A look inside Illini handball

By Peter Romanchuck

Players in the Illinois handball club raced back and forth on the racquetball courts in the basement of the ARC during practice. Though the competitive season may be over, most of the players on the team still show up Monday and Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. to sharpen their skills while having a little bit of fun.

“It’s a blast,” junior Darren Miller said. “We all get along pretty well. When it comes down to the competitive games, we’re like a family because we’ll watch each other’s matches.”

There are two variations of the sport: team handball and American handball. American handball, the type played at Illinois, is a sport in which players hit a ball against the wall in such a way that their opponent cannot return their hit. The rules of the game are similar to racquetball except that players use their hands instead of racquets.

American handball has been played at Illinois since the establishment of the University in 1867, though it was never officially a registered student organization until a couple of years ago. In 2009, Matt and Eric Anderson established the official Illini Handball club, and the club has blossomed into the organization as it is today.

The handball team competes from August to mid-May, playing in a total of four tournaments throughout the course of the year. Highlighting this season’s tournament schedule was the USHA national tournament in Portland, Oregon, where Illinois took ninth place in a field of 31 teams.

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While practice now has a relaxed feel to it, members of the team show up and work hard. Club president Rachel Fox is focused on finding the proper balance between being competitive and having fun and said the club is always looking for new players. 

Anyone interested in the sport should contact Fox at [email protected].

“It’s as competitive as you want it to be,” Fox said. “What you put in is what you get out, so while we are big on the social aspect of the team, we also want to be competitive.”

Now that the team’s tournament play has ended, practices are less structured in terms of organized drills. The team spends most of its practice time on the courts scrimmaging as singles or doubles, trying out new techniques it hopes will improve its game in the future. Masters student Nick Reitz recognizes the importance of these more casual practices.

“If you practice a certain skill or shot over and over, you’ll get better at it,” Reitz said. “Then you can use that skill in games or tournaments.”

Besides playing a sport they love and enjoying the camaraderie the club provides, members of the Illini handball team practice to develop and improve hand-eye coordination skills. The sport also provides a more exciting way to exercise and stay in shape.

“It’s a good sport to build on other sports,” Miller said. “I’m pretty much left-handed now because I’ve had to use it so much to play this game.”

[email protected]