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A tenacious competitor tells his story...
Most players who compete at the USHA three-wall and four-wall national events know Vance McInnis; the tall, lanky age-group champion has been competing for decades. Vance has won his share of events, appeared in even more finals and faced his share of tough customers in what has become the largest demographic competing (65+), and now in the 70+ age group. He is a handball analyst, employing multiple game strategies with consistency, and he has the tournament results to prove it.
Vance recently stopped playing handball, plagued by onset pulmonary fibrosis in both lungs. He last played in the final of the 65+ doubles division at the 2018 USHA Three-Wall Nationals in Toledo, Ohio, a match I happened to referee. He and teammate Gary Eisenbooth were stopped in a grueling tiebreaker by Chicago’s Joe Ivy and Sean Conneely.
In 2019, Vance attended the Three-Wall Nationals again, this time to mingle with friends and take in the action, toting his oxygen tank alongside. We spent some time talking at Lucas County Fairgrounds in Maumee, Ohio, between the rainstorms, and he agreed to share his story with Handball magazine.
Born in Michigan on June 1, 1949, along with his twin sister, Vance is one of four children. His father was a U.S. Marine stationed at the LTA (Blimp Hangars) in Southern California. After his parents divorced, the family moved back to Flint, Mich., for his high school years.
Vance played tennis, baseball and basketball as a youngster and took up swimming in high school. Though small as a kid, he grew over 6 inches in the 10th grade, topping out at 6-foot-2 by age 20. A varsity swimmer, Vance regrets not working harder at the sport. Later in life, he started playing handball. The game afforded him a second competitive chance (and much success).
After high school, Vance and a basketball teammate went freight-hopping around the country. They rode up and down the California coast, into Mexico and ended in Orange County, where they met a frequent rider who knew many of the routes. The old hand convinced Vance to take the Super Chief from Los Angeles to Chicago instead of hitchhiking the whole way home to Michigan.
The other two rode with Vance to the Arizona border before turning back while he went on to Chicago, landing in the huge railyard there at midnight. He hitchhiked the remainder to Flint for a family visit. The ride out went well, so, two weeks later, he hitchhiked back to Chicago and rode the Super Chief west to Los Angeles.
Shortly thereafter, Vance joined the Army. He was out of money for college and liked the idea of public service and the challenge of special military airborne training. But not all went to plan.
During a training jump in North Carolina, his parachute failed to open properly, resulting in a “partial chute” condition and an “LOFD” (last out, first down) outcome. He hit the ground traveling 30 mph, bounced four feet off the drop zone runway, shattered his right elbow, tore his abdominals, and sustained a hip pointer and severely bruised feet.
After a month in the hospital and a month of rest, he went back out and jumped to avoid losing his airborne status. The elbow pins were removed a year later. For those who have played handball with Vance, this account might help explain his level of tenacity on the court.
After leaving the Army, Vance attended Santa Ana College, UC Riverside and then graduate school at the University of Oregon. He met his wife, Connie, on a blind date with a friend who was dating her sister. The relationship worked, and they married a year later in 1976. Vance and Connie have three children, Erin, Grant and Clair; and three grandchildren, Madeline, 11, Kyla, 8, and Evan, 3. Most of the family lives in the Peoria area save for Clair, who resides in Portland. Vance and Connie see the grandkids often.
The McInnis family: (front row, from left) Evan (Grant and Whitney’s son) held by his Aunt Clair, Erin and her two daughters Kyle and Madeline; (back row, from left) Grant, wife Witney, Connie and Vance.
Tell us a little about your family.
My wife Connie and I have been married for 44 years. Connie was always a good athlete. We played tennis and basketball together. She is a proud stay-at-home mom who raised our children and enjoys caring for our grandchildren.
Erin, our oldest daughter, is a nurse. She is also athletic and competes in triathlons. Granddaughter, Mad, loves volleyball. Her sister, Kyla, plays soccer. Our son, Grant, is an accountant. His son, Evan, likes to join him for anything outdoors. Grant enjoys playing basketball, weight training, running and biking. Our youngest daughter, Clair, lives in Portland. She’s in the Portland school system working as a librarian. She loves to hike in the local mountains. Clair ran track and played golf in her high school days.
