Blair's handball team welcomes and promotes diversity
Team handball is a sport many Blazers don't know much about outside of a unit they may have done in their gym classes. The sport is surprisingly popular in Europe, despite receiving much less attention in the US. The varsity handball program in Montgomery County is probably one of the most welcoming sports programs in the county, since it is both co-ed and intramural. Blair's handball team is also one of the most successful teams in the school, with an outstanding record for all three years of its existence. The team is not only virtually undefeated, but also one of the school's most accepting teams, keeping arms open to more demographics of students than any other contact sport.
"Team handball is the perfect balance between soccer and basketball," coach Louis Hoelmann says. "It has soccer's goals and goalies, and it has the passing and dribbling aspects of basketball." Handball players are allowed to pass, dribble, and shoot the ball. Like in basketball, if a player takes more than three steps just holding the ball, they are travelling. Like in soccer, the object of the sport is to score the most goals.
According to Hoelmann, Montgomery County is the first county in the entire nation to make team handball a varsity sport. Blair's team is one of the most impressive in the entire county. They have won their division championships for the last three years, and they boast only one loss out of three years of competing. "Not many teams at Blair can say that they have a record like ours," Hoelmann says, grinning. However, the team's success is not as well known as Hoelmann would like it to be. "I definitely think the team doesn't get the recognition we deserve for our wins," he says.
The corollary program
One major aspect of team handball that separates it from Blair's other teams is the fact that team handball is a corollary sport in Montgomery County, defined as a sport whose team must have a certain percent of students in special education programs. Team handball athletes view the intramural aspect of team handball as a positive benefit to the sport. "I think this program gives people who would not usually have a chance to be on a varsity sport to make it, and that's a really good thing for a lot of students," captain Naveh Berner-Kadish said. Team handball's participation in this program is one of the main reasons why Hoelmann wanted to coach the sport. "The athletic director requested that I coach handball, but I also really wanted to work with this population anyways," Hoelmann said. "The students are always so supportive of each other, which is a great thing to see."
The girls of handball
Handball is also co-ed, giving girls the opportunity to play a contact sport alongside boys. Blair's team, however, sports just four girls out of 23 total team members. "Girls don't seem that interested at the meetings for team handball," Hoelmann says. "It would be really nice if our team was half girls and half boys, so I hope we can recruit more girls next year." The other team members show general agreement with Hoelmann's feelings. "Most of the girls this year started out as rookies and they got better," captain Sidi Traore says. "It's an easy sport to pick up, and I wish more girls would see that." Sophomore Sabrina Couton is one of the four girls on the male-dominated team. However, being on the team was not entirely her choice. "I was actually recruited by Coach Hoelmann from gym class, but I'm glad he did," she said. Couton shows a slightly different view from her male co-athletes on the team's skewed boy-girl ratio. "I do wish we had more girls, but the boys we have now are really good at handball," she said. "Playing with boys is a good way to see a different side of things and push yourself to play at their level."
The levels of support and acceptance flowing through the handball team are impressive. "The handball team is probably the most diverse team at Blair since it has people from so many different backgrounds," Couton says. "It's been a great way to get to know people." Traore agrees, and chimes in with his own sentiment. "I just love the camaraderie of the team," he says. "I like how we're all supporting each other, getting to know each other and having fun when we all come from different groups." One thing the team can agree on is that Blair handball needs more coverage. "Whether it's co-ed or intramural or whatever, handball should be treated just like any other varsity sport," Kadish says. Hoelmann shared this view, and adds his own perspective as a proud coach. "The kids on this team work very hard," Hoelmann says. "They deserve all the coverage they can get."
Arthi Vijaykumar. More »