The Handball courts…
Its four walls, ceiling, and hardwood floor, is our ‘Church.’ The game of Handball is our Religion. We worship the bottom board of the front wall. This is where victory resides. The Church is where we sweat, get angry, smile with joy, and keep score. Of course there is a Supreme; there is Handball isn’t there?
We are all novice Monks in the beginning. Yes, I vow to obey the rules.
But then we mature in our religion and learn to bend and break the rules. We learn to get in front of, and block our opponent. We smile with glee as we ‘play the Devil’ up front and prevent him from putting the ball where the Supreme resides. We will insincerely apologize of course. Far be it for us to prevent our fellow Brother from worshiping the Lord. We are all sinful and imperfect after all.
Discouragement crosses all of our lives at one time or another, and our fellow Church members do lift our spirits often when it is called for; just by being there for us.
I know when I joined the Church of Handball, the world, my world, began to unfold in front of me and I knew what I really wanted… really wanted.
I wanted to be a Handball player.
Begrudgingly, I knew I would have to take part in the world of ordinary mortals; schooling, work, family, etc. but Handball must come first. This is how I thought; a typical misguided, confused adolescent I suppose. The energy of youth must be expended somehow and Handball with its friendships proved to be a good choice on my part.
A childhood Handball experience of mine I would like to share, and then we will discuss one of Al Banuet’s great Handball drills near the end here. If you are fortunate enough to resonate with Al’s approach to drills I am sure you will benefit.
This is regarding our young teenage troubles and adversities that ‘dragged’ me, personally, into playing Handball, resulting in my passion for the “Greatest Game,” friendships, and for the love of life.
Oh, by the way, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is over 20% bigger than Central Park in New York City, in case you did not know… Thirteen million visitors come a year, at least, to “The Park.”
I was just beginning to learn and play four wall Handball in the back courts in Golden Gate Park; teenage boredom. Novices were not allowed in the wooden floored, shatter-proof-glassed front courts; you would get verbally assaulted and kicked out of the court. They would allow you to watch, however. Handball was very popular when I was young. We used to sit on a hill behind the Handball courts. There were about forty of us that would hang out at different times, drinking beer, smoking weed, and cigarettes.
There was one person I and my friends hated with all of our hearts as we began playing and learning four-wall in the back concrete courts with a small hard black ball. I was just goofing off with friends in The Park on weekends. It was actually the furthest thing from proper handball but it was fun for us.
I was about 15 years old.
His name was Frank Fagan.
Frank was about 60 years old but he looked about 300 years old to my young eyes. I must have played him a hundred times in Golden Gate Park when I started playing Handball. I rarely got a point off of him. Frank thought he was great. Maybe he was. He threw me into more depressions than a long run up and down the sand dunes on the beach; Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
Out of respect for Frank and telling the truth, you must know that Frank was actually not a bastard. He was not even a Real bastard.
Frank was a ‘True Bastard.’
There is a huge difference between the classes and hierarchies of bastards we meet in our Handball corner of the world.
The truth cannot lie and the lie cannot tell the truth. Frank Fagan was the Truth. No lie.
I was just a skinny kid and Frank NEVER once offered any of us a word of helpful advice. We never received one encouraging word from him. Not one encouraging word, ever! One brief Handball tip was never received from him towards any of us kids. Not a one, seriously. His face always looked like he had just finished a meal of lemons, washed down with some warm prune juice.
‘Us kids’ had enough problems in our young lives and now this old wrinkled grumpy bastard is ruining us with discouragement and frowns, and attempting to destroy any vestige of hope for our self-esteems, for love of life, and our futures. He treated us all the same; like we were all just worthless punks.
We all hated Frank! Our communal hatred for Frank gave us consolation, however.
I quickly realized that the ONLY worthwhile goal and endeavor in life was to beat this old man at Handball in the back courts.
Forget attaining to the Presidency of the United States; abandoned! Homework became irrelevant. Graduating from High School? Idiocy. All were now worthless endeavors… Everything but beating Frank was now an apostasy.
Frank was the very essence of Evil that needed to be wiped out. At all costs! It was not just me. Many of my comrades were humiliated and disgraced often by the hated Frank.
We would curse his name and his family to our great satisfaction. If one could get a penny for the expletives thrown at Frank during those weekends on the hill, you could give Rockefeller a run for his money.
The road to beating the hated Frank Fagan seemed far beyond our horizons, for we did not realize that we had youth and blood filled with vitality on our sides.
I finally beat Frank at Handball. My life was now complete. It took many months. I tried as best as I could to remain humble in his presence.
And do you know what the hated Frank did?
Frank said I could not play outside in the back courts anymore because they were only for beginners and old timers. I belonged inside with the wooden courts. He refused in future days to ever play me again. He said, again and again, as he protected his turf, that I did not qualify for outside four wall play.
Frank became more hated.
As for my friends, as mentioned, there were about forty of us that hung out on the rocks on a hill behind the Handball courts. My friends would make fun of Frank, yelling down the hill, “Hey! Old man! How come Mike Treacy beat you?” They would repeat this every time they saw Frank. “What happened with you and Mike Treacy?”
And then… He would not play any of my friends again either.
Frank became more hated.
The generation gap was too huge. He was not someone we wanted as a friend anyhow, and I suppose the same went for Frank. Sometimes you run into bastard obstacles like this. Just do NOT get discouraged! Practice your drills, by yourself!
My going to the inside courts where the veterans played was scary and very nerve wracking. There was a gallery with four benches, forty feet wide or so, that rose up, one behind the other. Many times I sat on the back bench, to quietly watch the proceedings and take it all in.
Handball, for me, was a man’s game. At that time, 55 years ago it was a man’s game; it is so great to see the women that are playing the “Greatest Game” now, as well.
I was on my rocky road to manhood, and I wanted to begin my education. To my great surprise, the front courts had produced and developed a new class of bastards worse than Frank; they all cheated to one degree or another, but they all behaved as though they were the fairest player in the world. I witnessed several fist fights; it could get nasty in the Handball courts back in the day.
We were all just dysfunctional sinners; it sucks but we all know it is true, but we do the best we can.
Personally, I have long arms and could hit the hard black ball fast, when a kid. If he blocked my shot in the Handball court my young brain would hit the ball as hard as I could into the kidney or liver, hoping for maximum damage.
Al Banuet drills…
Oops, we have run out of time.
To be continued…
Read all issues: (Nature of Handball is authored and edited by Tim Treacy, chronicalling the memories of Handball Player and Bay Area Legend, Mike Treacy. A multi-part series that is intended to be put into book form upon completion.)