You worked as a sales engineer for Caterpillar Inc. (CAT)?
Yes, I started at CAT in Peoria right out of graduate school. There I was trained in sales and marketing for the engine side of the business. CAT manufactures and services a broad range of engines for electric power, marine and industrial use as well as for trucks and heavy equipment. I was transferred to Phoenix from 1982 through 1991 and then back to Peoria until I retired in 2015. I traveled around the world and America supporting clients and our products.
Vance was the big ball champ at Santa Ana College in 1977.
How did you get started playing and where?
I started playing at the outdoor courts at Santa Ana College (SAC) in 1969. The football coach there encouraged us to play in the offseason. After a Santa Ana fireman whipped my buddy and me, one versus two, I was hooked! After an Army tour, I returned to SAC and started playing again. We played outdoors with a number of SoCal guys, including David Steinberg, Pete Bidegain, Tom Fitzwater, Guy Hoover and Larry Morefield. I was a runner and worked to run my opponents. In 1977, I placed second in singles there, playing five matches on a hot August day against the best players. My first handball trophy!
When was your first national tournament?
I attended the 1984 Masters Singles in Las Vegas. I won my first match and then faced off with top seed Dave Morones. He was awesome in the first game. I got him running a bit more and won the second. He won the third game and also the tournament.
You have won 23 USHA titles, 13 outdoor, 10 indoor, 10 singles and 13 doubles titles. That is a pretty balanced record. Name some favorite tournament wins over your career.
My first was a big one for me, winning 50+ singles versus Alan Sherrill in ‘99 at Toledo. In 2005 I won my 10th, in the 55+ singles versus Greg Raya. One time I scored a win over Terry Muck in a local tournament in Peoria. Not sure he was trying very hard! One year I beat a young, hard-hitting kid named John Bike in a tournament. I never asked for a rematch!
Your favorite game is three-wall although you have a fine record in four-wall as well and more than 20 titles between the two. How are the games different?
Yes, three-wall is my game even though there are not any three-wall courts in Peoria. But my indoor game utilized outdoor tactics: cutoffs, high off-hand ceiling shots and drives, being in shape to run and hammer shots. I learned a lot in my early years in Toledo playing Don Revenaugh, Danny Saenz, Roger Berry, Alan Sherrill and even Ken Ginty. One year I beat Phil Kirk in the 40+ division but lost to Dave Dohman the next round. Of course, I am a few years older than they are. Those guys are pure outdoor players: deep drives with both hands, cut off shots, high hammers into the corners.
You played doubles with Alan Sherrill and Ed Campbell as well as other partners. Tell us about them.
I enjoyed teaming up with Alan in our early years. He could play all day. One year in Toledo we played in the 50+ singles final and then we teamed to win the 50+ doubles. We were in shape! Playing with Ed was also enjoyable. Ed can take many shots and score points with cuts, serves, re-kills and long balls as good as anyone in our age group. I also enjoyed teaming with Bob Lohmueller in the four-wall Masters Doubles 65+ in Houston in 2018. Bob played great! That may be my last USHA title.
Name some important folks who influenced your handball career.
Darryl Jones (“The Dancing Bear”) is the handball leader in Peoria and a great friend. Darryl is a big, burly Marine vet who never shied away from hospitality, food or drink. Darryl would organize the weekly league matches in our area. Peoria had a great open tournament for many years in the past. Terry Muck would come up and grace us with his presence. In Arizona, Carl Porter invited me to be a member at his Arizona Athletic Club in Tempe. He introduced me to Dave Graybill.
Name some of your handball rivals.
I have enjoyed playing ball over the years with Roger Berry, Greg Raya and Merv Deckert. They are my friends as much as my rivals. Danny Saenz was another. “Smokey” was a true three-wall player and all our matches were very tough. Danny Carrillo is a great player who serves as well as any age-group player. Danny and Tom Fitzwater beat me and several different partners in doubles, usually in tiebreakers. I did beat him in singles a couple of times, which made me feel better. Alan Sherrill, Dan Price, Ken Ayube and Ernie Virgili were very tough matches for me as well. Dave Dohman was not my rival because he always won when we played. He is a great talent.
