Messenger - Vol. 4, No. 3, Page 9
Handy with a hard ball

     Located at the top level of the stairwell at Central Branch YMCA
in Wilmington, Del., is the viewing area for the handball courts.
Looking down from there, one sees a large, white room, where handball
has been played for more than 60 years. One handball player who goes
back at least half of those years is Guido Schiavi, Delaware '50,
     Schiavi is the current and three-time, over-65 handball champion
for Delaware. He plays handball at the YMCA three to four times a
     Last September, he and his good friend Dick Hough, Delaware '50,
packed their bags and made a handball pilgrimage to Ireland, where the
sport began.
     In 1994, the World Handball Championships were held in 13
different venues in County Clare, Ireland. The tournament was
sponsored by the makers of Waterford Crystal. Schiavi and Hough, both
50-year members of the downtown YMCA, were just two of nearly 200
Americans who played in the tournament, which attracted nearly 700
players from around the world.
     "We felt it would be a good way to support the sport," Schiavi
says. "We also got to watch the top players in the world compete."
     Hough lost his opening-round singles match in the 70-plus
division and then teamed up with David Arnold from Los Angeles for a
70-plus doubles match. "There were four players in the over-70 group
who had been national champions at some point in their lives," says
Hough, who reached the semifinals in his bracket.
     Schiavi, 68, dropped his opener to Irish champion James Kennedy,
who has a particularly vicious serve.
     "It's called the Irish whip. They sort of snap their hand at
impact, making the ball really move," Schiavi says. "They really put a
lot of English on it."
     Schiavi made his way through the consolation bracket to face
Laurence Lawler of Armagh in a winner-take-all, 31-point match (the
usual match is to 21 points). After being down early, Schiavi says his
fitness made the difference as he outlasted Lawler, 31-30, and was
named the "plate winner."
     "We (the older American players) are in much better shape than
the Irish guys. I don't drink or smoke, and during a match I don't
like to call timeouts," Schiavi says. "Lawler finally looked at me and
said, 'Are you a bionic man or something?'"
     Schiavi may not be bionic, but he has always been athletic. He
also has played semiprofessional basketball and run numerous
marathons, including Boston, New York, Montreal and England, just to
name a few.
     For him, handball became a passion when he was in his 30s, and
Schiavi was playing in a game of pick-up basketball at the Y. A friend
called down from the running track that circles the court: "Hey,
Guido, why don't you give handball a try?" "Why would I want to do
that?" asked Schiavi. "Because every other shot is yours!" "I decided
to give it a try, and I've been hooked ever since," Shiavi says.
     What about the future of the game? Handball is not attracting
younger players, Schiavi says. "They're all playing racquetball." Both
games are played on the same size court, and players score only on
their serves. But, handball has a smaller, harder ball, and a player
must learn to hit with both hands in order to be successful.
     "If you can't hit with your off hand, you're a dead duck,"
explains Schiavi. "Younger athletes don't want to take the time to
develop the off hand."
     The sport's popularity may be in decline nationally, but you'd
never know it at the Central Branch YMCA, where Schiavi and Hough play
the game in the big, white room with the wooden floor.
                                                          -David Scott