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July 8, 2009 > Surprise! Handball is booming right here

Surprise! Handball is booming right here

By Marty Friedman

Forget about tennis, squash and racquetball. The best racquet you own may well have five fingers at the end

Thanks to the Northern California Handball Association, the classic sport of previous generations may well become the most challenging sport of today's generation, and tomorrow's.

1849 wasn't just the year that gold was discovered in California. It was also the year that handball came into its own in Northern California, as well. In fact, among the many who came to California were the Irish who brought their own treasure with them: handball, or as the Irish called it, "The perfect game."

Open up the San Francisco City Directory for 1851 and check out the heading "ball courts and alleys." All are listed along with the Irish saloon that sponsored the game. It's no surprise because back in the old country, handball 'alleys" as they were called would often use an actual pub wall as the as the front wall of the court.

Want proof? That same directory lists Thomas Cullen's Saloon and Shamrock Ball and Racket Court right on Market Street. Cullen's may well be the oldest listed handball court in the United States.

Four-wall handball is especially challenging. The players are in a "box" hitting the ball with their hands only. The action is nonstop with the ball legally bouncing off the front, back, left and right walls.

If you're man, or woman, enough to play you won't have to travel far. Schoeber's in Fremont, and Las Positas in Hayward, are waiting for you. Further afield, San Jose State and Berkley also offer the game.

The San Mateo Top Gun Doubles Tournament is this month, Saturday, July 11, and Sunday, July 12. (Yes, handball is a sport for singles and doubles.) All credit to the Northern California Handball Association. It is the driving force behind the growth of handball in this area. What is more, the NCHA sponsors both the annual Regional Handball tournament and the Hall of fame Tournament. (Yes, handball has its own "Cooperstown.")

In my grandfather's day, handball was the sport among Jewish people in New York. As long as it wasn't raining, Brooklyn's handball courts were usually mobbed. Until the day my grandfather passed on, he would proudly show the three fingers on his right hand that would turn yellow during damp weather. He'd broken them colliding with the wall during a particularly rough game.

Handball is yet another in the series on the out-of-the-mainstream sports you'll find in our area. Stay tuned for world class volleyball, badminton, squash and much more in future issues of the Tri-City Voice.

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