and a lot of pleasure seeing money well spent that we’ve raised,” Proll said.  

Though he has a variety of sports-related volunteer work on his plate, Proll doesn’t see himself giving up his racquetball class any time soon.

“I don’t see any reason why I would stop,” he said. “I’ve worked for the police department for 30-something years, so I don’t know how much longer I’ll do that. But this I’ll continue and then retire from there.”

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