Love of the Game (revised 8/2014)
I write this as a fan who thoroughly enjoys and loves the game of handball.
I think it is the best game ever. I know it is a universal opinion and truth within the handball world, but I believe it wholeheartedly.
When I was a young lad of 10, I was introduced to the game when I moved to Brooklyn from Jamaica, W.I. Having been born in Brooklyn and sent to live with loving Grandparents, my return to my birthplace was traumatic. Jamaica represented freedom and wide open spaces, while Brooklyn seem so confining. Even though there was a small park across the street from our house, my Mom never wanted me to go there. I would sit in the upstairs window and pine after the kids I saw playing there. They even made fun of me because they knew I could not play in the park. But as it is with most things and kids, if there is a "No!" we all find a way around it. I would sneak across the street to watch closer, a game played against a single wall. It seemed the perfect game for me because all I needed was a ball and wall and if no one else was around, I could hit the ball to myself.
And so it began. Back then we only had the pink "Spalding" or a cheaper brand called "Penske Pinky". At first I was not very good but I quickly caught on and became proficient at winning. I was even better when my neighbor and friend William (called Sarge) from next door teamed up in doubles, we could not be beaten. We played all day, and with no gloves, my hands would get numb and swollen, but in my heart I was always glad when I played handball.
Unfortunately for the times and circumstances, my game never left Marion Street Park. Times where strange back then, this being the 60s, we never left the neighborhood to play in other playgrounds for fear of reprisals, mostly racial. As I was to later learn, in the Italian and Irish neighborhoods nearby, there were fine players.
Oh well, such was life.
After leaving Brooklyn in '72 for college, I really lost touch with the game, except for one brief foray into 4-wall at Howard University when it was being offered as a 1-credit course. Talk about your easy A. Unfortunately, the game was not taught. If you showed up and could hit the ball against the wall, you got a grade, and in retrospect, what a shameful waste.
Many years later (sometime in the mid 80s), I met someone who knew the game and had an equal love for it but could not find anyone to play within DC on a regular basis. We hooked up and began some epic battles on the 4 wall courts in and around DC. In looking back on those times, it was raw athleticism that ruled those games. I played as if there was no back wall and took acrobatic shots to cover my back wall weaknesses. That phase lasted well into the 90s before I joined the Y in DC and began to discover how the game was really played. Man, did I have a lot to learn.
And the lessons continue to this day. Meeting and steadily playing in the presence and sometimes with and against fine players like Alan Frank and Dan Zimet and others too numerous to mention, has been my steady road to development. The friend, Jeff Anthony, although he and I no longer played, would always recommend me to out-of-towners passing through DC. He thought I was so good that I was "the man" to play. I would welcome such names as Joe Thomas, then living in Texas, Scott Spann, Colo, the young Garner brothers, Alan 15 at the time and his brother Aaron 13. I scored 3 points against Alan. These are only a few of the names I have to thank for my steady development. Once they saw my "skill" level, they always sought to impart handball knowledge. I got better and eventually surpassed the crew that had welcomed me to the Y.
Until Bruce Cohen moved to the area, a few years back, I had no steady competition so to speak. I did play in the 2000 "Who Got Balls" MD singles at the now defunct Security courts in Baltimore, MD. That was some experience: Deer in the headlights syndrome; then adrenalin explosion followed by paralysis. I went home and went to bed, never before feeling as exhausted as I did that day. The whole experience is still a blur. I know I had a 13-0 lead in the second game after losing the first, and I know I lost at 13.
I vowed never to play in another tournament!
I did return to Security courts to watch the 4-Wall Nationals soon after that. There I met Eric Smith after watching him play. I always wanted to play in NY whenever I visited my Mom but did not know anyone. Eric put me in contact with Dan Yee and that opened up another chapter in my continuing lessons. Once a year, I played the 4-wall game against the NY crew and learned some more valuable lessons.
Sometime later, I had the great pleasure of meeting the talented and experienced Maryland crew, of which Alan and Dan are a part, and who played the 3-wall version of the game I love.
Wow. These Columbia, MD guys are fantastic; in all age ranges. I was in awe and still am. Over the years as many of these men who have mentored and "carried" me through friendly competition, they continue to excel on the national level by scoring repeated championships. And the lovely thing about being part of this great group, we are all supportive of each other's efforts on the court.
The only way to get better at handball is to play regularly and play better opponents. Watching and learning is also valuable, but execution and action are the key to this game. Learning never stops as there are always valuable lessons in every shot and rally. So I watch, I play and store everything I can about this game with the goal of improving and winning consistently. At many local championships, you need to play hard for one or two days...for the national events, they stretch over a 4 or 5 day span and require you to dig deep and prevail if you are to walk away with a significant reminder of your efforts beside the tournament memorabilia. Being able to say you competed well offers some solace, but that grand prize went home with someone else.
This is all to say, I have competed in a few tournaments since 2000 and singly and with partners have won a few and been finalists in others. As I was reminded recently, at tournaments, there are many players, but only a handful go home with the trophies. And it takes more than just desire, it takes the will to "hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to them Hold on!"
I often smile at the irony of getting older and learning just as my body is at the stage where all this new knowledge will only have so many more years to be developed. But it is sweet to get a taste of what I knew existed from so long ago. But this is my homage as a player and a fan about rediscovering the love of the game once found in youth.
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