More Lessons About Handball Learned From David Chapman [Part 2] by Boak Ferris

Posted on Jan 18 2018 - 5:14pm by david

{This article is a continuation piece from the previously posted, “What I learned about Handball from Dave Chapman PT I,” by Boak Ferris}

Our Traffic Circle Handball Club comprised a lot more than “dullards.” 

Think of our collective members as a kind of “geode,” plain-looking from David’s deeply Four-Dimensional perspective, but crack the rock open, and treasures scintillated.  Lew Morales knew that David didn’t have to travel, because we had among the best elite players David might ever see.

Our club fielded a superior array of warriors, many of whom had earned national championships, or else contended, or were in national or state handball halls of fame, or would be.  David’s direct mentors, Fred Chapman and Lew Morales, owned National Championships in singles and doubles in age divisions, while Lew had beaten legend Pat Kirby, Master of the Irish Whip, and other Big Names in singles.  Mike Bock and Kelly Russell were Nationals and World Champions in their age divisions. Kelly Russell owned the best doubles-front-court, right-side game ever seen in the sport, second to none, except for, perhaps, Vince Munoz.  Naty Senior, opposing any partner playing with Russell, for example, told his own partners, “Whatever you do, keep it away from Russell.”  Kelly fly-killed and fly-passed from all heights: shoulder-height, waist-height, and submarine.  He cut off ceiling balls for rekills and dumps from the front line.  Kelly claims he learned his volcanic front-court skills from his beloved father, Earl-the-Pearl Russell.  Lefty, Mike Bock consistently threw one of the best multi-directional hop serves in the history of handball—even Vince Munoz mentions it with respect.  If I recall correctly, Mike claimed he learned how to hop the ball from Jim Vandenbos: a black-belt hop-expert.  Vandenbos confirmed that lore a few years ago, if I recall our interview accurately.

Mike frequently went home frustrated when he lost a “friendly” doubles game at the Circle to David.  Meanwhile, our club had a standout, a National Open Doubles Champion, and another new regular Circle-Club member: Rod Prince, who owned two National Doubles championships and some finals finishes with his partner Doug Glatt, already a former-doubles partner of David’s, and an occasional visitor from out of town to our club. Doug liked to visit us to mix in singles against Rod, his preferred opponent, and even against me occasionally.  In those days, Dennis Haynes also liked to visit our club to find tough competition.  We also hosted League play, and enjoyed competition against such elite artists as Dave and Bobby Morones and others. 

            The biographical analysis pertains: transitioning from slamming at the USHA Nationals of 1993 into the handball season of 1994, David anticipated a promising new year of achievement, while having an excellent group of guys to “rehearse” against (read “improve”), especially against Rod Prince. 

ROD PRINCE

             No history of David Chapman is complete without extended discussion of Rod Prince, who played an unintentional role in David’s evolution.  I reserved discussion of Rod for this Part 2, to correctly fit this amazing young athlete’s background into the context of David’s 1993-1995 development. 

So, who was “Rocket” Rod and where did he come from?  Behind his back, Rod’s opponents called him “The Rocket,” and though Rod joked about the nickname, he never took it egotistically.  He was a joyful, self-effacing player. He was so good he would offer you any hinder or call you might want on a rally-sequence, even if you were in Idaho when he hit the ball in Long Beach.

As further coincidence would have it, Rod was among my first-ever sparring partners at the Rossmoor Athletic Club, where I was first starting in-club games at age 27, and where his whole family enjoyed a membership.  Rod’s dad Don, and his mother Rita, “The Princes,” belonged to that dinosaur-species known as “a handball family,” or perhaps, more precisely, as a “sports-enthusiast family.”  They played everything! 

Don had introduced his son Rod to handball well before Rod became a pre-adolescent, and so Rod shared the same native instincts for the court that TGO enjoyed.  Rod also played high-school baseball where he competed as an elite-class, outstanding short-stop—blessed with lightning-quick reflexes.  Moreover, for a “kid” standing about 5’8,” he could slam a handball in the upper 70’s, with either hand, being naturally ambidextrous.  He played, full of joy, lighting up whenever he could accelerate into his moves, much like the young Tati Silveyra many of us remember.  Rod also loved experimenting with the handball, chasing it, and figuring out something creative to do with it when he reached it and returned it, as he inevitably did.  He killed and hopped the ball with both hands, equally well.  He especially loved to strike well-killed blasts, making the ball run flat, snaky or mousy along the floor.  When the Rossmoor Athletic Club closed down, the Princes, who lived on Quincy Street in Long Beach, joined the Circle, with the rest of us.

