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The following feature appears in the August 2017 Handball Magazine.
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By Marc Penick
Sala concentrates in his 2008 USHA 0ne-wall Singles final victory against Satish Jagnandan.
New York handball players need no introduction to Cesar Sala. He has made his name for many years as a one-wall champion, with titles in big-ball and small-ball singles and doubles.
Sala has a talent for all forms of handball, three- and four-wall included. One-wall, however, is the handball culture in New York, and Sala shares his story of developing his game in the parks and streets of NYC.
Sala’s parents, Cesar and Ana, were born and raised in Puerto Rico. After Cesar Sr. left Puerto Rico for New York, he and Ana wrote letters back and forth, and he eventually proposed through a letter. Ana packed her things and ventured to New York to marry him. They were blessed with three daughters and a son, Cesar, the youngest in the family.
Today Sala is 39, and he and his wife, Kathy, are raising daughters Kaycee, 10, and Emma, 7. They live in the Bronx, where Sala is a New York City police officer.
Sala, daughters Emma and Kaycee and wife Kathy.
How did you meet your wife?
We met at a lounge called Redemption, and it was magic from the first moment I saw her. She drew me in with her beauty and enchanted me with her demeanor. Three years later we were married. Our beautiful girls are both passionate about dancing, makeup and fashion, like their mother.
How and where did you start playing?
I’m originally from Brooklyn, where I went to Lincoln High School and Kings-borough Community College. I started playing in the early 1990s. My home courts were at Coney Island.
The same courts where the pros play that we read about in the magazine?
Yes. I have watched some of the one-wall greats, such as Albert Apuzzi, Al Torres and the infamous Joe Durso. Coney Island was filled with great players. I was drawn to the game as a teenager. The atmosphere of being by the beach and playing in the sun was great. The game is also cheap to play, but the best part is that anyone could just show up and call next to get a game.
Tell us a little about the New York handball environment.
Most places around the country, people would have to call each other to organize games. At Coney Island and most NYC courts, people just show up and find games anywhere! There are thousands of one-wall courts all over the city with people playing. Coney Island and West 4th Street were where a lot of the heavy hitters played.
Which ball is preferred today at Coney Island?
Coney Island players compete in big ball, currently the dominant one-wall game, and small ball, the more traditional form. I gravitated toward the small ball because I enjoyed that world and got involved in three- and four-wall. I remember seeing this big powerhouse lefty four-wall player with a big loopy swing come in and shock the one-wall world by making it to the national final! Little did I know he was trying to be the first in a very long time to win all three nationals in the same year. As far as I know, John Bike is the last man to be in all three finals in the same year. He made a big impression on New York handball at that time.
You’re a one-waller. Describe the difference between playing one-wall vs. three- and four-wall at the open level.
As crossover play binds the handball world, this sport will continue to climb into the realm of being a mainstream sport. Pro players from each version of our game are creating a larger spectrum of community by exchanging ideas, experiences and skill sets that pertain to their version of the sport. For me, four-wall has been the most mentally challenging with all the extra angles and options. I love playing four-wall, but it can be a bit frustrating. My limited back wall, combined with aggressiveness I learned from one-wall, have led to some frustrating moments against the top four-wall players. In 2008 Danny Bell and I played David Chapman and Emmett Peixoto in the final of the Long Island Open four-wall event. David and Emmett were able to expose my weaknesses and beat us handily.
Well, David and Emmett have done that to many very well-trained four-wall players …
Yes, I guess they probably have. They are great players.
How about three-wall?
I remember playing Vince Munoz, who was the three-wall champ at the time, when he graced the courts of Coney Island at the one-wall nationals. I was an established one-wall pro who had won a few events. I went into the game with a chip on my shoulder and was able to beat him in the first game with ease. The second game was close, and Vince made some adjustments and edged me out by a point. The tiebreaker was exciting, and I was lucky to get the win against a legendary player. My first time playing three-wall, however, was an eye-opening experience. My first-round match was none other than Vince Munoz himself! Vince cleaned my clock as I scored a mere 3 and 6. I remember feeling like I was in every volley but I wasn’t scoring. To a one-wall player, the three-wall court is extremely long. Playing four-wall doesn’t entirely prepare you for the long side walls with no back wall.
Where do you play nowadays? How often?
