Tucson, AZ, Udall Park, Press-
In mid May the WPH sat down with Tucson Park & Rec officials to discuss ways of introducing new juniors to the sport of handball at area park handball courts; within two weeks the WPH hired Abraham Montijo to head the charge; within three weeks the WPH began mentoring sessions that saw in upwards of 250 kids over a two month span. “Best of all, we are retaining a lot of these kids and they are wanting more,” says WPH ED, Dave Vincent. “We do not go in and introduce and leave. We come back multiple times a week; multiple times a month and stay right in their face with product, new fun activities and a lot of handball.”
The WPH, along with exceptional work from Abraham Montijo and his team, made repeat visits to four area parks four days a week beginning June 3rd. The WPH continued mentoring Wednesday nights with an open practice session @ Randolph Park and has seen in upwards of 200% increases in new kids since the THP took too the streets June 3rd.
Thursday’s Summer Slam Handball Tournament was truly one of the most energetic and positive experiences this area has seen in years, as four parks and multiple players vied for the team title (using a formula similar to the recent WPH Junior Gold Cup) and individual awards. The park with the most points would receive a perpetual trophy to be displayed at their facility.
The day started off as Abraham and his crew (Carlos, Jesus, Steph, Kaelen, Tanner, Angel, Richie, Ivan, George, Fonzie and Devon) set up the tournament desk, organized the brackets, scorecards, shirts and gear. “Each junior was awarded a free shirt, goggles, gloves and endless food,” says WPH President, Fred Lewis. “But, they were treated to a lot of excitement.” Teams from the four parks formed groups and were often very united when fellow members were battling on the court; reminiscent of the Collegiate Nationals.
At noon, the WPH hosted an outdoor lunch, as all kids broke from the action to take part in hot dogs, sodas, chips, Eegee’s Ice Cream and cake, before heading back inside to complete the semis and the finals. “Handball is a very social sport. We are trying to show these kids that there is fun inside and out of the court. We will continue to organize more off court activities because this part of handball is often times a deciding factor on whether a newbie will continue to play,” claims Vincent.
Back into the action, Jose Maldonado (Freedom Park), representing the boys 11-12 age group battled through injuries to take the title, but not before diving into the right wall and cracking his head. After a short time out for an ice bag, “Crash” Maldonado pushed through an 8 to 8 tie and some pain to defeat Nolan Patterson (El Pueblo) in the breaker 11-9 to take the trophy. For Patterson, he was a rare junior who played up an age class (two division play) as a late cancellation forced El Pueblo to draw from their own team. Great showing from this under class-man!
Briana Moreno (El Pueblo) dominated the 11-12 year old girls bracket and eventually took down Kena Byrd (Udall) in the final. “My mom played one wall handball in New York and she didn’t even know there was handball here,” said Kena. “She is in her 30’s and definitely wants to play!” Guess what Kena… The WPH has already called her!
Nolan Patterson received his second medal of the day when he won his age class and the 9-10 year old/full court championship. Nolan was victorious over Randolph’s Adrian Alcantar in another close breaker. Alcantar became a regular during open practice night on Wednesday and is one of the most improved players we have mentored. “Adrian has become a handball regular,” says Montijo. “He is exactly why the WPH has sunk so much into this project, as he has truly embraced this sport and will continue to improve.”
Udall’s Cassandra Castaneda was seeded #1 and she didn’t disappoint in the girls 9-10 class; defeating Mariah Moreno (El Pueblo) in one of the day’s most exciting and watched matches. Moreno won the first game, before Castaneda turned the corner to win the next two and the championship; gathering 18 points for Team Udall. Moreno, placing second in the full court 9-10 class, got revenge moments later when she took down Sophie Croce (Freedom) to win another medal and more points for Udall.
Andres Maldonado (Freedom) was seeded first in the boys 9-10 short court bracket and he too managed to pull out a trophy over Rafael Grenier (El Pueblo) to bring home more hardware (recall, Andres is one of three siblings in this event and multiple trophies were won by the Maldonado family on this day). In the boys 7-8 year old short court division, #2 seed Bryson Chestnut defeated Isaac Sherfield (El Pueblo) to gain more points for Freedom Park.
When the dust settled, El Pueblo had more points than any of the four teams followed by Freedom Park. Pueblo received the award and instantly celebrated in the lobby followed by a private group celebration mid court. “This is so exciting,” claims Montijo. “These kids are really enjoying this experience.” WPH handed trophies to all finalists in a special ceremony in front of a packed house of spectators.
Handball was not over, however, as Abraham Montijo and Richie Estrella performed a very energetic exhibition in front of cheering juniors and faculty. After wards, TV Crews captured interviews and made contact with WPH administrators with hopes of publicizing more handball events on local media sources.
Big thanks to the KIDCO Program, Reenie Ochoa, Fred Lewis, Udall Park staff, Freedom Park, El Pueblo and Randolph Park mentors, coaches and volunteers. Special thanks to Abraham Montijo and his list of coaches, to include Richie & Angel Estrella and Fonzie Romero, for administrating and carrying through with this delightful handball project.
Pictures are posted HERE>