In more than two decades of scrutinizing handball’s very best tournament performers there has been no player that personifies the true meaning of the word “pro” than Johnny Sloan.
Sloan, just turned a Masters 40, was ushered into the citizens Savings Foundation Handball Hall of Fame at Las Vegas during the national big week … an award justly earned if one were only to look at the record books.
Unfortunately, the native Chicagoan came along a decade too soon for the pro handball tour; had professional handball presented itself during Sloan’s palmy days, I’m sure he would have retained the zest of conquest and maintained both the physical and mental edge needed for championship play.
Total achievement in handball came to Johnny at an early age … he was 18 when he won the national Y doubles with Jack Gordon, and 22 when he pulled the game’s “Hat Trick” in winning both singles and doubles (with Phil Collins) in 1958 … over the short but brilliant career he won three USHA “singles/doubles grand slams”; overall a 7-time doubles winner; two-time three-wall doubles titlist. A couple of years in the Army and the abating of the “hungry” feeling eased Sloan from the top of the hill. Then he moved to Honolulu, content to enjoy the tropical breezes and show the 50th Staters flashes of his former brilliance.
Sloan has made sporadic showings in our nationals in recent years, was respectable in the open doubles last year at Vegas with Jack Hulick. Now a Master, I doubt whether Johnny will seriously train for either singles or doubles in that category … he will continue to participate for the fun of it and let it go at that.
Well, can we remember the lightning-fast reflexes and court coverage of Johnny in his early 20s? Jack Gordon taught him the importance of the fly shot in his apprenticeship at the Irving Park YMCA in Chicago; Gus Lewis’ pinpointed right corner fly kill was copied to the T … when Sloan had in addition was amazing control of his offhand fist shots, keeping the foe(s) away from the offensive in either singles or doubles. His partnership with Phil Collins demonstrated real teamwork, and they must go down as one of the game’s all-time great doubles teams.
There was only one player in the Sloan glitter era that had the edge and that was an oft-injured Jim Jacobs. Jim with all the tools that included power didn’t play Sloan in a USHA national singles final … had to default in ’58 because of a back injury suffered in the doubles final the day before.
In handball circles when anyone talks about the four or five best-of-all-time, the Sloan name is 100% included. Bob Kendler tabbed him the “Little Court General” and that’s just what he was.