Here’s the deal with this pair of aces

Longtime 1-wall stars Apuzzi, Ten celebrating 27 years of marriage

First featured in HANDBALL MAGAZINE, August 2018.

    Handball players across the country recognize the name Albert Apuzzi. He remains the record holder with seven consecutive national open one-wall doubles titles from 1983-89, winning six with Joe Durso and one with Al Torres.
     Many players also are familiar with Dori Ten, who began as a paddleball player, switched to handball at Apuzzi’s urging and became a multiple champion. Many players also know the two are married. But did you know that this year they are celebrating their 25th anniversary?
     Time passes quickly in life, and many players who once were young up-and-comers are learning to face the effects of time on their lives and athletic pursuits. Apuzzi and Ten have a storied past — and an intriguing life together. 
     As a child, Apuzzi started playing “Ace-King-Queen handball” at P.S. 119. He is the eldest of four children. His father, Albert, is a retired New York Police Department lieutenant, and his mother, Angela, is director of a private school.
     Apuzzi graduated from Canarsie High School, then attended Brooklyn College before a change of careers led him to graduate from the Arnold and Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy at Long Island University. Now 62, he is a pharmacist.

One of the greatest one-wall players in history, Apuzzi is a member of the USHA Hall of Fame.

     Apuzzi became one of the best one-wall players ever and was voted into the USHA Hall of Fame in 2002. At Apuzzi’s request, the induction ceremony was postponed until 2011, when he was honored at an Inner City Handball Association event in New York.
     Ten grew up in Brooklyn with four siblings and was always outdoors playing sports with her brothers and sisters. Her older sister was a track and field star. Her youngest brother is a NASCAR driver. She graduated from John Dewey High School in Brooklyn and then graduated summa cum laude from Long Island University. Now 57, she is a physician assistant in surgery.
     Ten played a very strong game of paddleball but switched to one-wall handball in 1987 at Apuzzi’s urging. She rose through the ranks and won her first national singles title in 1992 as well as five doubles titles with Barbara Canton Jackson.
     Ten slammed in the 1997 nationals. Her last doubles championship was with Canton Jackson in 2001.
Apuzzi and Ten lead active professional and personal lives together. We caught up with them both and asked about their lifestyle and their opinions about the sport.
Tell us a bit about your life. What other sports or hobbies do you like? What things do you like to do together?
     Albert: We enjoy cycling and walking together. We still go to the handball courts. And we like watching sports together on TV, like tennis, cycling and squash.
     Dori: We also love to travel and see other cultures, people, and wines. I am a wine aficionado.  

How did you meet?
     Albert: We met at the Seaside Courts at Coney Island. We had a challenge match, hands vs. paddle.
The New York Times article tells their story in more detail as part of their "Summer Love Series" HERE.

Why did you switch to handball, Dori?
     Dori: I started to play handball at Coney Island when I met Albert, and he encouraged me to give up paddleball and play handball. The first time I played handball, my hand was taped and I had several gloves on. I looked like I was stepping into a boxing ring rather than a handball court. I was late to the game at age 28. I was such a skinny kid that if I attempted to hit the 555 black ball, I would have had a cast put on my hand. Those balls of yesteryear were like hitting lead.

Do you two play handball together as a team or as workout partners? 
     Albert: On occasion, we play at a local schoolyard or when we find a court while on vacation. 
     Dori: Albert is light-years ahead of me. His hooks and spins would give me whiplash.

Let’s talk about New York handball. Do you prefer big ball or small ball when you are playing for fun? 
     Albert: I prefer small ball. It is more physical and takes more skill. 
     Dori: More people play big ball than small ball. Small ball has a longer learning curve. A lot of kids cannot afford to play small ball as it requires gloves, goggles and an expensive ball. A big-blue ball costs $1, making it an appealing sport. All you need is a wall, a hand and a ball — that’s it.

Describe the challenges for a one-wall player when competing in three-wall and four-wall.
     Albert: In my younger days I played with any ball and any wall. I traveled around the country playing various tournaments. I entered the three-wall and four-wall national tournaments a few times. I made it to the semis of the national three-wall doubles a couple of times, with Tim Sterrett and with Eric Klarman. I won the Don Colone three-wall open doubles and the NYAC four-wall open doubles with Eric Klarman. I did pretty well against some top four-wall players in singles also.
     Dori: Three- and four-wall are challenging when you play one-wall. You must stand your ground when playing one-wall. In three- and four-wall you must move out of the way. The back-wall shot in four-wall is probably the hardest skill to master for one-wall players. 