Almost bi-weekly, the Circle Club Handball Members witnessed a sight to behold, David and Rod facing off in doubles, and much more rarely, in singles.  Rod sometimes arrived to the club early, when he clandestinely played David short-singles-games, before the guys showed up.  I bowed out, in order to spectate during some of these 11-point “skirmishes,” while declining their invites to “cutthroat,” since they needed each other to sharpen each other’s skills.  At times I rooted for Rod; at others, for David.  Yes, mentioning Rod has become important, because I am about to make some wildly prejudicial claims.  Please weigh the following observations on your own Scales of Truth.

Rod was the fleetest player I have ever observed over 40 years. 

Many who watched him would agree, though my comment indeed amounts to hearsay.  I have watched videos of Terry Muck; I have watched videos of Naty Senior, and seen him play “live.” I have spectated at Munoz’s matches; Naty Junior’s, Randy Morones’, Brady’s, and Carroll’s.  In terms of sheer footspeed, Rod stands at the summit.  Ranked, I order them as follows: Rod, Vince, Killian, Naty Jr., Paul Brady, Naty Sr., Terry Muck, and Randy.  Naty Jr. may remember telling me once how he learned how to increase his foot-speed after discussing it with Vince.  Naty Jr. took accelerating his foot-speed quite seriously—and worked on it.  All of his videos exhibit his fast feet.  As do Vince’s.

Note, however, sheer footspeed is an isolated skill, whereas delivering full body-core mechanics, with either hand, consistently at the moment of ball-contact is another.  In the latter case, I would rank Brady with Naty Sr. and Tati as all “firsts” along with Bike at a close close second.  You could place Rod Prince among that group, perhaps. 

The great occult equalizer, of course, is hitting any shot in such a way you don’t have to move fast at all, but you can go hover where your thoughtful shot selection has mandated that the opponent’s next return must arrive.  In which case, I rank Chapman, Naty Sr, Fred Lewis, Jim Jacobs, and Paul Haber in that order. 

Consider the import, if the evaluations about Rod’s foot-speed above approach any accuracy!  David got to play the sport’s fastest-ever player on an almost-weekly basis!  In this way, David honed his control of center court, and prepared to compute ways to win against other faster players, such as Randy, Vince, Tati, and Naty Jr.  Thus, David forged his developing methodology inside a searing crucible of fire.  As a result, he evolved into “TGO.”

David’s Tenth Lesson: Earning First Compliments from David

             David recognized and appreciated skills from other domains, and, being naturally inquisitive, he asked accurate questions.  He had few youthful friends, only two that I knew of, David Fink and a kind Wilson-High-School friend, a senior named Abe.  Otherwise, David spent all of his time among his dad’s friends, us old club guys, and the great numbers of adult handball competitors and pros at pro-stops and on the road. 

He often asked me about human behavior and psychology, (my minor at university), because he believed I knew a lot about those subjects.  He knew that I had grown up overseas, and had met a lot of people from all over the world, Asia, the Mideast, and Europe.  He was very interested in “sussing” out people, reading them, and understanding why they did what they did. 

I recall talking with him, at dinner one night at Walt’s Wharf, about one of Sigmund Freud’s views: how all “errors” committed by human beings were intentional, rather than accidental, as Freud had concluded in his breakthrough paper, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life,” a work I taught in two of my courses.  Present were Ray Mullio (our host), along with Chuck Schildmeyer, and Lew Morales. 

David asked me if I thought Freud’s views about daily human-errors pertained also to handball or sports errors, and if Freud’s views explained why some well-trained competitors made more hand-errors than others. 

I responded, “Freud would likely say that error-prone athletes probably have more repressed guilt and anxiety over unresolved family issues than non-error-prone athletes.” 

“You mean over-developed superegos?”  David asked. 

“Absolutely,” I said.  “How did you remember that?”  My college seniors and graduate students would never have connected so fast. 

“Well, you’re a good teacher, and I have a phonographic memory.”

While that was the first compliment I recalled receiving from him, it was also the first time I heard his phrase “phonographic memory.”  No ordinary man, he astounded me.  My years of experience with him confirmed that he remembered everything he heard.  And probably everything he read that had relevance for him. 

Despite his frank words, eight or more months of friendship passed before I received my first “”handball compliment” from David at the Circle.  One day I arrived to the Club with a new mission.  I was not going to play my thoughtless and kinetic chasing style of handball game with him. I was going to “try science,” instead, employing what I had learned from him, what I perceived as Chapman-style handball.