Vance volunteering at the local school working with kids.
What do you do for fun nowadays?
I spend time with the family, enjoying the grandkids’ events. We ride bikes and take walks. I still do the yard work and just carry my oxygen bottle around with me as I rake the leaves.
You have been a handball supporter and a regular competitor in tournaments over the years. Why do you support handball?
Why not? I love the game, love the players, love the camaraderie and love the competition!
Your thoughts about the USHA and the WPH?
The WPH is promoting the game for sure, and televising it is really great. But the game needs the regular players to keep things going. I am glad that the USHA expanded its events to include age-group B brackets at the national events. It really helps with turnout when more players can compete at their level. I guess today it is the WPH for the pros, and the USHA is for everybody else.
What do you see as the most important thing going forward for the continuation of the sport?
I can think of only one thing that may push this game into the future, and that’s to engage the young. We’ve got the college teams, which can expand as intramural sports are happening, but not much handball overall. There are plenty of athletes, especially former baseball players, who could pick up the sport, but it is tough to get started. The other part is the massive player group playing wall ball. This is true street ball today. If we can recruit some of this group, we would be golden. It is challenging as big ball players are like I was at SAC, always outside playing in the parks. They cannot afford or do not care about clubs. If we ever figure out how to get some of these people inside, handball will live on.
What advice do you have for young up and coming players who want to complete in national tournaments?
Have fun, meet people and enjoy the mojo. Watch others and learn how they handle their opponents. Put in the practice and training time as well. Don’t just play.
Anything else you would like to add?
Yes. I have had to deal with my pulmonary fibrosis and the treatments since 2013, which led me to retire from playing handball. I still love watching the game and my friends out there competing. Life is a great thing, and my advice to you all is enjoy every day, value your health and care for your family and friends.
From HANDBALL Magazine, November, 2020
Charlie Ikard snaps a selfie as players enjoy the refurbished three-wall courts in the background.
Doctor's orders, personal trials, club closures and a pandemic. Charlie Ikard of Salem, Oregon has never been one to dwell on setbacks, and his drive fuels his relentless pursuit to promote handball wherever he lands.
Introduced to handball in Lewiston, Idaho, in the early 70s, Charlie knew he was hooked right away. Jumping at the opportunity to be involved, he created and managed ladders for more than 45 players at the local Elks Club with two handball courts. He was also instrumental in bringing along the new players while also attracting some pros to offer exhibition matches, including two of the best players at the time: Terry Muck and Naty Alvarado Sr.
Playing with the old black ball, Charlie began to develop artery problems in his hand. "I wasn't hitting it correctly," he admitted. His family doctor recommended he quit playing handball or risk losing two fingers. He decided to work on how to hit the ball--and to find a new doctor. "I'm still playing, and I still have my two fingers!" Charlie said.
In the late 80s, Charlie fell upon some hard times. He left Idaho, first relocating to Montana before settling in Oregon. "I lost everything," he remembered. "Thankfully, I had my handball family. Were it not for my handball friends, I'm not sure what I would have done."
Once settled in Eugene, Charlie jumped into promoting handball, working tirelessly to host tournaments and keep the Eugene Handball Association active and vibrant. He didn't miss a step when he moved to Salem in 2003, working with Salem Handball's Josh Reese (2010 USHA Volunteer of the Year). They continued to offer two tournaments a year. In 2018, Charlie led an effort to resurface and repair some three-wall courts at a local community college. The project's impact is still felt today as players have access to safe and playable courts outside.
In 2019, the Salem YMCA was demolished, leaving a number of handballers without a home to play. Charlie assisted those players, bringing them over to the Salem Courthouse where they could continue to play on their 7 handball courts. When the pandemic shut down clubs in his state, Charlie helped local players continue indoor play by working with the local club manager. By following safety precautions, there are as many as 10 handball players participating several times a week. This past year, it has been all too easy to fall away from physical activity when facilities are closed and restrictions on play still exist. For nearly five decades, Charlie Ikard has never stopped promoting the sport he loved, and we're proud to recognize him as our USHA Volunteer of the Year!