I’ve had a shoulder injury, but I’ve tried to keep involved as much as I can by volunteering my time to the ICHA, which has dedicated 20-plus years to our inner- city youths by having travel teams and coordinating events for youth development in NYC. Working with the community is important to me as an NYC police officer. I’m looking forward to playing again and competing at the World Police and Fire games in August.
Sala (left) with favorite partner Joe Kaplan.
Name your favorite doubles partners.
My favorite partner without question would have to be Joe Kaplan. Joe embodies everything I strive to be as a handball player and as a person. Joe and I have played together for almost 20 years and have won our share of tournaments. His consistency combined with my knack for being unpredictable have earned us some nice success. Heart, loyalty and commitment are qualities to be admired, and Joe embodies precisely that.
Any favorite tournament wins?
The first national doubles event Joe and I won was an amazing experience. We faced a familiar team of Kendell Lewis and Robert Sostre. They beat us in the final of another event earlier that year. Kendell and Joe were former partners, so there was always an extra intensity whenever we’d play him. Kendell was not only a talented handball player but also an exceptional athlete. Robert was the dominant figure in paddleball as well as a multinational handball champion. We defeated them in a hard-fought tiebreaker for the first of our four national doubles titles.
How does your family view the sport with all your accomplishments?
My three ladies have shown their support both at home and at events whenever possible. My daughters will play ball at some point, and I’d like to see them play as a doubles team. I think their personalities along with their physical attributes will make for a strong team. Kaycee is lefty, tall and slender, while Emma is shorter and a right-hander. They are both very competitive and have interest in the game. It would be nice to see them play.
How is the USHA doing, in your view?
The USHA, ICHA and SAHA have meant so much to NYC handball for decades now, and I am forever grateful for the hard work they’ve put into this great game. They’ve paved the way for current organizers and associations such as wallball and the WPH.
What do you think of the WPH?
The WPH and wallball are really taking handball to the next level in helping this great community grow. Wallball founder Jasmine Rey is seemingly everywhere shaking hands all over the world spreading the game of handball. Dave Vincent and David Fink are doing a great job with the broadcasting and handling of pro play.
What do you see as the most important thing for continuing one-wall handball? What about three- and four-wall?
In my opinion, the ball is a key to pushing the game to another level. We need a ball that’s somewhere between a small ball and a big ball that could work for all versions of the game. Perhaps a ball that has the speed and weight of a small ball along with the feel of a big ball. The big ball is too slow for the larger three- and four-wall courts. The current small ball is too fast for the smaller one-wall court. I agree the games are great as they are now, but I believe changing the ball might help the game improve as a spectator sport. In New York people are playing, hearing about and seeing more handball every day. It is only a matter of time before we reach the biggest stage, and I’m looking forward to being part of that.
Sala’s 1-wall record
2000: USHA doubles champion
2000: World singles champion
2001: USHA singles champion
2006: USHA doubles champion
2007: USHA doubles champion
2008: USHA singles champion
2011: USHA doubles champion
- 3-time Mayors Cup singles champion
- 5-time Mayors Cup/Speakers Cup doubles champion
CONEY ISLAND, N.Y. -- Congrats to Timothy Gonzalez who slammed the Men's Pro Divisions with partner Allan Sanchez. Danielle Daskalakis took back the top spot in the Women's Pro Division with a 25-16 win over Sandy Ng. Biridiana Garcia and Ruby Loyd scored a major upset in the semifinals of the Women's Pro Doubles, upending the super team of Daskalakis and Ng, 25-24 and then went on to win their first National Doubles title, defeating Karen McConney and Lori Hernandez, 25-18.
See final results for the 10th USHA Wallball National Championships Honoring Mal Cohen HERE.
Thanks to Jared Vale for contributing to this report.
|The 10th USHA Wallball Nationals honor Mal Cohen, A Loving Father and Husband, A Great Card Player, A Great Friend, A Fierce Competitor, He is missed by all who knew him That rare individual--that everyone liked.|
The morning started out with torrential downpours. Most players endured a long drive and traffic delays (due to weather), to find the sun was out upon arrival; however, there was over a foot of water covering the entrance all the way to the second set of courts. The whole crew, including players and some of the Coney Island regulars got to work. The drain was pulled and unclogged and players got buckets and started carrying to the street. Robert Goffner swept tirelessly while USHA Board Members Jared Vale, Alethia Mendez, with One-Wall Committee Members Karen McConney and Willie Polanco set up camp in a new location – across from court 6 near the board walk. The tournament was under way by 10:30.
