Photo by Holly Koffler
Looking into other 1-wall player’s records we can safely say that every champion was a champion in his own era and that must be respected without prejudice.
The last article on “Champion of Champions,” written by Dan Flickstein, didn't have a warm reception in the handball community as the topic turned out to be a conflict of interest and the ending result was just a one-sided personal opinion: Mr. Flickstein's.
In order to avoid these conflicts of interests we decided to re-write the Champion of Champions article in a much better way to include opinions of players, hall of famers and fans.
Our Champion of Champions article gives the players from Mr. Flickstein's original article an opportunity to speak for themselves. It also provides the handball community with an opportunity to voice their own opinion.
In a previous USHA Court Short article written by Dan Flickstein, Joe Durso's game was compared to Steve Sandler 's game in a virtual match.
In this virtual match both players were compared at their prime and Mr. Flickstein stated the match would be very close to call, but he would pick Steve Sandler as the winner with a small margin “Flickstein is always saying Steve Sandler is the best because Steve has always been his idol” Albert Apuzzi said.
We do have to agree with Albert “Steve Sandler was my idol when I was a kid learning how to play at Avenue P,” Dan Flickstein wrote in his handball articles for more than forty years.
Because of the conflict of interest in Dan's article, we decided to personally ask Joe Durso for his opinion on this virtual match comparison “The match would be very close to call. It could go either way” Joe Durso answered.
After we got Joe’s input on this matter, we decided to expand the interview one step further and asked Joe. How do you compare to Tyree in a virtual game and how your left hand compares to Tyree’s?
“That’s another close match very difficult to call, but I think Tyree might have the edge, but only with a small margin,” Joe said.
“I didn’t have a great opposite hand like Tyree’s. I used my left hand as a shield and most of my play was done with my right hand”
Later on we decided to talk to USHA 1-wall Grand Master, Tom Vitale. We picked Mr. Vitale because of his experience and his age (76-year-old), and we asked him: In a virtual match among Steve Sandler and Tyree Bastidas, who would win?
“I never saw Steve play in his prime, but I've heard he was the best of his generation when he played with a heavier ball than the one used by Tyree. I could only say that Tyree's game is amazing and fast with the lighter ball” said Mr. Vitale.
“I do remember overhearing a conversation among Steve Sandler and another guy while we were watching Tyree play in Coney Island, and Steve was asked if he could have beaten Tyree prime to prime. Steve told that guy, he wasn't sure he could have beaten Tyree, at least not with the USHA 21 ball”
We also asked Tyree's input on this topic; How do you compare to Joe's and Steve's game in a virtual match?
“I never saw Joe or Steve in their prime. I've only seen their game over the internet and from what I've seen their games looked slow when compared to my games. I don't know if it was the frame rate at which their games were recorded back then that makes them look slow or maybe it was the heavier ball they used to play with in the past” Tyree said.
“When I first started playing small ball in 2004 the Association used the USHA Red ball, a heavier ball than the USHA 21 ball used today. I miss the USHA Red Ball, my game was much better using the heavier ball”
After getting all these inputs from the players themselves, we decided to extend our interview even further to former players from Steve Sandler's and Joe Durso's era and asked them to compare both players' games “Steve and Joe were two great 1-wall players with different games and mentalities. Joe was very aggressive and too much into pleasing the crowd. Steve was serious about his games. He didn't fool around” said Al Torres
“Sometimes I used to beat Joe when I shouldn't have beaten him and that was because he wasn't focused on the game due to his constant talking to the crowd. Beating Steve wasn't easy either, but sometimes I beat him because I was on that day. Other than that both; Joe and Steve were great players”
Having finished Al Torres' interview at Coney Island, we traveled to Manhattan to the Mayor's Cup handball tournament where we interviewed Danny Shapiro, another open player from the '80s who was playing in the 50+ age division “It's hard to compare Steve and Joe. When I played Steve, he was no longer in his prime and even though his game was on the decline, I learned to appreciate the pin-point accuracy of his shots” Buddy Shapiro said.
“When I played Joe, he was at his best, Joe had everything going for him: he had youth, great shots, a big mouth and a very intimidating figure.”
Later on we moved back to Coney Island to interview another open player from the '70s who spent a great deal of time watching Steve and Joe play, and asked him to compare their game to Tyree's.
“I used to be a member of the Brighton Beach Batch Club in the 70's and I've seen many games Steve Sandler and Joe Durso played at the BBB” said Stephen Marck, a former player in the men's open division.
“Steve's game was better than anybody's at that time, but after I've seen Tyree play for more than five years, I could honestly say that if the game was to be played with the ball Steve used to play, the game could have gone either way. But if the game was to be played with the USHA 21 ball, Steve didn't stand a chance as he wouldn't be able to keep up with Tyree's fast game and lightening shooting” said Stephen.