JUAREZ, Mexico -- The Inaugural Pepe Medina Memorial Tournament was held this past weekend at the San Angel Athletic Club. A total of 60 players along with fans and families attended the event. Masks were required while not playing, and spectators were asked to practice social distancing.
Luis Cordova defeated his brother Daniel Cordova in the final, 15-9, 15-11, in a stacked open bracket that also included Sean Lenning, Shorty Ruiz and Leo Canales Jr. Luis and Daniel were the top two seeds, and they looked to defend their home courts in Juarez. They did just that. On the top side of the bracket, Luis took out Leo in the semifinals in two hard-fought games. On the bottom side, Daniel faced Sean Lenning. Sean gave Daniel all he could handle to start the match, taking the first game, however, Daniel took the second game to force a tiebreaker. Sean had all the momentum holding an early tiebreaker lead, but in the end, Daniel’s fitness ultimately made the difference as he outlasted his opponent to advance to the final where his older brother was waiting.
The Cordova’s are very familiar with each other’s game, and that lead to plenty of long rallies but the difference was Luis’s ability to put the ball away to finish the rallies. Luis got off to hot starts in both games and never looked back to become the first ever Pepe Medina Memorial tournament champion.
Luis wasn’t done with the titles there, he then teamed up with Marcos Renteria to win the Open Doubles title over his brother Daniel and Victor Gonzales. Right after that, he was back on the court for the Big Ball Open Doubles title where he and Daniel beat Jonathan Chavez and Noe Arenas to complete the sweep for all 3 titles.
Congrats to the Cordova brothers for another exciting final, and thank you to the tournament directors and organizers for hosting a great event!
FINAL DAY (10/18/20) LAS VEGAS — Championship Sunday started with the 3-Wall small ball doubles open final between Daniel/Luis Cordova and Carlos Flores/Isidro Garcia. The Cordova brothers were in full control of the first game, never letting Carlos Flores/Isidro Garcia get on the scoreboard; however, game two was a different story. Carlos Flores/Isidro Garcia came out hot, using the short sidewalls to their advantage. They were able to hold off the Cordova brothers and win 12-10. In the tiebreaker, the Cordovas returned to their first game form, keeping Carlos Flores/Isidro Garcia off-balance with great serves and kill shots, never letting up until they won championship point in the tiebreaker, 12-3. The Cordovas continue to show that no matter what type of court they play on, they are a force to be reckoned with.
In the 1-Wall big ball open singles final, Tywan Cook continued his hot streak taking down James Aguilera 25-13. Cook then teamed up with his partner Nazir Marston to take down Aguilera and Samuel Sandford to slam the one wall division. Cook has been lights out this summer, winning the USHA One-Wall small ball nationals last month and now winning a 3wallball world title.
To finish off the day, Josef Gotsch and Anthony Hernandez took down Carlos Marin and Chris Tojin to win the 3-Wall big ball open doubles title. It capped off an incredible run by Gotsch and Hernandez, who hadn't played together before this fall and were in the draw as the 13 seed.
It was a job well done by the Vegas tournament staff and volunteers to put on a great and safe tournament for everyone. With 200 Handball players and 400 Racquetball players entered, they had their hands full but were well-prepared and up for the task.
You can see the results of all of the brackets here. Thank you!
DAY 2 (10/17/20) - LAS VEGAS-- Day 2 in Las Vegas was another long day of handball in the sun with players taking the court at 8:30 a.m. and playing late into the evening.
The highlight of the day was the 3-Wall small ball singles finals, where brothers Daniel and Luis Cordova faced off. Daniel was able to dominate the first game with deep hop serves that earned him easy setups in the frontcourt. He held off a late comeback from Luis to win the first game 12-6. The second game Luis stepped it up, hitting deep power serves and putting down the ball nearly every time he went for a kill shot. Luis took the second game 12-7. The tiebreaker was tight the whole game, but Luis was able to use the short sidewalls (they only go to the short line) to his advantage, making Daniel run side to side. He was able to finish off Daniel 12-8 and take home the title. The brothers will team up tomorrow to take on Carlos Flores and Isidro Garcia for the 3-Wall small ball doubles title.
