Vexatious questions always flow out, almost carelessly, when I mention that one sport I enjoy playing is Handball. No, not the much respected European Handball, but American Handball which was played by the Irish and Chinese immigrants that first arrived in large cities, yes girls CAN play, pretty well too, and yes it is a real sport in my opinion.
Next I am mentally categorized some super masculine girl who can play too well or some “girly-girl” whose fooling herself by those who are familiar with the sport, and a “wandering teen” who spends all my time getting high at parks by those are vaguely or not familiar at all with it, because that’s what “handballers” do. Although officially it is called Clement Clarke Moore Park, locals know the park located on Broadway and 45th avenue as Broadway Park. Originally, I came to identify this park as the park that was being built near my uncle’s place, across two Asian supermarkets. But now there are endless memories attached with this park. There are friendships that slowly became family, relationships that were broken for good, and countless hours of time spent which will never be regretted. I don’t need to identify Broadway park any other way, it is a part of me; a part of my childhood.
I had first tried playing in 9th grade, when a group of friends from my junior high had decided to have a reunion at Flushing Meadows Park. I considered it the most ridiculous sport ever which required using bare hands to hit a small bouncy blue ball to the wall, at the same time making sure it wouldn’t bounce off the wall to outside the lines. My junior high friends convinced me to give it a try however I came to despise the sport even more after physically attempting it. In high school, I met Amy and Mandy, who spent scores of their afternoons, afterschool, going to Broadway Park, hanging out with friends and, once again to my dismay, playing the horrid sport handball. I would meet up with them at the park, mostly to spend time with them since I enjoyed their company, which many times resulted in me watching them play a couple of games of handball. Amy made the sport look so easy, as she swiftly moved her arms and the ball would just bounce of her hands going exactly where she aimed it to go, more often than not winning the rally between the two teams. At first I despised handball, looking at it as if it were a despicable sport. But after I met Amy and Mandy, they presented the sport to me in a different light, altering my perspective of the sport, helping me to create the desire to play willingly as opposed to reluctantly. Because of them, I tried something which I thought I would never try again; give another chance to handball to remind me of how preposterous it is.
Often, we’d approach another team, usually two guys, and asked if they wanted to play against us, now or call next after their game was over. At first, their faces showed signs of thoughts like “Great these newbies want to play us?”, “Haha girls want to play”, “Yeah right, you think you have a chance?!”, usually followed a “Okay ladies you got next” in semi-sarcastic to full on sarcastic tones. One day, another team showed up, of two girls, who got received similar responses when they asked to play. One of them was wearing a purple Juicy Couture jogging suit, and the other was dressed in jeans, black Guess tee and neither of them were wearing sneakers; one was wearing flip flops matching her Juicy jogging suit, and the other black flats to go with her tee. As the girls waited for their chance to play, even Amy and I started criticizing their choices of clothing to play, and deemed them as “girly-girls” who had no idea what they were doing. Once the game finished, they were allowed to warm up, and even then we scrutinized how they warmed up and anticipated the girls’ loss.
The game against the girls started, it was them two against a team of two guys who had won the previous round. The guys went first and the girls returned the serve, the guys couldn’t return the hit and joked about it, because they were going “easy on them anyways”; it was expected that they would give the girls certain points before they would play for real and end the game. However slowly, the girls continued to serve and guys could not win one rally. The girl in purple was returned the ball with such skilled aim, always considering which player was on which part of the court and hitting the ball at the opposite side. The girl in the black tee was excellent at returning high serves and hits, and gradually all their criticizers were shut up. Amy and I had been watching the game from the beginning realized how wrong we had been to judge the girls, recalling how deceitful looks can be. We had become their fans by mid-game, calling out which girl would end the rally and score the point. All the guys who had been watching their friends play were shouting things like “Your losing against girls!” and “Damn I should’ve put a bet on this match!”, because for many of them this was the first time they had seen girls who can play decently. The game ended in a zip shout-out; the guys were not able to score one point.
I wanted to be just like the girls. I wanted to be able to win a game against guys where the end score was 21-0, leaving the guys without scoring anything. I wanted to be able to come to the park in my flip flops and win a game against guys who had originally laughed in my face and made sarcastic remarks about girls playing. I wanted to be the girls, as they had been for me in my eyes, for other girls- role models in this street sport where girls got no respect.
Amy and I decided to call next, against the team of girls who hadn’t lost in a game since they began playing 4 games ago. We were ready to play a game for the first time against who we consider equal, not in the sense of playing ability, but in that both teams would have an understanding of what it is like for girls to play this sport. Although, most likely the girls would end up winning because this was time when I had just begun playing the sport, it would be a match free of any indirect insults to my gender which was I could not hit the ball hard enough, or return the ball fast enough. I even hoped that if Amy and I tried our very best, we could score a few points, a task only one out of the four teams of guys that played against the girls were able to do.
When we began playing, the girls asked if it was okay to play 11 point game. Usually when guys asked us this question before playing, it was there way of saying “You probably suck and we don’t have time for you, but since we are nice we’ll give you a short game of 11 points”. I took no mind to this, thinking they must have somewhere to go after this. I asked “Why, do you have to go somewhere, can’t we just make it 21 points?” The one in the purple grunted and mumbled under her breath something which sounded like “Not like it will help you win” and the one in the black just rolled her eyes. I was appalled at what had just happened. Sure these girls had been undefeated, a first at Broadway Park, but what right did they have to speak to anyone like that? Out of all the people, we expected them to understand how girls were treated in the sport and not act in similar ways, but that was my error I guess. I gave them too much credit, I guess as they say, you can’t have it all. Their ability to play was clogging their ethics, oh well I said to myself. Amy and I looked at each, knowing what the other was thinking; how wrong we had been at expecting anything better from girls whose attitudes were more vicious than the guys playing the sport.
Obviously we did not win, and after another round of games the girls were left with no one to play with, as everyone noticed the girls repulsive attitudes and started to play on other courts. Of course they were undefeated, but there was a defeat somewhere in this. When you’re left with no one to play with because of how atrocious your attitude is towards other players you have a lot of learning to do, not about the game necessarily, but about life in general.