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Inside the Events: USA Team Handball

4 Dec, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Melissa Zhang, Communications Manager

www.teamusa.org/USA-Team-Handball

USA Team Handball (USATH) is the National Governing Body (NGB) for the Olympic discipline of Team Handball. It is the only organization recognized by the USOPC and IHF to lead handball initiatives in the United States.

USATH, a member of the International Handball Federation (IHF) and the North American and Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC), is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and was certified by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) on April 30, 2008. 

The jurisdiction of USATH includes development of grassroots programs, preparation of national teams, and day-to-day oversight of the sport of handball throughout the United States. It works to support and grow the sport in the following areas:

  • The national club structure, culminating in a National Championship event in May
  • Collegiate clubs and intramural programs, culminating in Collegiate National Championship event in April
  • Grassroots and youth programs with local and national organizations, such as Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and schools
  • Senior Men's and Women's National Teams with the goal of competing internationally and qualifying for upcoming Olympic Games
  • Youth and Junior National Teams to compete internationally in youth and junior tournaments

Sports Destination Management: We heard that Team USA has been nominated to represent the North America and the Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC) at the 2021 IHF Men’s World Championship. When was the last time it happened?

Melissa Zhang: It’s been a minute! The last time was in 2001 – literally two decades ago.

SDM: Do you think this will heighten the profile of the sport in this country?

Zhang: Yes – with Los Angeles hosting the Olympics in 2028, it is top of mind for us to have a larger presence. In the last year along, there has been a solid amount of progress. More people are developing an understanding of what the sport is and what it looks like. We’re optimistic that in the next seven years, we can make even more progress.

SDM: Obviously, Team USA is making gains but what is the sport like as it filters down to the local level?

Zhang: It’s not an NCAA sport but there are college club teams around the country. Penn State and Ohio State in particular have been very active. It’s also very popular at the military level, in places like West Point and the Air Force Academy. We’re still a small sport but the handball community is very diehard and passionate and they will make an effort to come out to events.

SDM: Are there clubs around the country as well, on the recreational level?

Zhang: Yes – there clubs in most major cities in the U.S. and we have  a club directory on our website that people can use that to find organizations in their area.

SDM: Do you think team handball is misunderstood in the USA?

Zhang: Yes, I really do. In Europe, everyone knows what handball is and what it looks like. When you say handball in the USA, people immediately think of a glass court in a health club with people hitting the ball against the wall with their hands. That’s handball, but it’s not team handball. That’s part of the reason our educational mission is such a big priority.

SDM: Do players in America have a hard time catching onto it?

Zhang: No, not really. It’s a very American sport if you think about it – it’s fast-paced, uses hand-eye coordination, it’s very physical – the things people go to see in games. In fact, a lot of our American players come from backgrounds where they played basketball, soccer and baseball, and they were able to transfer those talents over to handball.

SDM: You do two championships a year: the National Championship event in May, in which clubs around the country can participate, and the Collegiate National Championship event in April, for college club and intramural organizations. How do you select locations for those events?

Zhang: One of the great things about team handball is that it is a very inclusive sport and can be played on different surfaces. Indoors, a basketball court works just fine. A regulation team handball court is a little longer and a little wider than a basketball court, but for club play, a basketball court is fine. The sport can also be played on grass or concrete – even in a parking lot if it’s free of obstructions. You don’t have to have a designated court to play team handball.

SDM: And there’s also a beach version. Is that any different, rule-wise?

Zhang: Beach handball has not yet been added to the Olympic program but it is being considered for Paris 2024 and LA 2028. There are some rule differences. Fewer players are on the court and there are some different rules when it comes to scoring. There are videos on the home page of our website, explaining each version of the sport.

SDM: How do you go about choosing locations for your events?

Zhang: We have built relationships with a number of city recreational and tourism departments, sports commissions and related organizations to consider them for future events; however, there are some things we do want in a location. We’re looking for multiple courts with a solid amount of indoor space so that we are able to have multiple games going on at once. Some cities have facilities with four or more basketball courts with space to extend them a bit. We also tend to look for a location that is easy to fly into and has the hotels we need, and of course, a city that is sports-loving. Right now, we like locations in the middle of the country because it’s a little more convenient – nobody has to fly all the way across the USA to participate.

SDM: How can cities express interest in hosting?

Zhang: Reach out to us at the e-mail of info@usateamhandball.org

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