A classic look from (way) back in the day — Ruby
Obert and Joe Durso with Apuzzi, all in the Hall of Fame.

Where do you play nowadays? 
     Albert: Seaside Handball Courts at Coney Island. We are mostly weekend warriors these days. I’m recovering from getting both hips resurfaced, so I’m just returning to handball after being off for several years. 

Favorite serves when you want to score a point?
     Albert: It depends on my opponent, point in the match, how I’m feeling, and whether I’m serving in singles or doubles. In singles, my go-to serve is a wide-angle to the left where the short line meets the left sideline. 
     Dori: I am a lefty, so standing on the right side of the court and hitting it to the left side of the court to your opponent’s off-hand is a standard serve. You are also facing your opponent when they are returning the shot, so you can get a good read as to where they will return the volley.

Name some favorite tournament wins over your careers.
     Albert: My first was beating Neal Bocian, whom I idolized in high school. It was at the USHA one-wall national singles at Brighton Beach Baths. I was also excited when Joe Durso and I beat Lou Russo and Mike Dikman at Castle Hill Beach Club in 1983. That was my first national one-wall doubles title. Beating Al Torres and Paul Lonergan for my fifth consecutive national one-wall doubles title was also memorable. Also, winning my sixth and seventh consecutive doubles titles was exciting … and the record still stands.
     Dori: Perhaps winning against Rosemary Bellini in 1992 in a tiebreaker 11-10 was an early victory. The year before, she beat me 11-10 in a tiebreaker. Rosemary was a great handball player in her prime and encouraged a lot of women to participate in handball. Another memorable win was beating two great women players, Tracy Davis and Brenda Pares, in the HES tournament. At 50, we defeated Danielle Daskalakis and Sandy Ng in the ICHA big-blue Long Island Open.

 Ten strikes the ball in the 2001 women’s national one-wall doubles final.

Who are your favorite doubles partners?

     Albert: I enjoyed playing with Peewee Castro, Ed Golden, Eric Klarman, William Polanco, and Al Torres. I had my most success playing doubles with Joe Durso. Joe also gave me the most difficulty in singles. I have enjoyed each partner, our friendships, and our successes together.
     Dori: My one and only partner has been Barbara Canton Jackson, my best friend and doubles partner for over 25 years. We are lifelong partners. We are committed as a team, and we know the strengths and weaknesses of each other. One year I was very excited to find out Barbara was pregnant during a tournament. We were both over the moon!

Please give us your thoughts about the USHA and the WPH.   
     Albert: I appreciate the USHA for what they do for handball but feel like the organization is too focused on the four-wall game and keeping the ship afloat. The USHA is not willing enough to take chances. The WPH are the new kids on the block. They have taken over professional handball, and they are more interested in bringing the game outdoors where it can be seen by the public. WPH is innovative and more willing to take chances. They are more focused on pro handball, which I like. 
     Dori: Change begins by bringing new ideas with marketing experts and making the game super cool. We need to have these young kids give up their electronic gadgets and get involved in sports. It takes a great deal of money, but any company must have seed money to jump-start their business before the doors open. Once you have brand recognition, advertisers come on board.

Why do you support handball?
     Albert: Because I love the sport and want to see it succeed. Also, to help keep younger players fit and out of trouble.  

What is your advice for up-and-coming players who are striving to win a national tournament?  
     Albert: Practice and be dedicated.
     Dori: I see players who smoke and eat unhealthy. You can get away with unhealthy habits for only so long before the body gives in.

Name some important folks who influenced your handball career. 
     Albert: Neal Bocian, Steve Sandler, and Ruby Obert were special to me. Of course, there are many other great players and competitors who influenced my game over the years as well.
     Dori: Albert has been the greatest influence in my life on and off the court. He is incredibly insightful, funny, generous, and respectful.

Who are your handball rivals over your career? 
     Albert: In alphabetical order, Joe Durso, Ed Golden, Danny Maroney, and Al Torres. 
     Dori: Karen McConney and Adrian Floyd were great rivals, as were Dee Stringfield and Sydell Smith.

Albert Apuzzi and Dori Ten compose one of the most accomplished handball couples of our time. They are uniquely qualified to comment on one-wall and on the development of handball over the last three decades. With Apuzzi returning to the game, there may be more to hear from them in the future.

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