In the 3-Wall big ball doubles, the 13 seed Josef Gotsch and Anthony Hernandez made an incredible run to the finals upsetting everyone in their path. They will take on the 2 seed Carlos Marin and Chris Tojin tomorrow for the championship.
The 1-Wall Big Ball doubles finals will be between the defending USHA small ball 1-wall champion Tywan Cook and his partner Nazir Marston vs James Aguilera and Samuel Sandford. Both teams have made the trip down from New York and have represented their state well in Vegas. Tywan will also compete for the 1-Wall singles championship tomorrow.
Lastly, in the open Big Ball 3-Wall singles division, 4 players remain, and they will kick off the day tomorrow with their semifinals. All of the top 4 seeds have been eliminated so it will be an upset regardless of who wins.
Check-in tomorrow afternoon for the final results of the tournament. You can see every bracket here.
DAY 1 (10/16/20) - LAS VEGAS -- The 3 WallBall World Handball Championships kicked off today in Las Vegas at 9:30 am across the street from the stratosphere hotel. It was a long day at the courts, with the final games finishing up just after midnight. A limited capacity of fans were allowed in to watch, and everyone not playing had to social distance and wear a mask.
Due to the big draw, games were only played to 12 points, including the tiebreaker. Players competed in 3-Wall and 1-Wall with both the small ball and the big ball.
One of the biggest upsets of the day came in the 3-Wall small ball doubles where the 7 seed Carlos Flores and Isidro Garcia took down the 2 seed Max Langmack and Sam Esser. Other than that, most of the top seeds were able to advance. Some of the finals will be played tomorrow, including the 3-Wall small ball open singles.
It will be another early start Saturday, with play beginning at 8:30 a.m. You can follow along with the draws here.
LAS VEGAS -- The tentative times and draws are now available here. As always, make sure to double-check your times the day of the tournament.
If you are participating in the tournament, remember to read the Safe Play Flyer here.
Don't forget that lensed eyewear will be required. Good luck to all of the competitors and you can follow along here for daily recaps from the tournament.
While our founder, Bob Kendler was instrumental with promoting handball, he also had a large hand in promoting racquetball and paddleball. Historically, handball and racquetball players have a (mostly friendly) competition for court times at various clubs and parks. Some have even sparred over signage, labeling them handball courts vs. "racquetball courts."
Unfortunately, a pandemic forced us all off the courts. During the past year, a number of facilities have either closed permanently or have repurposed their 20x40' courts for other activities. Losing places to play means losing players for both sports. This chain of events has motivated the leaders of the USHA and USA Racquetball to come together to strategize a plan to save the clubs and the courts.
|Mike Wedel, USA Racquetball
Informally called the "20X40 Save the Courts Sports Alliance,” the group has met for the past six months to share information, offer support and collaborate strategies to keep clubs and courts open and available for players and tournaments when we can safely resume play.
During our last meeting, USAR's Executive Director Mike Wedel invited the USHA's Matt Krueger and Sam Esser to join their Facebook Live stream "Real Racquetball" to share our history and discuss our collaborative efforts. Real Raquetball's Game 13 episode will air LIVE on Monday, February 15, at 8 p.m. (Central).
Viewers can watch the stream live or catch the replay on Facebook HERE.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- The Coney Island Players / USHA Open singles Nationals Championship was underway earlier than the 8:30 a.m. start time on Saturday (Sept 26). New York’s weather cooperated allowing the tournament of 48 Open singles players and 9 Masters Doubles teams to finish in one day, with plenty of time to spare. Players came out in droves to support the first small ball tournament offered in New York, and knowing the event would also crown the USHA National Champion produced even more excitement. Tywan Cook, a two-time USHA Wallball Singles Champion (2015 & 2016) would emerge the winner, earning his first small ball National title with an impressive win over newcomer and Coney Island Players Championship MVP, Edwin Troncoso in the final, 25-5.
