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Growth of Handball in NY PDF Print E-mail

Growth of One-Wall Handball in New York
Taken from A History of U.S. Wall Handball

by Mickey Blechman, Rockville Centre, NY

By 1900, Irish 4-wall handball was well established in the U.S.. Just before that the Amateur Athletic Union was founded to promote and control sportsmanship in many sports.

The beaches of South Brooklyn had long fairly high wooden jetties to prevent beach erosion. Bathers, at low tide, used the jetty sides as walls to hit a "bald" tennis ball with open hand against them. Areas were marked off in the sand and single-wall handball was born. These bathers would go to beaches fully clothed and change into beach clothes in lockers at the various Baths that had been built for them and for promenaders.

In 1909, Charles J. O'Connell convinced Charles Keene, manager of the Parkway Baths, to build a one-wall handball court at his establishment. It was such an immediate success that one beach club after another built 1-wall courts for their members. Within a few years Brighton Beach Baths had more than 20 1-wall courts in almost constant use.

Within 10 years, the A.A.U. held the first city-wide tournament. By the '20's there were more courts indoors and many A.A.U. tournaments. The Metropolitan Association, A.A.U. held N.Y. State and Metropolitan A.A.U. tournaments. The National A.A.U. sanctioned the Nationals in the Metropolitan area.

In the '30's, the N.Y.C. Parks Department put up thousands of courts in the five boroughs. There were tournaments almost every week during the warmer months. Many athletic clubs had built 1-wall courts indoors and there was intense competition between their teams. Women's tourneys starting in the '30's were outdoors at the beaches.

By the '40's there were other courts away from the South Brooklyn beaches. Except for WWII years, there was lots of activity. >From 1913 there had been, in the newspapers, coverage of all types of handball. After WWII, handball as an amateur sport with few spectators, got decreasing coverage in the media. In the '50's, with little exception, there was only a National A.A.U. tournament and that was about it. The last A.A.U. tournament was in 1976 in Coney Island.

In 1959 Irving Ehrlich who had founded the Brownsville Handball Club promoted and ran the huge first National U.S.H.A. 1-Wall tourney (which has been held annually, with 2 exceptions, ever since).

The original ball before the '20's was a cross between the Irish 4-Wall Hardball which is like a golfball, and the bald tennis ball. The official "Ace" handball used today is very much in keeping with the "official" balls used through the years. Of course, the growing game in the Metropolitan area is "Big Blue" that uses a racquetball instead of the Ace or any others of its kind.

The rules of the game, through many versions, are really very much unchanged. However, in each of the many printings, there are many changes in wording. C.J. O'Connell continued his interest from the early 1900's, wrote the first rules and continued to be active in all phases of the game until he died at age 93. He wrote many A.A.U. handbooks and other published books on handball that may be available even today.

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