Once underway, the day was filled with intense games and a lot of positive vibes. The tournament staff successfully promoted the USHA Small Ball Nationals in August as well as next month's King of the Courts. Pizza was ordered for lunch!
We're looking forward to an exciting finale tomorrow.
See 2016's Wallball Nationals results HERE.
Next, the Wallball Nationals offered the richest prize money list ever and also drew over 100 contestants. There were upsets and new stars in the women’s doubles while Timothy Gonzalez reclaimed the top spots in the men’s events.
Our Small Ball Nationals, held August 3-6 are a day shorter than usual and are next on the agenda. The prize money purse will top $10,000, and the USHA Board will be in town, holding their first summer board meeting in the Big Apple. That they join us at the one-wall is historic but of even greater importance is that the Borough of Brooklyn has declared Saturday August 5th “Handball Day” and the Brooklyn President is presenting the Citation and proclamation to our USHA President, LeaAnn Martin. The men’s division expects to be among the largest fields in years, drawn by the big prize money purse. And, are there any challengers to unseat the five-time Masters Doubles champs of Figueroa and Roberts?
Finally, the USHA partners again later in the month of August with the ICHA to offer the Junior Wallball Nationals. Wallball continues to grow as the most popular one-wall game in New York and the competition should prove exciting. Additionally, we have Flushing Bank, an important local Community Bank, as our sponsor to help fund the cost of the event. So, make plans to see all of our one-wall action!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
|Keith Mardak with his wife Mary Vanderberg.|
$1 Million for Scholarships and Challenges to Communities
Tucson, AZ, May 1, 2017: When Keith Mardak of Milwaukee decided he wanted to help college kids and handball, he decided to do it in a big way. The $1,000,000 gift is the largest in the USHA’s history and is designed to be in place for posterity. There are two pieces to the Endowment, one will fund college students to teach handball and the other piece will fund scholarships for those students who teach. Keith’s generosity to the communities where handball is taught will need to be matched from within the community.
The Mardak Scholarships and Mardak Community Challenges will start in the Spring of 2018 with at least 10 scholarships and five community grants awarded. “It’s going to be great to be a collegiate handball player,” said USHA Executive Director Vern Roberts.
“It’s been exciting to reach out into the communities to find the matching funds. Everyone likes the idea and is stepping up to grow the game with more coaching and mentoring by young people for younger people. We’ve seen similar startups with Homework and Handball in Tempe and Lift Up Kids in Austin, and there are other successful programs. We’ll be off and running in the Spring of 2018 with these and a few more communities we’re working on,” Roberts added. “Handball needs more teachers, more players and this is a great place to start.”
Mardak, who has been one of the USHA’s most generous donors, is looking forward to getting the program(s) off the ground and “seeing the positive results,” Mardak said.
Keith and his wife Mary Vanderberg have supported numerous organizations in a big way, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Milwaukee, the VanderCook College of Music, the Milwaukee Ballet and the Phoenix Society, along with numerous other high school and college scholarships. A part owner of the Wisconsin Athletic Clubs, including Milwaukee’s No. 1 handball club, Mardak has played handball since the late 1960s. Though he hasn’t been able to play for awhile due to injury, but like every handball player, hopes to make a comeback after his new shoulder heals, he noted: “Greg (Misiewicz) and I had a good run.” Keith had a lot of fun playing handball and now he’s looking to share that with other youngsters for a lifetime.
To maintain the endowment, 4% of the fund’s value on Dec. 31 will be spent on the two programs in the following year. The spending will be split between the Mardak Scholarships and the Mardak Community Challenge. With the local communities involved the Challenge, we’re hoping for a huge impact in the growth of handball in those areas.
