WPH Press, Austin, TX, 8/24/18- The WPH is thrilled to award the University of Texas’ Nate Frank as the WPH Ace of the Month (August 2018). Nate is a lifelong handball player who was inspired to play by his father and grandfather and has enthusiastically shared that passion for the sport to inspire hundreds of new players as the University of Texas Handball Team President. Nate is one of the game’s most thoughtful, intellectual, and articulate handball players who has served as one of handball’s greatest promoters and ambassadors for many years. Nate is responsible for the rebirth of the University of Texas Handball Team, building relationships with the WPH, USHA, and a number of college handball programs across the country, while still maintaining the desire to play and improve his game. Nate has also served as the tournament director for dozens of tournaments, while constantly recruiting and coaching new and experienced players.
The WPH had a chance to sit down with Nate and you will not want to miss the conversation! Thank you to Nate for all he has done and continues to do to grow the game we all love.
Why does handball mean so much to you:
Growing up, it was a way that I connected to my dad and grandfather. Now, even as an adult, handball continues to give me countless moments of quality time with those two, and I’ve had the fortune of competing in numerous doubles tournaments with each of them. Playing handball is one of my favorite things to do when I’m not working (or previously, in class), and it’s introduced me to some of my favorite people in the world. It motivates me to stay in shape, and it’s a great excuse to travel the country and spend time with people I love. There’s always room to improve, and I love the challenge of trying to master this sport.
It’s hard to choose, but probably the 2017 3-Wall Nationals, which was a very special tournament for me. After trying to win a national B division since I was a kid, I finally won both the B Singles and Doubles at the same tournament. On top of that, my dad won both of his divisions at the tournament as well. I was extremely proud of myself after my singles final because of the preparation I put into making it happen – cross training every day and driving down to San Antonio (the nearest 3-wall courts to Austin) every weekend to practice, all while dealing with my first semester of grad school. The very next day, I got to complete the slam in an exciting tiebreaker, and I’ll never forget the pure joy I got to share with my partner, Chris, after we scored our final point.
When did you know you were “hooked” in handball and why:
That’s further back than I can remember. Probably when I was 12 years old and competed in my second 3-Wall Nationals. It was the first time that I had actually won a match, and I loved the feeling of making progress.
What has been your favorite handball tournament and why:
The 3-Wall Nationals in Maumee, Ohio. I get to see tons of my favorite people, and I get to spend time with my dad, sister, and grandparents. Plus, the food is great, there’s free beer on tap, and I get to play three-wall outdoors – my favorite form of the game. It’s my favorite weekend of the year, every year. Besides the fall of 2016 when I was studying abroad in Italy, I’ve made it to this tournament every year since I was 2 years old.
My dad. I have no idea what my first lesson was – I just remember that he let me enter my first tournament as soon as I was strong enough to serve the ball past the short line.
What inspired you to grow the University of Texas Handball Team:
UT’s team has a decades-long history that begins well before I joined. Even when I started, UT had one of the top three or four teams in the country. But I do like to think that I helped bring the team to the next level. I expanded the size of our four annual tournaments by as much as 50% over previous years, and I also brought our players to dozens of tournaments to which the club had never traveled before. In addition, I helped bring our team closer to organizations like the USHA and WPH, and I helped build strong relationships with other college teams, like our friends at Missouri State and West Florida.
The team was an extremely important part of my college experience -especially helping me feel at home during my first couple years away from Maryland. I saw first-hand how quickly college teams could fall apart if the right time/care weren’t constantly put into them. My team meant the world to me, and I couldn’t imagine letting that happen.
What life lessons do you think can be learned from handball:
Handball has a lot to teach about patience. The sport has a much steeper learning curve than most new players are used to, so it really requires someone who’s willing to stick with it long enough to see him/herself improve. It rewards people who are willing to put in the work consistently over long periods of time, which is a great lesson for approaching other facets of life.
In your opinion, what separates handball from other sports:
There’s no other individual sport that is quite as physically and mentally demanding as handball. It requires as much intellect and strategy as a chess match, while simultaneously demanding speed, strength, and ambidexterity. In order to win, you really need to outsmart, outrun, out-prepare, and outlast your opponent. There’s no other sport that asks quite as much of its players.
Who is your favorite handball pro to watch and why (past or present):
Killian Carroll – I remember watching him when he quietly showed up to the Canadian Nationals back in 2014 and convincingly beat Luis Moreno in the Open final. Since then, he’s been an amazing force to watch on the Pro Tour. Plus, he’s such a kind and humble guy that it’s hard not to root for him. Earlier this year at a tournament at UWF, I approached him to ask a question about how to best return a particular shot. He then spent the next 20 minutes on the court with me, one-on-one, teaching me new techniques and giving me new shots to practice.
What handball pro or handball coach has been your inspiration:
My dad, without a doubt. He not only collects national championships at an unreal rate, but he does so with the utmost class and humility. I’ve got big shoes to fill.
What does handball need to do to attract more players and grow as a sport going forward and how can this happen:
College teams are already a great breeding ground for new players, but the handball community needs to do more to retain them after they graduate. It would be a lot easier to hold onto these players, rather than find new ones to replace them. Coaches and communities need to make sure that graduating players have the encouragement and financial means to stay involved – otherwise they may lose touch with the sport forever. In addition, for players moving to new parts of the country, it needs to be much easier for them to connect to the handball community in their new areas. It would be easy to develop a centralized directory where these players could go to find up-to-date contact info and all the details they need to get playing in their new location.
Finally, we need to increase familiarity with handball, starting at an early age. It’s a lot harder for people to develop an interest in the sport if they’ve never heard of it. It will take tremendous and persistent individual effort to get handball into K-12 schools, but it’s the best way for the sport to grow in any meaningful way.
What do you see in handball today that inspires you?
The Collegiate Nationals – if this tournament were your only exposure to the handball, you’d think the sport had no problem attracting new, young players.
What gives you the most satisfaction as a handball promoter/coach/leader:
Seeing one of my team members—especially someone I’ve personally introduced to the sport—officially get hooked on handball. I love seeing them after they’ve developed a newfound determination to improve their own games, or after they’ve begun promoting the sport to new potential players on their own.
What do you see as the future of the sport:
I think one-wall big ball is the obvious future of the sport. It’s so much easier for people of all walks of life to get a game together, and it requires almost no money for equipment. Plus, you don’t even need a designated court to play—all you need is the side of a building. This would be by far the easiest form of the game to bring into the PE curriculum at schools and get young kids introduced on a more widespread basis.
Why aren’t more people playing handball:
They don’t know about it, there aren’t enough coaches, and it’s expensive to play any version besides one-wall big ball. Plus, people in most parts of the country don’t see how amazing the sport is when it’s played at a high level – kids are unlikely to watch it on TV like they would with the NBA or NFL.
If every handball player did (blank), handball would grow:
Introduced three new people to the game
What have live ESPN broadcasts done for handball:
They’ve paved the way for a more widespread recognition of the sport, and they’ve made watching the highest level of handball accessible to those who cannot afford to travel to the tournaments where these pros compete. It’s now possible to follow along with a pro handball season just like you would with any mainstream major league sport.
Photos courtesy of Nate Frank and the University of Texas Handball Team
WPH Senior Writer