Tournament director Jared Vale congratulates the Men's Open finalists, Edwin Troncoso and Tywan Cook.
Cook’s “big game” experience and incredible stamina were the catalyst that propelled him to victory. Cooks traits paired with his devastating serves that pushed his opponents well off the court, offering easy returns that could be fly-killed to the opposite corners. That serve would help Cook plod through a tough slate of players in his bracket, defeating Franklin Vera, Jonathan Camacho, Tyree Bastidas, and Daniel Cordova.
Troncoso was the biggest surprise of the event, showcasing a natural athletic ability. In addition to beating Killian Carroll, the top-ranked four-wall player in the world, in the semifinals by a score of 25-22, Troncoso demonstrated an amazing comeback against last year’s CIPC winner Pee Wee Castro. Down 17-8, Edwin mustered up momentum to pull out the victory, 25-17.
Participants began showing up at 7:45 to check-in for the largest one-wall small ball tournament in recent times, for there chance at a share of $8,000 in prize money. Early rounds almost saw a few upsets with Ray Lu just falling short of upsetting Jurell Bastidas in the round of 16. With a lead of 18 – 12, Ray Lu had a few offensive chances and went for the ace serve, unfortunately serving our 3 times in a row. Jurell was able to capitalize on Lu’s mistake and push through to a 21-19 victory.
Among the participants were two of the WPH R48Pro four-wall tour top players, Killian Carroll and Daniel Cordova. With minimal experience in one wall, both players were successful making it to the quarterfinals. After a tremendous comeback and a controversial call, Killian Carroll fell just short of victory, losing to Troncoso.
The Masters Doubles bracket included a field of multiple national champions. The exciting finals between Joe Kaplan and Jai Ragoo vs. Robert Sostre and Peter Pelligrini looked like an early blow out for Ragoo and Kaplan, but ended up in a 25-23 victory for Kaplan and Ragoo.
|Masters Doubles finalists Robert Sostre, Pete Pelligrini join tournament director Jared Vale (center) with champions Joe Kaplan and Jai Ragoo.
The day was made possible by the generous support of Elliott Joseph, the USHA, Adam Gittlitz. Shentah (China) Pizzaro was a mastermind behind the desk, keeping matches moving and the tournament on schedule.
Due to the pandemic canceling the USHA Nationals in August, the USHA Executive Committee voted to have the CIPC Open Singles serve as the USHA National One-Wall Open Singles Championship. In a year yearning for positive news, the announcement increased participation and brought the handball community together.
See more information on the 2020 Coney Island Players Championship Facebook Event Page HERE.
CONEY ISLAND PLAYERS & USHA National One-Wall Open Singles Championships RESULTS (Players from New York unless noted):
First Round (48 Players): Yuber “Pee Wee” Castro, BYE; Jonathan Davila d. Arthur Sayed, 15; Edwin Troncoso d. Paul Angel, 13; Milton Jones, BYE; Alvaro Rebaza, BYE; Sheikh Hossain d. Adam Gittlitz, 10; Manny Sanchez d. Jeffrey Geraldo, 0; Carlin Rosa, BYE; William Polanco, BYE; Miguel Mendez d. Eliel Torres, 20; Eric Lee d. Isaiah Hong, 4; Billy O’Donnell, BYE; Andres “Play Station” Calle, BYE; Killian Carroll (Boston) d. Gabe, 10; Jonathan Milman d. Alfredo Figueroa, 4; Victor LoPierre, BYE; Jurell Bastidas, BYE; Ray Lui d. Anthony Delgado, 15; Daniel Cordova (Norcross, GA) d. Robert Goeffner, 15; Eddie Perez, BYE; Saul Gonzalez, BYE; Mohammed Shakoor d. Carlos Gonzalez, 15; Dan Pitre d. Jean Pierre Garcia, 2; Cesar Sala, BYE; Tywan Cook, BYE; Franklin Vera d. Mike Torres, 10; Isaac Caba d. Austin Quinones, 7; Jonathan Camacho, BYE; Isaac Acosta, BYE; Ariel Garcia d. Matt Chu, 6; Eugene Lau d. Jonathan Mantilla, 19; Tyree Bastidas, BYE.