VENICE BEACH, Calif. -- In a classic NorCal vs. SoCal clash, the battle for Boy's 19-Under supremacy reached a boiling point on Sunday after simmering for two days at the 2017 USHA National Junior 3-Wall Championships. The Boy's 19-Under Small Ball singles final would be the rubber match between Anthony Sullivan (San Jose) and Andrew Garcia (Los Angeles). Garcia stunned Sullivan on Friday, winning the Big Ball singles in a tiebreaker. The next day, with the help of doubles partner Jon Gutierrez, Sullivan exacted some revenge by defeating defending champions Garcia and Brandon Ramirez for the Small Ball Doubles title. On Sunday, Sullivan and Garcia slugged it out for three games, battling fatigue and each other's desire to win before Sullivan prevailed, 21-1, 13-21 and 11-6.
As soon as the match started, it appeared Sullivan would win in a walkover, hopping and hooking serves for which Garcia had no answer. Needing what seemed the entire first game to adjust, Garcia battled back in the second game, building a nice lead and holding it to force the deciding tiebreaker. Sullivan owned the serve to start, and shot out to a commanding 7-0 lead, but this time Garcia ferociously answered. The two exchanged a number of lengthy rallies that pleased the Venice Beach crowds that started to gather. After burning their timeouts, the exhausted finalists each welcomed a required glove change timeout to catch their breath. Once the action resumed, Sullivan pressed harder to pick up the remaining points to clinch his title. Down to match point, Garcia dug out a side out to delay any celebration for Sullivan, but the NorCal phenom regained the serve and scored the last needed point for the title.
In other action, Luis Mendez (Santa Barbara) won the Boy's 17-Under Small Ball crown, defeating Jorge Pimentel (Tucson) in two games. The win gave Mendez his second National Juniors title after winning a Four-Wall championships earlier this summer at Los Caballeros.
There was nobody better in the Boy's 15-Under division (small ball or big ball!) than Jesus "El Diamante" Mendez. The SoCal product from Los Angeles controlled both finals in two games, winning the Big Ball title over Fernando Espindola (Orange, CA) and the Small Ball championship over Joahan Campos (Kansas City).
After suffering disappointment in the Boy's 13-Under Big Ball final, Anthony Sanchez (Los Angeles) edged Luis Fernandez (Santa Barbara) in an exciting 13-Under Small Ball final, 18-21, 21-13 and 11-3.
Finally, Kena Byrd-Jackson and Marisol Maldonado defeated Belisa Camacho and Sophie Della Croce in an All-Tucson Girls 17-Under Doubles final, winning 21-10 and 21-12.
Thank you to all the tournament volunteers, organizers and contributors who made the 2017 USHA National Junior 3-Wall Championships a success! Sunday was the birthday of LAFD Handball's Roy Harvey, who will also be inducted into the Southern California Handball Hall of Fame next month. To show their appreciation, players, coaches and families gathered and sang Happy Birthday to Harvey on court one (below).
See the 2017 USHA National Junior Three-Wall Championships final results HERE.
VENICE BEACH, Calif. -- The summer crowds mixed with SoCal natives and tourists from all over the world filled up the boardwalk to take in another beautiful day at the beach. Many who passed by the handball courts nestled between Muscle Beach and the Pacific Ocean stopped to watch high-level action as many finals played out on Saturday at the 2017 USHA National Junior 3-Wall Championships.
In the Girl's Singles final, Kena Byrd-Jackcson defeated Team 520 teammate Belisa Camacho in two games, 21-6, 21-4.
Next, Tucson's Ayden Brule swept the 11-under Small Ball and Big Ball divisions, defeated Xavier Flores of Los Angeles in each final.
In Boys Big Ball action, Ricardo Renteria of Los Angeles drubbed Ricky Serrano in the Boy's 17-Under final, 21-3, 21-0. Serrano put together some great rallies throughout the match, but the Bellflower High product controlled the court, sending the ball deep along both walls.
Eddie "Torito" Rocha from Lake Elsinore, CA also dominated his championship final, defeating LA's Anthony Sanchez 21-2, 21-0 for the Boys 13-Under Big Ball title.
Both 19-Under Boys doubles finals were play at the day's end, showing off the best doubles competition as the sun lowered on the Pacific. Jacob Hernandez and Fernando Balladares battled Jose Hernandez and Eduardo Garcia for two tough games, prevailing 21-17 and 21-19 for the Big Ball crown.
In small ball play, Anthony Sullivan and Jonathan Gutierrez clicked at the right time as they upended defending champions Brandon Ramirez and Andrew Garcia, 21-15, 21-9.
