The players, with ages ranging from 11-19, were spread out in different divisions, according to gender, age and expertise, and played in either singles or doubles matches. The handball courts were packed with energetic athletes from different backgrounds and neighborhoods, ready to perform to the best of their abilities.
And although this was a national tournament, the five boroughs were proudly represented.
One local stand out from the tourney, Keymonaie Kearse from James Madison High School in Brooklyn, spoke of his intense training regiment, saying: “In my sophomore year, I played eight hours a day, literally.”
Another student Andy Chen, from Brooklyn Tech, honed his skills by playing in parks. Chen said he used the learning experiences on the handball court to improve his performance, “I started going to other parks traveling,” Chen said, “and I got a little bit from everybody.”
However, unlike the typical cocky 15 year old, Andy Chen never forgot his roots, and credited Elk Lodge Secretary Michael Watson for his success on the handball court, “He [Watson] teaches me. Mike Watson coaches me”.
Watson has done more than just coach handballers. Under Watson’s guidance, the tournament is in its 18th year. For the past five years, Watson has committed to running the Junior National Handball Tournament and spreading his mission as an “Elk” to the promotion of future handball players.
The main purpose of this handball tournament, as stated by the Elk Lodge, was to inscribe these certain qualities on the players: sportsmanship, good character, integrity, fitness, and teamwork. Throughout the tournament these qualities were fully exhibited. Most of the players found themselves working with such qualities like teamwork while playing along with friends in doubles matches, or sportsmanship when there’s nothing harder then admitting defeat.
The tournament has given birth to numerous professional handball players, including Tyree Batista, ranked 21st in the USHA Pro Handball rankings as of June 6th.
In the end, the tournament’s goal is not to crown champions or produce pros. Program Director Gary Cruz summed up the goal of the tournament, saying that the tournament hopes “to have more handball players, to promote youth handball, and with the hope of creating more lifetime handball players.”