One-wall game a revelation

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

For Canadians, one-wall handball is a foreign game. Be that as it may, yesterday the 2006 Waterford Crystal World Handball Championships got underway in Sherwood Park with the one-wall event.

A handful of locals was entered in the tournament, even though one-wall handball takes a back seat to the four-wall version in Canada.

"Canadians don't play one-wall," said Howard Strettle, 57, a local competitor in yesterday's event.

"It's usually an outdoor game. We play four-wall. But one-wall is part of the worlds components, and if you are hosting the championships, you need one-wall."

One-wall handball is big in Ireland and parts of New York where there are a number of courts.

In Western Canada there are very few one-wall courts. For these particular championships, organizers set up temporary one-wall courts in the Sherwood Park Arena. They also erected a permanent outdoor court adjacent to the rink.

"That's how we're trying to build it up," Strettle said. "Even though our game is four-wall, it's difficult to get the kids into that. We build this one-wall court, so the kids can go out there and play any time they like."

Strettle is competing with partner Jim Orchard in the 50-plus doubles event.

Even though he's not all that familiar with the game, he realizes the importance of having local representation in the tournament.

"I played it a few times in New York," Strettle said. "In New York, they have 8,000 players and they have courts in every little park. I figured since the event is in my own backyard, then I have to enter it."

Evan Neil, 34, of Sherwood Park also entered the event despite not being familiar with the game.

Yet he and his partner, John Kopeck, did win their opening-round doubles match yesterday.

"To enter a worlds when you've played it only two or three times, it's just for fun," Neil said.

"It's to say you've tried it and played it. When it's in your own backyard like this, then why not?"

Apart from the obvious differences in the two games in regards to the number of walls, there are also subtle rule differences to which players have to adjust to. The one-wall game has boundaries where players are forced to keep the ball within.

"The biggest difference with this game is that with the four-wall game you can angle the ball," Strettle said. "In this game if you angle the ball it's going to go out. In the four-wall that's what the game is all about is using the four-wall including the back wall."

In one-wall players also do not have to give opponents a clear line of sight as the ball comes back off the wall.

In four-wall it's referred to as hindering, which is illegal. In one-wall it's not.

"That's the hardest thing to get used to," said Neil, 34. "I've played four-wall for 17 years where you have to get out of the way or you actually lose the point. And now it's part of the strategy. Some of the Irish guys will hit it at their partner and their partner will stand there and let the ball go by him and not let their opponent get a good look at the ball."

Neil was introduced to handball in junior high. He's been playing it ever since.

He's also entered in the four-wall event, which gets underway on Tuesday.

Strettle, also entered in the four-wall event, was introduced to the game through his daughters.

"This is just a different game," he said.

"I'm left-handed and in this game you need both hands. I can't even throw the ball against the wall with my right hand.

"But you persevere. In this game, if you're in a competition and they know you're not good on your weak hand, the guy will serve to your weak hand."


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