Sullivan and Garcia will see each other again in Sunday's Boy's 19-Under Small Ball final.
See Saturday's results HERE.
VENICE BEACH, Calif. -- The second day of the 2017 USHA National Junior 3-Wall Championships at the Venice Beach Rec Center gave fans and players even more competitive matches and ended with a few championships decided.
The first major title was the Boys 15-Under Small Ball Doubles which was decided by four Santa Barbara TGOP products: Bryan Trejo and Daniel Mora vs. Luis Fernandez and Oswaldo Perez. Fernandez and Perez struck first with a surprising game one victory, but Trejo and Mora battled back to force the tiebreaker where they edged their teammates, 11-6 for the title.
To wrap the day's action up, Andrew Garcia (right) and Anthony Sullivan played for the Boys 19-Under Big Ball singles crown and provided a glimpse of what to expect for a Boys 19-Under Small Ball final. Sullivan looked strong early, ringing up a seven-point lead en route to a 21-19 game one win. But in the second, Garcia showed off his Big Ball prowess, mixing up speed and power to force a deciding third set. In the tiebreaker, Garcia rolled, jumping to a 7-0 lead to route Sullivan 11-1 for the crown.
"I ran out of gas in the second," Sullivan said. "I used up everything in the first and couldn't adjust after."
Garcia credited his win to settling down and letting his game come to him in the second and third sets. "I was rushing things, and my shots were off in the first game." Friday's outcome produced more drama to a possible Sunday rematch in Small Ball.
SCHA continued to roll out the red carpet for junior players and families on Friday. Mark Zamora, aka "Rapper" manned the grill which provided delicious tacos for all participants and families. (If you really want to get your mouth watering, check out the United States Handball Association's Facebook video of what was served!).
During a small break in the action, former junior champion and R48Pro Mando Ortiz with Tucson's pro qualifier Abe Montijo gave the kids a thrill with a player clinic on the main court. Kids worked on their serve and were shown how to cut the ball off on the three-wall court. Special thanks to both players for sharing their time teaching the next generation better skills!
See today's results HERE.
VENICE BEACH, Calif. -- Sunshine, sand and waves greeted junior handball players on Thursday morning for the 2017 USHA National Junior 3-Wall Championships at the Venice Beach Rec Center. The players were also treated to a generous "swag bag" which included three shirts, wristbands, a hat and more. The Southern California Handball Association, LAFD Handball, and a host of supporters made sure the kids were rewarded for making the commitment to play in this year's tournament.
With 79 entrants, the Venice Beach Rec Center's four courts were in use the entire day with small ball and big ball matches! Gary Cruz, Marcus Hough, Roy Harvey, Jim Vandenbos, Andy Gutierrez, Rick Wheelock and a number of other local volunteers made sure all the junior players were well-fed and had good officials refereeing matches from start-to-finish.
One of the day's final matches took place between Santa Barbara teammates Grace Ramos and Mileyni Sanchez. Ramos advanced, but Sanchez put up a tremendous fight in the second game, nearly forcing a tiebreaker only to fall short 14-15. The two new players from the Santa Barbara TGOP program shared a handshake, hug and walked off the court together smiling ear-to-ear. It was a tremendous show of sportsmanship and the Spirit of Handball.
See today's results HERE.
CINCINNATI -- The Munson brothers were devastating in the 35s as they marched through the strong field, including Dave Bardwell and Nick Mattioni in the final. ICRCTV was on site streaming two finals and you'll be able to watch them on demand. The 35 Singles final has been uploaded to the U.S. Handball YouTube Channel HERE.
Shane Conneely and Stas Hammond rallied to defeat Andy Rousseau and Jared Vale in a great 40 final. Andy Schad and Dan Zimet turned back the determined Rousseau and Vale in the 45s as well. Jim Wohl and Jake Esser won a grueling 50 final over John Allen and Scott Walker. Alan Frank and Joe Berman stopped Marty Clemens and Dave McElwain's run in the 55s. Dave Dohman and Scott Rosenthal beat Mike Linnik and Tom Fitzwater to add the indoor to their outdoor title. Vance McInnis and Ed Campbell won the 65 title over Bob Dyke and Dave Schmelz. Bob Bardwell and Dave Hinkleman were impressive in the 70s, turning back Gary Rohrer and Ron Cole in the final. Ed Grossenbacher and Vince SanAngelo reunited for the 75s title over Bob Braine and Norm Young. And in the 80s, it's been 25 years since Al Green survived a heart attack and now he's one of a select few to win titles in one-, three-, and four-wall. Green teamed with Ed Woerner to outlast the 85-eligible Lew Buckingham and Ben Marguglio in a tiebreaker.
