“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!