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Great Handball, nice weather, a BBQ, cold drinks, Free T-shirts and Hats....what else can you ask for at a tournament. The Tournament had 32 doubles teams, with players of all levels. Besides all of the top players present.....there were some surprises. Angel Marquez showed up with his new student Artie....from Bronx Park East. Angel Marquez who is retired from competitive play wanted to support this sponsored event. He felt it was a good way to train his student against the top players. They not only showed up....
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Ball Busters

photo above - Jack Neuman

photo above - Sol Schneiweiss


 

photo above - Ruby Obert
Published in Time Out New York, November 12-19, 1998

BALLS TO THE WALL

Before the young studs take over the Coney Island handball courts, a posse of trash-talking seniors show how to hit and run   by Brett Martin

   The name of the place is Seaside Park - or is it Asser Levy? The men who gather here several times a week suggest these possibilities after ten minutes of heated discussion. But the real name hardly matters, since the small park at Surf Avenue and West 5th Street, just a short walk down the Boardwalk from Nathan's and the Cyclone, is known as only one thing, "the Mecca."

    Specifically, the park, with its 11 courts, is New York's Mecca of one-wall handball. This version of the sport - a gritty, urban game played elsewhere on three or four walls -  is a distinctly New York phenomenon. Here at the Mecca, the National One Wall Championships are held each Memorial Day, and a community of older handballers gathers year-round to play and socialize.

    On a recent sunny Sunday morning, the Mecca crowd is out in force. Art Fuchs, a 53 year old city worker who helps organize the weekly games, and Jack Feldman - who, at 71, has played for more than 50 years - stand courtside, watching a heated match between older players. Many of the guys have been competing since they were children. "Every generation of poor kids picks up this sport, because it's cheap," says Feldman. "All you need is a ball and a pair of gloves." A rabid Giants fan, Feldman is known as "Football Jack"; he explains that this helps distinguish him from "Jack the Arab," who is a Sephardic Jew, and "Red Jack," who is bald.

    It's hard on the body," says Fuchs. "You need strength and speed. But it can also be a head game, like a game of chess. You want to outsmart your opponent and hit the ball where he isn't." Feldman pats Fuchs's ample belly. "Art plays a head game," he says, smiling.

    Across the way, the over 80 group is gathering. "I'm retired now, and this is like my job," says 83 year old Irving Friedman. "And it's the best job I've ever had." His teammate Jack Neuman is 86 and dressed in a Miami Beach sweatshirt and Chuck Taylor sneakers. "We're not sissies," he growls. "This is about competition, desire." He leans forward. "You want to live a long life? Find a sport you like, and play it."

    The matches are intense, lasting 40 minutes or more, and filled with trash talking, strategic maneuvering and surprising agility. But the sense of camaraderie brings out as many people as does the game itself. The regulars talk about champions who have passed away or who have just moved on to Flamingo Park in Miami Beach, which is sort of a Mecca South. They mention people like Vic Hershkowitz, who won his first one-wall title in 1947 and five more over the next decade. Or Joey Garber, 1938's champ, who was killed in World War II. They mention names like Steve Sandler and Kenny Davidoff and the Obert brothers - Oscar, Carl and 63 year old Ruby, who can still be seen on the courts, dressed only in red shorts and sneakers.

    The younger players begin arriving at noon - lean, muscular guys, many Hispanic, who play fast, graceful matches. Although basketball has long since replaced one-wall as the pre-dominant playground game, true believers (like 43 year old Albert Apuzzi, a ten time outdoor champion) keep the sport alive by organizing the annual championship and informal year round activities. "There's always the question of whether the sport will out live us older guys," says Fuchs. Today, at least things look good, as the older set watches the young players admiringly. "Once you're a handballer," says one. "it never, ever leaves you."

 
 
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