The GCHA provided great hospitality all weekend for the players and fans, rewarded the largest field in seven years for coming to the Queen City.
See the draws and results HERE.
FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. -- Sean Lenning and Marcos Chavez once again proved there's nobody better when it comes to doubles. The longtime four- and three-wall team won their third consecutive title, defeating Vic Perez and Armando Ortiz 9-21, 21-3 and 11-9. The match-up was a repeat of the 2015 final, and it ended with the same 11-9 score. Perez's service game and Ortiz's hot shooting set them up for a chance at their first title, but both Chavez and Lenning made key shots down the stretch to seal the title.
In Women's Open singles, Catriona Casey won her third consecutive singles crown defeating Women's Classic champion Tracy Davis 21-8, 21-5. Davis started the match serving well, keeping pace with Casey to tie the score at 8-8, but the defending champ soon adjusted to Davis' power and cruised to the title. Ashley Moler defeated Jennifer Schmitt 21-14, 21-11 for third place.
Gabino "G-Man" Velazquez became the first USHA Four-Wall Big Ball Singles Champion pulling out a win over Sal Duenas, 21-9, 21-18. Duenas made every attempt to force a tiebreaker only to come up short as Velazquez executed key shots down the stretch to seal the win. It's worth noting that Velazquez survived an 11-10 first-round scare against Stockton's Antonio Chavez.
Duenas wouldn't be denied in the doubles final. Pairing with Big Ball powerhouse Samzon Hernandez, the team held off Stockton's Christian Salcedo and Chava Cordova from completing an improbable upset. Trailing 18-19 in the second game (after losing the first 21-20), Hernandez and Duenas earned the sideout and closed out the second game 21-19 to force the deciding tiebreaker. Their momentum carried them to an 11-3 win for the title.
Finally, one of the most exciting junior finals of 2016 (3-Wall Juniors) producing an intense sequel indoors. This time Bryan Trejo of Santa Barbara defeated David Sanchez 15-21, 21-14, 11-10. The pair hope to play the rubber match this month in Venice Beach at the Junior Three-Wall Nationals (July 20-23).
"Thank yous" go out to Los Cab and Mike Kane, Southern California Handball Association, Gary Cruz and all the incredible volunteers who made the 67th USHA National Four-Wall Championships a success!
And, "Thank You" to the WPH for capturing all the exciting action and streaming matches live.
FINAL Results (draws) can be viewed HERE.
WATCH SUNDAY'S FINALS REPLAY HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GPhtfIXkV8&feature=youtu.be
FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. -- In one of the most heavily anticipated rematches in recent history, Killian Carroll defeated Paul Brady, 21-19, 21-6 to successfully defend his singles title. Both players dominated their sides of the draw leading up to their showdown on Saturday. Brady was arguably playing his most dominant handball in years, leaving opponents in single digits throughout the week; while Carroll looked equally sharp. The two battled point-for-point in the first game, much to the delight of Los Cab's packed gallery. For every Brady ace or kill, Carroll would match with an unreal retrieve or re-kill. While Brady held a small lead late, Carroll rallied to take the first game by two points. In the second game, Carroll rolled to a huge lead and held on for championship point. If you didn't get to watch the WPH Live broadcast of the final, it will be available for replay.
On Thursday night, handball players and families were able to honor the person who was instrumental in bringing the National Four-Wall (and other major tournaments) to Los Caballeros in Orange County: Gary Cruz. Cruz was inducted into the Handball Hall of Fame as a Contributor for his tremendous work for over two decades. In addition to his work behind the scenes at tournaments, Cruz spearheaded the USHA's Development Program and First Ace since 2004. USHA President LeaAnn Martin presented Cruz with his jacket, Hall of Fame plaque and oil painting by Dave Delaney. In his acceptance speech, Cruz thanked all his family and fellow handball players for making his work within the sport such a rewarding experience.