Handball : The American Experience

Blinking reflexively against the pounding sound of nearly 2,000 fans clapping their ‘Klatschpappen’ in unison, I was eagerly awaiting the opening whistle for a sport even more foreign to me than the unknown European food I’ve eaten at the flea market in Mauerpark.

Sean Churchill
Der Fuchsbau war es zwar nicht, aber Sean Churchill fühlte sich in Potsdam inmitten der Klatschpappen trotzdem gut aufgehoben.
Der Fuchsbau war es zwar nicht, aber Sean Churchill fühlte sich in Potsdam inmitten der Klatschpappen trotzdem gut aufgehoben.Foto: Sean Churchill

As an American, I pride myself in not being your stereotypical sports fan. Sure, American football is certainly still above all else in terms of personal interest, and I have attended dozens of live baseball and basketball games in my home state of Michigan. However, I also consider myself a diehard ‘soccer’ fan, watching European and international matches as often as possible. I played soccer year-round from age five to eighteen, and I have an appreciation and passion for the game that I believe is still quite rare in the United States. I also regularly play and watch less popular sports such as golf and tennis and am an avid viewer of any event from table tennis to gymnastics during the Olympics. Overall, I would say that I am a very well-rounded and open-minded sports fanatic. However, within days of starting my 5-week internship here at Der Tagesspiegel, I realized that there was a sport that the Germans hold near and dear to their hearts that was completely missing from my wealth of sports knowledge: Handball.

My only experiences with the sport have been seeing it for short spurts of time during the Olympics every four years, but only if I am lucky enough to find it on one of the channels that it is delegated to in favor of other events. Even when there is chance to watch a few minutes of Handball action, I have quickly lost interest, mostly due to a complete lack of knowing what is happening on the screen. One major problem as to why Handball remains completely misunderstood and foreign to me (and pretty much all of America for that matter) is that the sport is relatively nonexistent in the US; there are no widespread youth teams or recreational leagues and no professional league.

Other important factors include the national team being historically uncompetitive (men’s team is 4-1-23 all time in Olympic competitions) and that there is simply little to no knowledge of the sport in the United States in general. There is even confusion as to what the term ‘Handball’ even refers to in the States. The United States Handball Association (USHA), the National Governing Body for the sport of ‘Handball’, has dedicated itself to promoting and governing the sport since its founding in 1951. The only problem is that the USHA is actually promoting and governing ‘Wall Handball’, or an American variation of Squash that is played with your hands, not Handball. The European version of the sport is called ‘Team Handball’ in the United States, which creates an enormous semantic issue that furthers the ignorance and confusion of the sport for Americans.

After finding out how big Handball was in Germany, and generally in much of Western Europe, I was determined to experience this exotic sport that has long perplexed and intrigued me. Plans of attending a Handball match in Berlin finally came to fruition when a co-worker invited me to accompany him to a preseason match in Potsdam between 1. VfL Potsdam and Füchse Berlin.

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