By Harold C. Ford
“This sport is so cool. There’s gotta be a way that America can get good at this sport.” —Mike Tirico, NBC’s anchor for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, commenting on team handball
The venerable Berston Field House — the nearly 100-year-old facility on Flint’s near north-side where Olympic champion Claressa Shields honed her boxing prowess and future NBA players sharpened their basketball skill — is now the starting point for a new sport that’s come to Flint: team handball.
Yes, handball. No, not the kind played in a cracker box-sized room in which players take turns smashing a small ball off the wall. Rather, the kind that’s found in the Olympic Games — sometimes called Olympic handball or European handball or team handball.
Handball is what you may have witnessed during the just-concluded Tokyo games. It’s one of three summer games sports the U. S. has never medaled in.
It’s a team sport in which two teams — a goalkeeper and seven out court players — pass a ball using their hands with the aim of throwing it into the goal/net of the other team. A standard match consists of two 30-minute periods; the team that scores more goals wins the match.
Handball has the appearance of soccer, basketball, rugby, hockey, and lacrosse combined. Some physicality is permitted by the rules.
Flint City Handball Club
Shane Proulx is the owner, chief operator, and assistant coach for the fledgling Flint City Handball Club. He also loves to play and will fill in to complete a competitive roster during practice or matches.
Proulx was introduced to team handball by watching it on television during the 2008 Olympic Games. “Once you get introduced to the sport it really has a way of grabbing your attention and keeping ahold of it,” Proulx said.
John Brown, 39, was one of Flint City HC’s nine team members present during outdoor practice at Berston on Aug. 21 as temperatures climbed into the 80s.
“Initially, I got into it in high school … my freshman year, 1996,” Brown recalled. “Like this is super cool …running, positioning, bodying people up, the physicality of it, I’ve been doing forever.”
Brown played soccer as a midfielder. “This is just the next step,” he said.
Growing the sport
Proulx is attempting to grow team handball in the Flint area in several ways:
- Proulx secured a $5,000 grant from from 100K Ideas, a local nonprofit headed up by Phil Hagerman and David Ollila.
- He also received $500 from Flint Soup, a community-funded micro-grant program backed by the C.S. Mott Foundation
- Berston Field House provided home and away jerseys in addition to a venue for practice and matches.
- Proulx has garnered some attention from local media that now includes East Village Magazine.
- Flint City HB has its own Facebook and Twitter pages and is found on the USA Team Handball website.
- Proulx is cultivating relationships with European clubs in Germany and Scotland, with a youth club in Italy, a women’s club in France, and a senior team in Spain. He is in talks with Flint Tonsberg, a women’s handball team in Norway.
- Proulx challenged other sporting teams in Flint — the Firebirds (hockey), Flint City Bucks (soccer), and Flint United Basketball — to engage Flint City HC in a team handball match.
- Anyone interested is invited to tryout for the team on Saturday mornings at Berston starting at 10 a.m.
- Similarly, spectators are invited to the same Saturday morning sessions. “I think if people watch it, people will love it,” Proulx said.
Development of a league:
- Proulx says he is optimistic about the formation of a league of handball clubs in Midwestern cities such as Flint, Detroit, Chicago, and elsewhere. The launch of a new league was delayed, in part, by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Proulx just acquired a coach, Todd Slitkas, who boasts experience with Team USA’s reserve handball squad . Slitkas also played competitively at Northern Michigan University.
- Free clinics for youth.
Asked if he were optimistic about the chances of handball catching on in the community, Proulx replied, “Absolutely … the sky’s the limit for Flint City Handball Club.”
EVM Sports Beat reporter Harold Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.