|Dick Sleeper with wife Kay at the 2004 Three-Wall Nationals.
Richard Sleeper, Chicago, Ill.
I can’t remember anything Dick Sleeper told me that was not educational, entertaining, or true. Most of what he told me, he related to his favorite topic –playing handball.
Not that he said much. He’d taken me under his wing when I was not good enough to enter a “C” tournament. His on-court words were usually limited to “nice shot” and “wow” – and I was so bad, he didn’t have to say either very frequently. But he did. The “wow” was probably said in awe of God’s grace in letting the ball do something wonderful after failing to go where I was aiming.
But his laconic persona was “pronounced” in everything he did. Looking back, I can safely say that handball has never had a more understated promoter. It wasn’t just his encouragement of kids, or his financial support of our tournaments (for which he rarely accepted recognition or accolade). The real truth is that Dick unassumingly nurtured the Chicago Metro Handball League from a loose association of police and firemen … to the greatest competitive handball arena America has ever known. For around six months straight, on any Tuesday night, some 200 players enjoyed competition and comaraderie in the League he shaped and quietly held together.
As I remember, our University of Chicago team -- with Vern Roberts, Dave Dohman, Scott Rosenthal, Chris Roberts, Bill Tillery, Marty Wallace, and Dick Sleeper -- won the top division several times. The first time we won, Dick put up his own money so we could have championship jackets. I had no illusions about why I was included – because I was a student, we could use the University’s field house for our matches.
But it was also true that Dick wanted me there – maybe he saw some promise in me that left others stumped. I just wasn’t very good. It was as if God had whispered to him that the world would be a better place if more of us played handball.
At Rainbow Beach, which was ground zero for 3-wall in Chicago, Dick befriended many other aspiring players who were young, hapless, or just plain helpless. While he was good enough to win several tournaments in several venues, he thought nothing of going in the court after four hard-fought games and “hitting it around” with novices, late-comers, and hangers-on. Of course, later in life, his shoulders and elbows would pay the price.
After all that play, and a few beers besides, he’d climb on his trusty 10-speed bike, exhausted, and pedal home, gloves hanging from the handlebars to dry. Home for Dick Sleeper was wherever his beautiful wife Kay was. He had fallen in love with her when she was a nursing student in Chicago. Together, they had three sons, all of whom now mourn the departure of his earthly life. Like us, they know that his spirit of love, acceptance, and quiet pride in our well-being remains in our midst.
|Al Goldstein (far left) with Max Davidoff and Moe Orenstein circa 1954.|
Al "the Teacher" Goldstein, Brooklyn, N.Y.
One-Wall Loses Its Teacher
One-wall handball has lost one of its strong competitors of the ‘50s and ‘60s, Al Goldstein, affectionately known as “the Teacher.”
Al graduated college as a physical education major, but he didn’t teach the subject long. Early on in his career he was promoted to assistant-principal, eventually completing his career as a long-standing principal in a Brooklyn elementary school. An intelligent and gentle soul, the Teacher was a fierce handball player possessed of great speed, power, and a hopping, skidding serve which provided no end of trouble for his opponents. When Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach Baths ran its weekly sweeps for the best one-wall doubles players in the city, the Teacher was frequently invited along with Hall of Famers Vic Hershkowitz, Moey Orenstein, and, later on the three Obert brothers among others. Al was good enough to play among those all-time greats.
Although he never won an open title in either singles or doubles, he championed 4 times in masters doubles: AAU – 1962, and ’69, USHA – 1965 and ’69. Before becoming a top handball player, Al was a strong enough basketball player in college to obtain membership in City College of New York’s Basketball Hall of Fame. And after retiring from handball, he became a runner, always finishing the NYC Marathon even when well into his 80s. In 2015 he was chosen to be a member of the NY Handball Hall of Fame.
Those who knew him admired both his athleticism and his human decency. He passed while nearing his 98th birthday. And only until last year did he stop attending the National One-Wall Championships held in Coney Island.
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