Tag Archives: handball

Giving kids a hand up


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Paul Williams

Paul Williams was sitting in the back office of the small trophy shop he’s owned and run for the last year- and-a-half, at ease, taking phone calls on parts or orders that were coming in.

During the day, he works in this small store on Bell Boulevard, but this is not his only life. Williams is a handball player who not only competes in international tournaments, but works to foster young players at different levels and methods of the game.

He returned from Ireland a few weeks ago after defending his title at the 2012 World Handball Championships, held every three years, in the 50/50 category.

Born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williams started playing the game at age nine after watching his brother play. He’s not the same player who started playing one-wall 44 years ago.

“My brother played at the time,” he said. “He had to babysit me, so I got tossed in the corner of the court and just watched these guys play, so then eventually I picked it up.”

As he and his skills grew, he piqued the interest of a Brooklyn man who sponsored Williams and “then that just spurred the passion, I just kept playing in tournaments.”

What seems to be Williams’ proudest accomplishment is not the number of world championships he’s brought home, however, but the time he gives back to the community. As founder of the Inner City Handball League, Williams helps teens to channel their talent.

This year, he and Team USA brought 14 young adults to the championship. When they returned, they came bearing 15 gold medals and three silvers in one-, three- and four-wall handball competitions. The tournament featured 2,200 competitors from more than 30 countries.

One of the victors attends St. Francis Preparatory High School, Williams said, and another attends Francis Lewis High School. Both took home gold in their divisions, he said.

The idea behind Williams’ involvement in giving back to the community was paying forward what others did for him as an up-and-coming handball player.

Talent, however, isn’t the only rubric for making it into, or staying in, the program. Students are required to be in good academic standing, Williams said, and must maintain at least a “B” average.

“I grew up in a tough neighborhood — Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. I realized there was a lot of kids in the neighborhood that need help,” he said. “So instead of just helping one kid, like how the groups were helping me, I decided to help a number of kids.”

‘Hand’ of a Champion


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Lake Forest College

 Queens has a long history of native sons going on to great accomplishments in sports after leaving their home borough. Another name has been added to that list, as Ozone Park’s own Isaac Acosta went wall-to-wall, capturing the men’s doubles title in handball for Lake Forest College in Illinois.

The college junior and his doubles partner, C.J. Laffey, edged Missouri State’s Jonathan Hingey and Jeff Steibig by scores of 21-19 and 21-9. In addition, Lake Forest wrapped up the Division 1 team titles on Saturday, February 25.

A Force of Inspiration


| smosco@queenscourier.com

THE QUEENS COURIER/Photo by Steve Mosco

High school pep rallies are almost always the same — loud kids, painted faces and pompoms. But at a recent rally at Cardozo High School, handball playing freshman Fabrizio Shao made an entrance that no one had ever seen before.

“The crowd went nuts,” said coach Lenny Levin.

Shao, who lives without the ability to walk, led his handball team to the middle of Cardozo’s gym walking on his hands with his wheelchair hoisted over his head using only his arm power. Shao knew he would draw a lot of attention with a stunt like that — playing to the crowd appeals to him, just like playing to the handball wall.

“I didn’t know anything about handball when I first saw it,” said Shao, 17, who lost the ability to walk after an accident when he was eight months old. “I went to the park once with my dog and saw people playing. I just thought it was really cool and interesting.”

Handball wasn’t the only mystery to the young Shao, who was born in Romania and came to America on numerous occasions for physical therapy. When he was 14, Shao and his family settled in Queens permanently, taking up residence in College Point.

It was there in College Point, at McNeil’s Park, where Shao first came across handball. However, it was at Cardozo High School where his passing fancy for the game evolved into a fully-engaged passion.

“It’s like the saying, ‘you get hungry while you eat,’” he said. “The more I played the more I realized that I’m good and I should keep it up.”
After Shao showed an interest in the sport, Cardozo’s athletic director called the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) to check if there were any restrictions against a wheelchair-bound handball player. There weren’t any such restrictions.

Shao now plays on Cardozo’s handball practice squad, with his skill and enthusiasm for the game making his teammates that much better at kills and digs. Coach Levin said that Shao’s role on the team is far more than just a bench novelty — he is an intricate part of the team.

“When I met Fabrizio, I saw a kid who was as serious as they come,” said Levin. “He loves the game and he has a real passion for it. Just being there he gives the other kids a real boost.”

The coach went on to say that Shao is more than just “there.” Watching him practice, Shao is a force on the court. He can get to just about any ball that comes his way and he is a serious competitor. After missing a shot he felt he should have had, Shao lets out groans of self-dissatisfaction.
And on the very next volley, he makes up for his miscue with an expertly-executed kill.

Shao also shows his precision skills on the basketball court. He plays with the Long Island Lightning in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) and travels throughout the country competing in tournaments.

A future in basketball, even one with a college scholarship, isn’t enough to shift Shao’s focus away from his current handball responsibilities at Cardozo.

“Even though it’s not a popular sport, for me handball is the greatest sport out there,” he said. “So many sports are similar, but handball stands alone. You have to play it to know why it’s great.”

It’s easy to imagine next year’s pep rally — screaming teens, pompoms and an amped up Shao walking on his hands.

“Any disabled person out there that thinks they can’t do something, I just use myself as an example,” he said. “I play sports. I do whatever I want. Disability will never hold me back.”