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The Memoirs of a Handball Player
by: Tru Truong

 

 

Contrary to popular belief, handball is a very competitive sport. It is the original poor man’s sport; all that is needed to play is a hand-sized ball and your hands. Boys and girls of any age can play handball. The only thing that matters is the ball, your opponent and the wall.

The sport has been around since the 19th century; initially introduced by the Irish, the United States modernized the game into a sport that demanded mental strategy and precision.

It is a game that I can’t get enough of. When the night courts were open, many others and I would play till 4 o’clock in the morning. By the time I got home, the sun was on its way up. I would collapse for a few hours only to wake up and find myself playing again. Many players would agree with me when I say handball is an addiction. After working a long day in the machine shop, looking greasy and dirty, I would still make it my duty to go to the park and bust out a few games.
 
The purpose of the game is to hit the ball against a wall with either hand in such a way that the opponent or opponents cannot return the ball back. If the ball bounces before it reaches the wall, the point or serve is forfeited to the opponent. A point is awarded to the server if the receiver misses the ball or the ball bounces before getting to the wall. Points can only be scored by the server. If during the volley the server misses a return, the opponent, rather than gaining a point, becomes the server.

Knowing the rules of the sport is only a small fraction of the game. The real challenge lies in the hands of the opposite opponent. On the court it comes down to hand-to-hand combat.
One of the best-known places to find competition is West 4th and 6th Avenue. There is where the monsters of New York City come out to play handball. The West 4th Street Park is known for the high level of competition that usually is not met in other parks. Before you know it, you're surrounded by "A" and "B" players that seemingly raise the bar with every hit. Similar to the grades given in school, an A player is top of his class, practically flawless in all aspects of his game. The grades decrease to “B”, to “C” and so fourth. Players after that are considered “DUCKS”--players with no coordination and skills that could be wiped out effortlessly.
 
Alfredo Figueroa, a common name at West 4th says “ to truly be recognized as an “A” player, you must have balance, versatility, strategies and a super-structural form from within, that can see the shot before the shot is taken, you must be perceptive ”. To become the best you must beat the best, that is the law in all sport. When asked, what does it take to become a supreme player, Alfredo a.k.a Flex, told me “ To be the best in this sport requires vigorous training. At times you may feel you have to practice alone to improve on your shots, so do it.” He does not stop emphasizing the importance of consistency. He said “Consistency is like supplementing water and sunshine to a flower, it will only grew bigger and stronger, without it you won’t grow.” These are very passionate words that come out of his mouth. Alfredo has been playing since 15 and can never get enough of the sport.
 
Romeo Romero, another player down at West 4th, has been playing for 7 years on and off, but is now ready to “get serious” about the sport. Romeo recognizes that “one must pass certain levels of difficulties before considering one-self great”. When playing a game of handball, your mind and body has to be in total symmetry. If you play a game with just physical (power) proportions, your game will be defeated by cleverness (strategy) and vice-versa. A good player must consist of both power and strategy. Though, during playing a game, it is easy for a player to get frustrated and lose control after a turn of events. It is not uncommon for a player to get angry at his own faulty misfires or when he is out-strategized by an opponent. Romeo states, “Anger and frustration are your true enemies; loosen up and relax. Don’t rush or push it, your body will adjust to the game; swiftness, accuracy and consistency are important in winning.” In his last words he told me, “ Remember, nobody is perfect, but you can damn sure try [to be].”
 
In handball, players are different kinds of super heroes because they all have different super abilities. One player may have a nasty right hand killer that can send the ball rolling off the wall, which in handball is extremely hard to do. Another player may have supernatural powers that can hit the ball at blink-of-an-eye speeds. By the time you react, the ball has already bounced four times. Another player may have a mean-sharp serve that can send the ball from one end of the short-line to the other, causing the opponent to scramble for the ball. A serve that an opponent cannot come close to even touching the ball is called an “ACE”. Styles and abilities in players varies, so your best bet is to analyze, adapt, and look for the kryptonite that will bring his/her game to an end.

It's easy to see how so many people who start playing handball get so addicted to the sport. I’ve been playing for four years and don’t think I'll stop any time soon.

 

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