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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Tucson epicenter for handball Hall of Fame

    Luis Moreno plays an exhibition game of handball Sept. 11 at the Student Recreation Center. Moreno, a United States Handball Association national collegiate champion, attended the event with other USHA members to promote the Arizona handball club.
    Luis Moreno plays an exhibition game of handball Sept. 11 at the Student Recreation Center. Moreno, a United States Handball Association national collegiate champion, attended the event with other USHA members to promote the Arizona handball club.

    Wildcats live in the nation’s handball capital – whether or not they’re aware of the distinction is another story.

    Tucson is home to the United States Handball Association. The sport’s headquarters and Hall of Fame are a mere mile and a half from the center of campus. Pima Community College boasts three of the nation’s top collegiate handball athletes, and its team is ranked fourth in the nation.

    “”We probably have one of the highest handball players per capita here in Tucson,”” Matt Krueger, development coordinator for USHA said. “”If you go into any athletic club, handball is being played.””

    What’s off the wall to Krueger is that, until this week, Arizona students looking for their handball fix have been forced to fly solo. The Arizona handball club, even amidst the Old Pueblo’s Eden of handball, has been defunct for an entire year.

    To Jeffrey Grynkewich, an Arizona alumnus and marketing director for USHA, this fact is something of a travesty. He said rebuilding the club was “”a matter of pride.””

    “”Collegiate handball is one of the fastest areas of growth in handball,”” Krueger said. “”Since our headquarters is here, why don’t we have a team?””

    It’s like checkers and chess. …People who really like it stick with it. It’s an addicting game.

    – Matt Krueger, development coordinator, USHA

    That’s the question Krueger and Grynkewich hoped to address when they set up shop in the Student Recreation Center last Tuesday evening.

    Joined by Pima student Luis Moreno, winner of this year’s USHA National Collegiate Championships, they wanted to get the ball rolling again at Arizona.

    Together they planted a standard for handball in courts that are usually filled with racquets. While handball and racquetball utilize similar rules and the same playing surface, Krueger hoped to rally newcomers to a sport he sees as more challenging and fun.

    Krueger said there are vast differences between racquetball and handball.

    “”It’s like checkers and chess,”” he said. “”In handball you don’t have your backhand. You’re using both sides of your body. People who really like it stick with it. It’s an addicting game.””

    Moreno said the sport is significantly more difficult than racquetball.

    “”You have to work harder,”” he said. “”(If) you don’t have a good opposite hand you’re gonna be screwed.””

    As he watched Moreno return balls from every conceivable spot on the court, Krueger ruminated on his sport.

    “”It’s messed up,”” he said. “”When you get on the court for the first time it really messes with your head. You really have to learn to throw ambidextrously.””

    But for Krueger, handball’s ultimate beauty is found in its simplicity.

    “”It’s one of the purest forms of sports,”” he said. “”All you need is a wall and a ball.””

    Not surprisingly, humans have been bouncing balls off walls for millennia. Hieroglyphics in Egypt depict priests playing a game similar to handball, according to USHA’s Web site. Handball-like games were also played in ancient Rome and the Mesoamerican civilizations that existed in South and Central America, while over 700 ball court sites have been identified from Arizona to Nicaragua.

    “”It’s pretty much one of the oldest sports played with a ball and a wall,”” Grynkewich said later that week at the USHA Handball Hall of Fame.

    The Hall of Fame itself is simple, like its sport. The building itself is small, gray and easily ignored at the intersection of Grant Road and Tucson Boulevard. The parking lot only holds about a half dozen cars.

    This isn’t Cooperstown, but it still stands as a fitting monument to the sport. The interior is colorful and cluttered with medals, trophies, plaques, memorabilia, painted portraits of the Hall’s members and even a presidential proclamation declaring “”National Handball Week.”” The library holds what is probably one of the most comprehensive collections of handball material in the world.

    Handball has also had its celebrity devotees. Grynkewich pointed out that Robert Ripley of “”Ripley’s Believe it or Not!”” was an avid handball player. Ripley published a handball guide in 1925 and was New York City handball champion in 1926.

    A Ripley publication held at the Hall of Fame describes the accomplishments of “”Doc”” Williams who played and won 14,160 consecutive games of one-wall handball.

    Ripley isn’t the only name Grynkewich dropped.

    “”Actually, I talked to Jake Plummer today,”” he said. “”Pretty much just to get him the password to our site. He’s a huge handball player.””

    Plummer, the former Denver Broncos quarterback, actually cut his retirement press conference short to participate in the Colorado state doubles tournament in March. He advanced to the semifinals.

    Vern Roberts, USHA’s executive director, himself a member of the Hall of Fame, described handball as a sport for anyone.

    “”We have competitions for kids nine and under and we have gentleman playing in the 85 and over group,”” Roberts said. “”We like to think it’s a lifetime sport.””

    But as for the future of Wildcat handball, it’s looking bright. With the reigning collegiate champion Moreno slated to transfer to Arizona from Pima next year, campus seems due for something of a handball renaissance.

    “”We’re going to have a team,”” Moreno said.

    In the meantime, Krueger said a group of Arizona students is now scheduled to play and practice handball every Tuesday evening in the Rec Center.

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