Round of 32: Castro d. Tuti, 13; Troncoso d. Jones, 18; Rebaza d. Hossain, def.; Rosa d. Sanchez, 14; Polanco d. Mendez, 11; Lee d. O’Donnell, 20; Carroll d. Calle, 11; LoPierre d. Milman, 11; J. Bastidas d. Lui, 19; Cordova d. Perez, 6; Gonzalez d. Shakoor, 5; Sala d. Pitre, 11; Cook d. Vera, 5; Camacho d. Caba, 8; Acosta d. Garcia, 14; T. Bastidas d. Lau, 19.
Round of 16: Troncoso d. Castro, 17; Rebaza d. Rosa, 15; Polanco d. Lee, 7; Carroll d. LoPierre, 9; Cordova d. J. Bastidas, 14; Sala d. Gonzalez, 2; Cook d. Camacho, 17; T. Bastidas d. Acosta, 9.
Quarterfinals: Troncoso d. Rebaza, 18; Carroll d. Polanco, 19; Cordova d. Sala, 12; Cook d. T. Bastidas, 16.
Semifinals: Troncoso d. Carroll, 22; Cook d. Cordova, 16.
Final: Cook d. Troncoso, 5.
|Gene Schneider, Colorado School of Mines coach.|
Talking with Colorado School of Mines (CSM) handball coach Gene Schneider reveals his passion for handball—more specifically, for teaching handball. With his self-deprecating humor, Gene puts at ease new players and keeps the game fun, never taking himself too seriously. His infectious attitude has caught on with the students who learn the game through his program.
Gene first discovered handball at age 15 at his local YMCA. He found it a perfect diversion and, seeing all the older guys still at it, realized he had found a sport for life. In adulthood, chasing that rubber ball around the court proved to be a great workout and an outlet for the stresses of the office.
In 2006, Oliver Boyd, who himself had played at the University of Colorado, invited Schneider to serve as an assistant for the nascent program he helped start at Colorado School of Mines. It was there he realized his joy for teaching and working with students on a handball court.
A couple of years later, Boyd moved out of state, and Gene accepted the position of the head coach and lead instructor for the handball classes. “I really enjoyed interacting with the students and the caliber of people on campus,” he recalls. “It allowed me to do something for the community that I really enjoyed. Plus, I felt like a kid on the court again. No, I don’t move like one, but I feel like one!”
|The largest Colorado School of Mines team at the 2016 Collegiates at the
University of Minnesota.
In 2019, Gene demoted himself to “consultant” at his workplace, giving up a lucrative sales position with a great company. (He needed to put his father in assisted living and remains his primary caretaker.) This allowed him to focus on the CSM handball program and to fulfill his passion for teaching handball to young people. The program subsequently garnered tremendous interest, and Gene worked hard to prepare his players for tournaments but also to foster engagement in the sport long after graduation.
“I give the same speech to my team every year,” Gene says, “and that is that CSM students have come up short in the powerhouse column of top teams. But over the years, Mines has exhibited the best of attitudes, respect and sportsmanship. That’s what makes CSM special, and that’s why handball is the perfect sport! Mines students are engineers and typically more focused. All the people I know in handball are those that are focused and move forward. This attitude fits with Mines students perfectly.”
While CSM has collected a team trophy and won a few individual awards at Collegiate Nationals over the years, a better measure of Gene’s influence is the number of Mines players who have been recognized with the Collegiate Spirit of Handball Award. He is not satisfied fielding a team for Collegiate Nationals but encourages players to stay involved with their school and the sport well beyond their collegiate days.
“I feel blessed that we have many Mines alumni that still play handball along with a few Regis players and University of Colorado players. State and local tournaments from the past saw from 15 to 33 percent attendance of Mines students, coaches or Alumni.” In response to the pandemic, CSM has suspended the handball program through the Spring of 2021. Nevertheless, Gene continues to play outdoors and encourages Mines graduates to join him.
