Handball is good exercise and allows players to let out steam. The sport is also a great booster of attendance at meetings.
About a dozen male handball players, some of them accompanied by their spouses or girlfriends, were present at Tuesday night’s ERNC board meeting at the . The players used the meeting’s “public discussion” period to plead against any possible decision to modify or tear down a historic handball court at as a public safety measure.
The advocates—almost all of them from Highland Park—were reacting to last month’s Yosemite Park Task Force meeting, during which members brainstormed the pros and cons of knocking down a multidimensional, “H”-shaped handball court and either substituting it with a single wall or constructing a basketball court in its place.
The court, located near a children’s playground that received a $320,000 makeover last July, is evidently one of a kind: Its large, right-angled walls make for a terrific game of handball but they also serve as something of a hiding place for people to drink. And the fact that many handball players also tend to swear openly—with little or no apparent regard for the children or parents around them—was another factor in the task force’s discussion.
'A Few Bad Apples'
“Look at these people—do they look like gangsters?” asked a man sporting a mustache and wearing a jacket, scarf and hat (see photo). “There are a few bad apples” at Yosemite Park who give handball a bad name, he said, adding: “Not everyone can be a super athlete—this [handball] is an easy game.”
To the apparent surprise of many ERNC board members and some in the audience, one of the handball supporters admitted that he and his sporting companions “have a few beers” before playing the game.
But he and his buddies are also scrupulous about keeping potential troublemakers at bay, said Antonio H. Barajas, a burly, middle-aged Highland Park resident sporting a T-shirt depicting an image of handball players, with the words “JR Vasquez 3 Wall Handball Tournament 2007” printed on the rear. (See photo).
Barajas pointed to another player in the audience as an example of how beneficial handball has been to the community. The player—a relatively young man—had won a college scholarship because of his accomplishments in handball, Barajas said, adding that he and his comrades spend their own money to remove graffiti from the walls of the court as well as repair cracks and paint the surfaces.
The court is not just a venue for playing handball but also a convenient place to practice tennis shots, Barajas said.
Ramon Muñoz, another middle-aged Highland Park resident who said he recently retired as a computer technician at the Los Angeles Daily News, told Patch that he has “planted trees from my own pocket” at Yosemite Park. Several generations of players had grown up playing at the court, said Muñoz, praising it as an invaluable community asset.
ERNC Board Member Peter Hilton acknowledged that handball is a skillful—if aggressive—game that is important to the community. “You don’t see 400-pound people playing handball,” he said, referring to the sport’s health benefits.
ERNC Vice President Michael Nogueira urged handball players to “drink at home,” reminding them that imbibing alcohol in public is a violation. “You will get cited by the General Services Police,” he warned, adding that it's in the players' own best interests to regulate their activities.
ERNC President Michael Larsen, who also sits on the Yosemite Task Force, reminded the audience that no decision has been made about the fate of the handball court. Suggestions to reduce it to a single-wall court or replace it with a (second) venue for basketball are among a number of proposals “on the table,” he said.