Join us for our last virtual Breakfast Talk of the academic year on Friday, June 10th at 10am!
New York City parks are dotted with over 2,000 vertical concrete slabs—slabs to some, worlds to others. For close to a hundred years, these slabs have been the sites of New York City’s true city game—handball. Some of the earliest handball courts were located near the beaches in Brooklyn, especially in Coney Island.
Handball was once called “tennis for savages,” reflecting the lack of “respectability” of those playing this inexpensive game—the players have largely been successive generations of immigrants and poor and working class New Yorkers. But in addition to the grace and athleticism exhibited, there was ugliness on those courts in Coney Island: drinking, drugs, fighting, betting—and racism. These too will be explored by our panelists, with a special focus on the famous Coney Island handball courts, the home of the Annual National One-Wall Handball Championships and the center of New York’s true city game!
BWRC’s last Breakfast Talk of the academic year will host a panel of handball players, including Dan Flickstein, one of handball’s unofficial historians and Paul Williams, the founder of the Inner City Handball Association. The panel will explore the history of the game, how it almost disappeared during New York’s financial crisis when schools cut teams and paddles threatened to replace hands on the courts. But this quintessential street game survived these challenges and now continues to offer players competition, diversion, and tests of speed, agility, endurance, and skill. Many (including BWRC’s director) have played the game for decades and have celebrated its unique relationship to the Brooklyn waterfront.
Join us even if you have never thrown a ball against one of those concrete slabs and learn why so many New Yorkers have been doing so for so long! RSVP for Zoom link: https://bit.ly/BWRC_handball
MEET THE SPEAKERS:
Paul Williams, CEO of Absolutely Trophies Inc., MBE located in Bayside, Queens,is a custom recognition awards builder, promotional products provider and custom sports apparel supplier. He is also CEO of GI Integrated Computer Solutions Inc., a small business IT consulting company specializing in hardware and software solutions. Williams is a native of Bedford Stuyvesant and currently lives in Lefferts Gardens. He is an alumnus of Brooklyn Technical H.S., Hunter College, Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business program and Hofstra Ascend Business program. He has an Associate degree in Physics, and Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science.
Williams has a strong sense of giving back to the community that helped him obtain success and welcomes teen interns annually.In 1991, Williams founded the Inner City HandballAssociation Inc., a 501C3 charity that educates, mentors, and serves hundreds of young athletes each year through the sport of Handball. In addition to serving on the Board ofManagers for the Jamaica, Queens YMCA, Williams is also the current President of the NewYork Athletic Club’s handball team, The Killer’s Club, helping to develop world classHandball champions.Williams won multiple One-Wall National Open Doubles Championships as well as being a finalist in many others. He was elected into theNational USHA Handball and NY StateHandball Hall of Fame. He was also the first African American to serve as Vice President of the United States Handball Association and as President of the World Handball Council.
Dan Flickstein is retired from the New York City School System, after having taught English and speech at Brooklyn’s Abraham Lincoln High School for thirty years, where he also served as director of drama, handball coach (first girls, then boys), and dean of discipline. He also taught in the speech departments at Kingsborough College, St. John’s University, Hofstra University, and Brooklyn College, where he worked for 44 years.
Flickstein started playing handball at 12 and was a standout high school player. He won every game he played in 1961 and 1962 for his team at Lafayette High School, which won the City Handball Championship in his senior year. He continued to play throughout his life, competing in tournaments until he was 72. He was runner-up at least a dozen times in singles and doubles. But he was also champion ten times which qualified him to be a USHA Hall of Fame Grand Master. At 72 he stopped playing because, at 70, he underwent a bi-lateral knee replacement. Even though he felt he could still play well for his age, he thought it unwise to continue bouncing around on concrete with two artificial knees which might wear out before he did.
Flickstein’s interest and activity in handball did not only include playing. In 1969, he started a decades- long hobby of writing for what became Handball Magazine. In 2009, he was honored by the USHA with its prestigious Carl Porter Award for contributions to the sport of handball on a national level, and the Inner City Handball Association also awarded him a Jack Lynch Award for lifetime achievement in the sport. In 2017, with an abundance of assistance from his wife, Sandy, he compiled his body of handball essays, omitting tournament results, into one volume called The Perfect Game: New York Handball Stories.
Dori Ten, a Brooklyn native grew up in Coney Island two blocks from the beach, considered the area’s local parks, school yards, and the beach her country club. The middle child of five, she remembers her older sister bringing home a solid wooden paddle for the game of paddleball. Ten eventually picked up the game and started playing pick-up paddleball games at the crowded Coney Island courts where losing a game meant waiting a long time to get to play again. She explained, “You could take a swim, return, dry off, and you still had three people before it was your turn to play again.”.
In 1988 she met and began dating the great handball player, Albert Apuzzi, who was to become her husband and who also played on the Coney Island courts. Apuzzi wanted to convert her to his game and encouraged her to put on gloves and try. Smacking the small hard ball was painful and incredibly frustrating, but she persisted and under Apuzzi’s tutelage, she slowly made progress. It was also during this time that she graduated from City Tech as a medical laboratory technician and began working at Cornell Weil and Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital.
With Apuzzi’s encouragement, she entered her first Women’s One-Wall Handball National Championship in 1991 at the Coney Island courts, where she lost in the finals. She did, however, win in 1992 and 1997 in singles, and won the doubles with her partner, Barbara Canton Jackson, in 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, and 2001. These championships gave her the confidence to return to school at Long Island University and pursue another medical degree as a Physician Assistant. She found playing handball and working as a PA was both rewarding and fulfilling. She explains that now, after decades of running on concrete streets and playing handball, her “ body parts have worn out,” and now she has returned to playing paddleball, a sport that is “kinder and gentler” on her joints.
Jai Ragoo began playing handball in the small parking lot of Brooklyn Technical High School in his freshman year in 1990. He ultimately joined his high school team and also played in various city parks including at the courts in Coney Island. After high school, Ragoo played handball for his college, Lake Forest College.
After he graduated, Ragoo took a several-years break from handball, but returned to the game he explains, “to get back into shape and to slow down the aging process.” He is now a resurging Masters player and has been winning national level one-wall and four-wall titles in his age division.
The Inner City Handball Association has played an important role in Ragoo’s handball life. It opened a wider world of handball than just the variations of the game played in the streets of New York City. He now serves on the Board of ICHA and actively participates in making such opportunities accessible to today’s young players.