He never allowed me to play him straight up, zero-zero.  “Not enough pressure on me,” he quipped.  If we arrived early, and we had time for a twenty-one pointer, I got 15 and the serve. Or I could take 18, and he got the serve.  I opted for the former, because I could enjoy more time on the court with him, extending those golden moments.

During the game, I focused on one mission, while I worked on three skills.  I served low, to the left and right, trying to keep the ball deep, along the wall, with no setup off the backwall.  During rallies, I elected not to gamble and hit kill-attempts or my ineffectual patty-cake shots, but instead, I tried my best to make him move to hit the ball, while trying to keep the ball away from his backwall dominator shot.  I really had to work my feet, bend my legs, and close my stance to carry out my mission.  And when on defense, I went to the roof, or around the walls, trying desperately to maintain that one mission, to keep the ball off the backwall.  As you can guess, I lacked control, though I extended the game, until I grew exhausted, around my third point (18). 

I lost again, 21-19, after which he said, “That’s the best I’ve seen you play.  You tried to hit the right shots.  Your low serve to the left was working, and giving me trouble, but you should learn to lob.  You’ll last longer.” 

I had always felt a little uncomfortable lob-serving, because lob-serving did not “feel” like “playing a man’s type of handball,” despite David’s proven success.  The pros hated hitting overhand.

But the lob worked on Rod Prince when David did it, earning himself backwall setups, and the lob became the only way I could earn points and steal rare games from Rod—or from Doug, since those two athletes were both overwhelming at waist-height and at ankle-height.  So David’s lessons improved both my handball game, and, more importantly my knowledge about competing and winning. 

This part of the story remains relevant to David’s progress, since I recently had accepted duties coaching baseball, tennis, and basketball university athletes as part of the faculty-mentoring program called TEAMWIN at California State University, Long Beach.  So, to be of service, I now found myself on a weekly basis actively researching Sports Psychology, Biomechanics, Sports-Nutrition, and so on.  During this time I progressed from “learner” with David to confidant and colleague.  

As one example, I reported to David that I had visited the Hacienda Heights to play handball there, and had enjoyed spectating at a “friendly” match between Randy Morones and Tati Silveyra.  David asked me a number of pointed questions about my observations of those two elite handball pros.  When I answered as accurately as I could, he said, “You’re really observant.  Now if we could just transfer that to your handball game. . . .”

June 1994, Two Tough New Lessons

            I traveled to the USHA Nationals in Minneapolis as part of David’s team (Lew, Fred Chapman, and me) in June 1994, both to play in the men’s open, and to enjoy David’s company on the road.  I lost my first match fair and square, though I had to suffer some bad refereeing, when our match-referee (whose name I will not insert here) elected not to call screen serves, avoidables, and bad bounces.  I think he had places to go.  I would’ve lost anyway.  Still, the experience motivated me to actively pursue levels one and two certification as a referee that very week. 

I later “played” well in two more matches during the open consolation to lose a tiebreaker in the final to a former Canadian Champion.  I’m glad I chose to play the consolation division, because, as David expressed it: “Boak, you need to compete at more tournaments.”

            During 1994 Nationals week David, Lew, Fred, and I met for dinner almost every night, trying different restaurants in the area, enjoying high-carb, high-protein dinners (read pastas, steaks, and fish).  I have always been particular about how much (a lot) and what (a lot) I eat, as I have always had high metabolic requirements, and I hated “crashing.” 

Naturally, Fred Chapman sniped, “Boak, no wonder you don’t win.  You have serious food issues.  Some kind of food-fetish.  No wonder you can’t get through a tournament week.”  Thanks, Fred. 

At that time, David had not yet gotten interested in collecting wine or drinking, nor did he care for beer much, so he stayed “clean,” as I put it.  He carved through the tournament, playing some of the best handball of his career, and reaching the finals, until he miscalculated—off the court. 

On the night before the singles-finals, David told us, “I’m going out with some of the new friends I’ve made here.  Boak, do you want to come along?”  I could hear that he hoped I’d go along.  I could also hear that he was going to go, whether I accompanied him or not. 

Lew and Fred didn’t say anything, but I heard a nagging worry far off in my head.  David loved to socialize, and I had an almost inaudible feeling he was moving toward over-confidence. 

