Keeping Handball Alive at Flamingo Park

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Nestled within the coronary heart of South Seaside, Flamingo Park has been a haven for handballers in South Florida for the reason that Nineteen Seventies. A half-mile from Miami Seaside’s occasion scene, the quiet handball courts right here have seen their share of world champions and are house to a constant crew of gamers, most of them between the ages of 60 and 80. Fifty years of play have battered the once-vibrant pastel partitions of the courts, which at the moment are primed with a contemporary coat of white paint. However you’re nonetheless more likely to discover the identical motley crews and trash talkers of years previous.

Other than typical banter and arguments in regards to the rating, conversations typically revolve round well being — each bodily and the well being of the sport. Hand surgical procedures, knee points, bypass surgical procedures and automotive accidents are all honest sport for the trash speaking (and excuse-making). There’s an endearing camaraderie inside the group that retains folks coming again.

The sport has helped the present crew defy their ages, however a few of them concern an absence of youthful faces will ultimately catch as much as the game. Issues in regards to the well being of four-wall handball have seemingly been round for so long as the previous courts of Flamingo Park, however the query stays: Can the game survive with solely occasional late bloomers becoming a member of the fray, or will youthful gamers be wanted to maintain the sport alive? For now, a gaggle of older ambassadors will carry the torch.

Krowitz, 69, was born within the Bronx. After rising up in Miami Seaside, he began enjoying handball there after he retired from being a lifeguard at 54. Krowitz additionally dabbles in different sports activities, together with biking, operating, swimming, and tango and ballroom dancing. He has practiced martial arts for 55 years.

“I play handball as a result of I wish to problem myself,” he mentioned. “Once I first began dancing tango, it took me six months simply to turn into a newbie. I couldn’t hear the beat, and that’s what I preferred. I wish to be challenged. I would like to enhance continually.”

Antonio “Tony” Gonzalez, 61, was born within the South Bronx and has been enjoying handball for practically 50 years. A scrappy participant who doesn’t shrink back from trash speaking, Gonzalez grew up enjoying on the courts on Jackson Avenue, which have been identified for playing within the Nineteen Seventies. Video games have been usually performed for small quantities of money, toughening up Gonzalez, who was then 14.

“I do know guys in New York which have handed away on the courtroom,” he mentioned. “In case your life has all the time been about handball, to me there’s no higher method to exit than together with your finest pals enjoying the sport you’re keen on.”

O’Rourke, 61, is without doubt one of the extra athletic and aggressive gamers on the Flamingo Park courts. Born in Killarney, Eire, O’Rourke’s service movement is referred to by different gamers because the “Irish Whip.” He has been enjoying at Flamingo Park since 1996, and he has additionally performed each recreationally and competitively in locations like Brazil, Germany and Eire.

“After we have been right here all through renovations, you by no means knew how many individuals would present up or for those who may get a sport,” he mentioned. “However I can see these youthful guys coming for the final two weeks now that the one-wall courts opened, and it’s actually trying like these renovations can liven the park up once more.”

Fernandez, 83, is one other New Yorker who discovered a house in Florida handball. Nicknamed “Chico,” Fernandez began enjoying the sport in 1962 and had discovered his method to Flamingo Park by 1967. He’s coping with two changed knees and an injured rotator cuff, however he opts to adapt his sport to his physique fairly than take break day.

“I do issues to adapt my sport once I’m injured so I don’t damage as a lot on the courtroom, like modifying my swing,” he mentioned. “I play by way of it, principally as a result of I do know I’m going to really feel higher after I play. Particularly once I win.”

Tauber, 86, began enjoying handball in 1954 whereas finding out on the College of Michigan. A Detroit native, Tauber constructed a customized handball courtroom in the midst of his house in Michigan — in opposition to his spouse’s needs. Working with an architect, Tauber designed a handful of choices, together with the finalized format that featured soundproof partitions. Tauber has just lately begun dabbling in pickleball in quest of evenly-aged competitors.

“I attribute a few of my longevity to the sport,” he mentioned. “I believe the chance to play at a steady tempo in spite of everything these years has made a distinction in my well being and skill to perform — each from a bodily and psychological standpoint.”

Gerson, 67, grew up watching his father play handball in Coney Island and took up the game as a young person. Initially from Brooklyn, Gerson has stayed energetic all through his life with actions like biking, diving, gymnastics, operating and swimming. He has saved up with swimming one mile a day, a behavior constructed throughout a 50-year profession as a lifeguard. Gerson performs handball through the week whereas taking his lunch breaks from the pool the place he works (allocating 60 minutes to handball and none to consuming lunch). Regardless of a hip alternative and different small aches, Gerson hopes to ultimately full an Ironman triathlon.

“It’s robust in your physique enjoying handball,” he mentioned. “You get drained such as you have been in a boxing match afterward. Folks don’t come out in the summertime as a lot as a result of the room temperature will get effectively over 100 levels. You get soaked in sweat and you’ll lose three to 4 kilos of water in a sport. I find it irresistible.”