This was inspired by my colleague Vince Wladika…we don’t agree on everything but when the moon and the stars are right… It has the best elements of soccer and basketball…it has contact…it is fast paced and highs scoring…it is measured in a manageable quarters with universal rules…it is arguably the most widely used training sport on the planet and by some accounts is the second-biggest team sport in the world, yet ask most Americans about Team Handball and they think of middle aged men hitting a spaldeen against the wall. Why?
I was introduced to Team Handball by coincidence vs. choice. I was assigned to be the venue coordinator in what was then The Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis for the 1987 Pan Am Games, and the sport was Team Handball. It was a first-time opportunity for the sport, which i knew little about but picked up quickly. The U.S. as the host nation was grandfathered in. So off we went to try and drum up support. The Federation was headquartered in New Jersey. The Americans were made up of former Ivy and Academy athletes and there was a rivalry with Cuba to deal with. So many elements were in place to at least get some support while USA Baseball was out pounding its Latin neighbors.
The Americans took on the vaunted Cubans in round robin competition and low and behold, a full scale brawl erupted. The Americans lost, created an international incident and the sport took off. As the medal round dawned, word spread of the controversy rising and low and behold US faced Cuba for the Gold. Over 6,000 curious and patriotic soles showed up, and in some kind of “Miracle on Ice” redux, the U.S. avenged the loss and beat Cuba…in overtime! Writers from the Newark Star Ledger’s Chris Thorne to AP said team handball had arrived…and then it was gone.
The U.S. men again failed to qualify for London, a victim I heard of a federation short on dollars, interest and promotion for a game well known to any professional in hockey, soccer or even hoops. Could Team handball grow again in the States? Sure. What does it need?
Some basic things…more exposure and centralized organization by its NGB…an extensive education program designed to show the interest in the sport to casual fans…a strong social media push designed around education for those who play and with some slick highlights promoting the action that the sport has…as well as outreach to a growing audience of immigrants who know the game from their youth…immigrants from around the world who understand the game at its core and can expose it to a mainstream American audience. Heck, Slamball once had a home…handball is legit and just as full of action. It is a simple, inexpensive team game with a solid history and a long following, even as a training sport. It probably has some amazing player stories. I am not saying we need to launch the International Team Handball League tomorrow, but for a country always looking for whats next in fast pace action with a good mix it up spirit, not to mention global routes and infinite sponsorship and media avenues, Team Handball could be a quick and dedicated sell.
Try and find it during London 2012 for yourself…you may be surprised and impressed, even without American males in the mix.