“I can’t,” I said, ruing my response, trying to suggest implicitly that he should decline, too.  “I think I need to get to the room, call home to my wife, and then get to bed early.”  I had hoped he got ‘my message’, without me directing him.  No go. 

“OK, see you tomorrow!” 

As he was the consummate professional, competing at a level better than anyone in the world then, I deferred to his superiority and reputation; I failed as this “new coach.”  Coaches fail when they “respect” their “clients” so much they let their clients down.   A “coach” must keep coaching until the client yells, “Stop!”  because even the best, most superior, elite athletes miscalculate.  We’re all human.  A coach must guard against those eventual missteps, and assume custodianship to return the athlete to center, a principle that applies off-court, as much as it does on court.  To stay a champion involves maintaining year-round routines, and athletes can delegate some of this reminding to their coaches. 

Furthermore, the coach must persist, even if the client hates him or fires him, because it’s the right thing to do.  And after the client fires him, the coach is still on duty, if the client needs him again, unless the coach is hired by a competitor.  This attitude was what I had learned as a university teacher, but I had not yet transferred this full-service-mindset to my duties as a developing coach.   David would have listened to any wisdom had I offered it.  He might have modified his behavior to some degree, as well, if I had only spoken up. 

So, let it be noted for the record.  I failed to say directly: “David, make sure you get enough sleep.”

I showed up for the finals, for David vs. Tati, and I sat on the left side, along the glass wall, in the bleachers, fifth row, wincing at the whole venue over-crowded and buzzing with excitement.  The spectators and I could tell instantly by Tati’s body-language he thought he had answers for anything David could do.  He had that bounce he shows in his steps, onto the balls of his feet, when he feels confident, and when his shots work.  His warm-up confirmed my assessment.  His power was awesome to behold, the fastest recorded shots in the history of handball, I estimate.  He had taught himself how to leverage his hip and core into his hitting arm, while maintaining a parallel arm-shape, and his foot-pivot and follow-through added 270 degrees of extra rotation through the shots.  With any time, he blasted the ball.

David’s body language looked exactly as it always did on the court, also confident, with a game-plan, patient, prepared, methodical.  Still, I spotted something about him that made me gulp.  He looked unusually pale.  Was he ill?  I considered quickly: during a tournament week we are exposed to lots of people, though June was not historically an “illness-month.”  Had he gotten enough sleep?  Well, I thought, a sleep-deprived David could beat anyone, except for maybe a Silveyra or a Bike.  And against those two, David knew how to keep it close, so that he could work the end-game margins in his favor. 

As the match exists complete, on line, and on video, anyone can revisit it at any time.  You don’t need a shot-by-shot account here.  I was at least glad to see the Tournament Directors had found a consummate, well-proven, big-name pro to referee the match.  But this gladness was short-lived. 

During the fourth rally, receiving serve and on defense, David worked to earn one of his well-deserved and classic backwall setup opportunities, stepped in to execute and promptly hit Tati with his shot, as Tati had drifted right in to the straight-line to the front wall.  Sideout!  I gloated to myself. 

The referee called replay, and robbed David of all of his hard work.  “WHAT!!”  I fell off my seat.  “What?!”  This referee was a famous player!  That was a clear avoidable.  The room broke into a hundred arguments among spectators. 

David dropped his jaw, and briefly glanced at the ref, waiting for the right change-of-call. The ref said nothing.

And then David said nothing.  Huh? I thought.  What is going on here?  David usually argues bad or questionable refereeing.  But he had thought better of it.  Did he know something about the referee’s personality that I didn’t?  (“Get the referee replaced!”  I yelled in my mind.  “Make eye-contact with me, David!”  David would not do that during a match, though he would speak to me or ask me questions askance, if I were at courtside.)  This first non-call set a tenor for the match. 

As for Tati’s avoidable, I had seen Tati commit avoidables in competitive excitement on numerous occasions, over the years, even against his own mates, Vince, Randy, Naty Jr. and so on, for example, in the friendly habitual games they played at their club.  They always played close, never called avoidables, and just played through, assuming their friend would take the offered shot, rather than the “straight-in body-shot.”  So, Tati had drifted in to the straight line, most likely unintentionally. Still, the right call was an avoidable, despite Tati’s nice nature and intentions and habits.  But the referee remained silent, choosing not to call a sideout against him, while not noticing how he had robbed David of the hard work to earn that sideout. 