He acknowledges strong support from the handball community through the Colorado Handball Association, its Costigan Program and the USHA. “Their work really allows me to focus on teaching and getting kids involved."
With backdrop of the Rocky Mt. Foothills, Gene and CSM's team captain Nick Thompson recruit new players on campus.
On the first day of class each semester, he asks students to write down what sports they play and why they chose to try handball. He then reads every response after handing out equipment. In the next class period, he teaches them the basics before moving on to drills, noting, “You may get frustrated. But we all do, and that’s a part of learning a new sport. What’s fun is the camaraderie you enjoy with others through the sport of handball. We bond with each other.”
At the end of the course, he brings in a paper bag. “They (faculty) want me to talk about nutrition, so I do this,” he admits wryly. “I bring in a bunch of broccoli, a six-pack of Coors—nothing else in Colorado—and a bag of pretzels. I pull out the broccoli and say, ‘You can eat this stuff. It’s good for you. You’ll stay fit and healthy, but most agree it’s probably not that fun.’
"I pull out the beer and pretzels and say, ‘You can enjoy this—like a lot of handballers do. A lot more fun than a bunch of broccoli. The choice is yours, but I encourage everyone to have fun.’” (Gene emphasizes that he does not encourage drinking beer, especially on campus, but hopes to make a point, if anything, to make players smile.)
Of his future, he muses: "I will continue to coach in some capacity, even if I do not have an active collegiate program in place. It is too important to me, and I feel the handball community has certainly enjoyed the influx of players over the years. It’s a very very big part of my life.”
Establishing a sense of sportsmanship and fun while keeping new players involved in the game is what makes Gene Schneider special to his players and anyone who has the pleasure of meeting him. The USHA is proud to present Gene Schneider with the 2020 USHA Coach of the Year Award.
“It’s HANDBALL, Matt!” was the rebuke to an inquiry about the modified court and rules. There was no exact service box or short line (I stopped noting foot faults after four points) playing with slightly adapted rules, a familiar foursome dueled for two games in the early morning fresh desert air before Tucson turned into a virtual oven. I stopped asking questions and just observed the play. Despite the uneven wall, short playing area and unfamiliar ball, they were all having a pretty darn good time. Kudos to the Tucson Racquet Club, in response to the statewide court closures, for opening up the practice “tennis wall” to handball, as players have been shooed off that wall whenever attempting to warm up over the years.
Such is the norm for many of us during this global pandemic. Club courts and parks were closed across the country, and handball players, all itching to chase down a ball and feel the impact on their hands—let alone the thrill of competition and camaraderie we all enjoy, took their games outside looking for a wall; any wall, and with any ball. Hall of Famer Fred Lewis may have felt some nostalgia playing the same form of the game he learned as a youth in the Bronx. He was joined by Bob Gauna, Paul Flasch and Ken Hartnett for a spirited game of Wallball doubles.
(Right to Left) Paul Flasch reaches for a return in front of Fred Lewis with Bob Gauna and Ken Hartnett in the backcourt at the Tucson Racquet Club.
Lewis and Gauna held an early 10-0 lead as new partners Flasch and Hartnett took some time warming up. They eventually did. Hartnett’s steady play mixed with Flasch’s deadly left-handed kills would get them back in the game. Seemingly stuck at 17 points, Lewis and Gauna dug in to score the final four points on the way to victory.
I had my gear in my bag just in case anyone went down or didn’t show. But I didn’t have the heart to mention it lest I take away anyone’s workout or fun away.
It has been truly remarkable to see players finding ways to get their fix, from homemade one-wall courts in backyards, basements and garages, to impromptu handball play days and tournaments between local players, we’ve witnessed handball in ways we never imagined. One of the newest one-wall venues in the country is holding a tournament this weekend at St. Paul’s Clayland Park. Handball players will always find a way, and we remain confident that our sport will grow and be better when we all return to our familiar digs. Personally, I look forward to that, and I’ll have my handball gear ready. See you on the courts!
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