With New Court, Handball Makes a Comeback

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Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)

SOUTHBRIDGE — William and Nancy Ortiz of Leicester are about a week from finishing a new handball court at Edgar McCann Fields on Henry Street.

Mr. and Mrs. Ortiz are members of the New England Handballers Association and donated 50-plus hours of their labor toward the court, which was repurposed from an aging half-court basketball layout.

"All of the New England cities and towns and beyond need affordable and self-run recreational activities," said Mrs. Ortiz, a Worcester social studies teacher. "Handball being our passion and specialty provides us an opportunity to give back to any community, promote our sport, and make it popular and accessible for young and old."

The couple began working on the project about a month ago, "in bits and pieces," as they also assumed projects in Holyoke and Lawrence and held clinics in various cities. They are also working on a handball court in Leicester.

On Friday in Southbridge, the couple worked on leveling uneven portions of the pavement as they talked about their work.

They said they need to apply another coat of paint to the 12-foot wall.

Southbridge Town Manager Ronald S. San Angelo said the handball court is part of the town's continued effort to improve its parks and give citizens new recreation opportunities. The handball wall was a combined effort by the association and the Southbridge Recreation Department led by Steven Roenfeldt, who said the materials were $1,500, while the association donated all of the labor hours.

"Great recreation opportunities happen when community organizations collaborate with the town," Mr. Roenfedlt said. "We are so pleased to be able to provide another recreational opportunity for Southbridge and the surrounding communities."

In American handball, players use their hands to hit a small rubber ball against the wall such that their opponent cannot do the same without it touching the ground twice. Games are one on one or doubles.

Southbridge is of interest to the couple because Mrs. Ortiz grew up here, and the couple said they are now playing indoor handball at the Tri-Community YMCA of Southbridge because the YMCA of Central Massachusetts, where they were longtime members, removed its indoor racquetball courts.

The wall they built at the Southbridge park is temporary in that it is made of wood and supported by four tall fence posts. Mr. Ortiz said they built it to introduce the town to the sport.Permanent one-wall handball courts are 16 feet high and the pavement is tan or light gray so that the ball is more visible to players, Mr. Ortiz said.

The handball court at Crompton Park in Worcester is the model court in the area, the couple said. The Ortizes say they have helped with the upkeep of that court and others in the area.Mr. Ortiz said handball is a good offering for communities because sports such as baseball are more expensive. The ball for handball costs $1.

Also, they said, handball is an equalizer, in that a player's size isn't much of a factor. Young, old, poor and affluent compete against one another in New York City, where there are more than 2,000 outdoor handball courts, Mr. Ortiz said. "You're always supposed to have someone waiting for the next game," he said. "It's an inclusive sport, unless they're playing league games."

Mr. Ortiz said he hopes handball will catch on among youth in the low-income Southbridge neighborhood. He said the Southbridge Cops N Kids program and YMCA offer great programs, but it is evident young people need more things to do in town.

The couple said they noticed dozens of kids frequenting the park, sometimes standing around.

In Southbridge, the New England Handballers Association plans a free doubles handball tournament at the court Sept. 9. Registration is at 10 a.m. and the matches begin at 11. Trophies will be awarded. Novice tournaments will be implemented for youth and adults. To join, contact Mr. Ortiz at (508) 736-8114 or Mrs. Ortiz at (508) 574-1536.

The Ortizes say they encourage handball players in other cities and towns to take care of the courts, organize tournaments and teach youth. They are also in touch with racquetball players because they use the same courts. If the two sports don't stick together, courts will be few and far between, Mr. Ortiz said.

"They must have knocked down 30 handball courts in New England in the last 25 years," he said.


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August 14, 2017


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