Game One continued, as David kept the scores close, and the lead switched hands, and then, ahead by two at 20—and serving, David finally worked the rally to again earn his backwall moneymaker he needed to win the first game.  Exactly! I thought.  As he followed through and leaned down into his signature shot, Tati, at about the 35-foot mark, drifted slowly from the left center side of the court right into David’s direct line of fire to the front wall and got hit by David’s backwall attempt. Yeah! I thought. Game One in the bag!! 21!!

“Replay!” this ‘consummate’ pro-referee yelled.  

!!!!**********!!!!!!!!

Drop a B-2’s worth of “F” bombs here.  This bald-faced, goggle-eyed, egregious, illogical, and maybe even prejudicial non-call actually deserves to be frozen in time forever: that non-call deserved a pro-athlete’s lifetime’s worth of competitive F-bombs stretching to eternity.  That was 21!  Earned resolutely by David’s fine work and by his precisely timed and executed game-plan. 

David returned to the service box, almost in resignation, and lost the ensuing rally, after which Tati served the game out and took game one.  Tati made a brief effort in game two, until he realized that David was pulling away, and so Tati instead worked the rallies if he could, but didn’t chase much.  David won the second game.  Who knows how Tati would have fared in game two, had David won the point he deserved in game one, the point stolen from him by the cowardly non-call?

 Tati was elite enough—amazing and transcendent enough—to win without the referee’s help.  Didn’t the referee know that?  A purist or an idealist would never ask what I’m about to ask, “Had money changed hands?”  Tati was an angel, no sarcasm intended, so any such speculated money would have had to originate elsewhere, and without his knowledge. 

Back into the tiebreaker, and continuing his momentum from winning game two, David, knowing a title was on the line, clamped down and built a 6-0 lead in the tiebreaker, and then David ran out of gas, and completely HIT THE WALL.  His classic placements disappeared, his kill shots disappeared, his pass-shots became ineffective, and his serves produced nothing he could execute.  Tati, after a few inning exchanges where David could not score, reached eleven first. 

The Referee, meanwhile, by refusing to do his job properly, won this 1994 USHA 4-Wall Singles Championship.  He deserved that trophy.  I forever see it on his mantle in my mind. 

John Bike told me later that the non-call avoidable in game one was “the most famous non-call in recent Handball history.”  Kelly Greene, long-time announcer for the USHA, noted on the video that even pro-referees will not call avoidables for game or match point, perhaps because referees rationalize that the competitor must earn it; really, the referee can’t just give one of the two contenders a game on a possibly-suspect “avoidable-call.”  . 

Well, “Mr. ‘Pro-referee,’ capitalize the following: David did the hard work already.  David built that house.  He earned it, you insert word of choice here.  You burned down the house he built.”

When David and I spoke about the finals later, he told me.  “Boak, I shouldn’t have stayed out all night.  I hit the wall.  I’ll never do that again.” 

I bit my lip. 

To my silence, he added, “I’ll never trust referees again.  They don’t want me to win.”

Amen, I thought.  I knew what he meant.  He didn’t mean that they wanted him to lose or were prejudicial.  What he meant was that they wouldn’t properly see, understand, or recognize the hard work accomplished by an athlete at his elite level.  The handball rules rightly favor the player on offense.  The defender has no rights to enter the straight-in path of the ball, when it is the offensive player’s turn to hit.

“I can’t believe it,” I answered.

David, as far as I knew, refused to make a public case out of it, though he may have mentioned it to others close to him.

Over the years, David and I spoke of this moment only four more times.  During our last exchange conversation on this most painful and stinging memory, in 2017, he remarked, “That was my Tenth Championship.  That referee stole a championship from me.”  David refused to mention the referee by name—a small accuracy, in his bitterness, perhaps.  He never ever mentioned or referred to that man by name again. 

In my mind, as much as I will always admire and respect Tati, one of the greatest, most humble, and earnest competitors and champions of our sport, David owns TEN USHA National Singles titles.  Because, even though we can all argue that we don’t know how Tati would have played in game two, given two correct avoidable calls, we also can argue that David would have been freed from the tyranny and uncertainties imposed by cruddy refereeing.  Bad refereeing clouds the competitor’s mind and distracts and saps focus and energy.  David’s ongoing hard work deserved respect and recognition accordingly.  My call?  21-19 game one. 

David now had a new mission; to get fitter than he ever had been, because the World Championships were just around the corner, in Ireland.  Home of the Irish Whip.  Luckily for David, we knew someone who had played successfully against a Master of the Irish Whip. . . .  And that someone had a deep plan for David to execute.

Part III, Pending: Toward the 1994 World Championships