“Joe had a great game too, but Tyree's game is even better”
And finally, our article wouldn't be complete if we didn't include Dan Flickstein's opinion, as Dan has been Steve Sandler's frequent opponent and No 1 fan for more than forty years. Mr. Flickstein's opinion as it appears in the USHA Magazine “I can not imagine anyone in Sandler's class, and I have been highly impressed by Durso, Jagnandan and Bastidas”
Please note our article “Champion of Champions” is based on interviews from players mostly from Steve Sandles's era, some from Joe Durso's and none from Tyree's as we didn't want to create a conflict of interest for him. “People tend to believe the decade in which they played produced the best players, because it is what they witnessed and experienced “wrote Dan Flickstein in a handball article a few years ago.
Having finished these interviews, we now leave it up to our readers to decide by themselves who the champion of Champions is under our Label – You be the Judge!
Due to popular demand a women's division was offered at this tournament where former PSAL and USHA 1-wall handball champion, Theresa McCourt showed up to make an impressive run.
To everyone's surprise, current PSAL handball champion, Melanie Garate also showed up to measure up her skills at the open level for the first time.
Theresa McCourt seemed to breeze through the first rounds of competition, but found herself in deep trouble facing current PSAL champion Melanie Garate in the finals.
At first McCourt tried to match her opponent point by point. But after long rallies she started to miss shots she should have never missed. It was a sign she was running out of air against a much younger opponent.
Theresa did have a good run at the end of the game, but Melanie Garate scored the last points in front of a big crowd that kept cheering for her throughout the event.
Congratulations to both ladies.
There is a pervasive tendency in the handball culture to romanticize players who die unexpectedly. We place them on high, adorned with clichés about beauty and other worldliness that suggest they simply saw things differently and were really intended for another plane of existence.
Steve Sandler, the best 1-wall player of his generation who died of complications of an infection, has been subjected to this treatment by Dan's Flickstein's writings since his death, mythologized as the voice of a disaffected generation and a player who simply was in a league of his own.
Finally, our mini handball documentary on S. Sandler has cast aside those dangerous oversimplifications to reveal Sandler for what he probably, actually was: another great player of the 1-wall game, a man who loved to bet on and off the court to make a living, a man not happy with titles but hungry for money, a man tormented on the court by teenage players and a man with a great many failings: a human, in other words.
This concludes our coverage of one of the best 1-wall players in Handball History; Mr. Steve Sandler.
Most Photos by Keith Thode
As we travel around the world we have noticed there are several brothers and sisters who have played together as a team in the open division in different handball codes, playing with the small ball in different venues in the last five years.
To our surprise we managed to group a few of these teams to make up our short list. Please keep in mind there are more teams out there and we will add their names as time goes on.
Also, some of them may have stopped playing altogether and/or may be only playing in the open at Regional or Local events.
Lee and Erik Anderson – Virginia/Maryland
Anthony and Blaze Selestow –Wisconsin
Brant and Bryer Bidegain – California
Peter and Richard Funchon - Ireland
Tyree and Jurell Bastidas – New York
Luis and Daniel Cordova – Arizona
Ricardo and Braulio Ruiz - California
Mike and David Munson –Illinois
Richard and Erik Anderson – Virginia/Maryland
Marco and Carlos Lemus – Illinois
Allison Roberts and Jennifer Schmitt – Ohio/Texas
Dane and Adams Szatkowski – Illinois
Anthony and Loren Collado - California
Shirley and Cheryl Chen – New York
Dave and William Bardwell –Maryland/Texas
Fiona Shannon and Sibeal Gallagher – Ireland
Adam and Dan Zimet - Meryland
Jessenia and Melanie Garate – New York
Frank and Dane Szatkowski - Illinois
Marianna and Hilary Rushe – Ireland
Aaron and Allan Garner – Texas
Oscar and Arnold Cardenas - New York
Photos from USHA 's facebook.
It has been exactly five years since the USHA launched its popular handball FaceBook media website where thousand of handball fans rushed to sign up to follow the action at home and abroad. It was inaugurated on January of 2010, less than a month after Tyree Bastidas had finished his juniors participation by winning and slamming at the 4-wall nationals in Chicago.
The events and first photos posted on 2010 tell us a great deal of what happened back then. Here are some of them:
a.) Photos to honor the current and past USHA Presidents; Mike Steele and Bob Hickman.
b.) In 2010, Tyree Bastidas, becomes the first teenager in America to reach the USHA national championship match in the men's open singles (1 &3-wall) in the same year.
c.) A photo of Paul Brady (4-wall world champion) playing in the 2009 worlds handball men's final on the West Coast.
d.) A photo of Satish Jagnandan and Cesar Sala (USHA 2009 and 2008 1-wall champions respectively) playing on the East Coast.
e.) A photo of Theresa McCourt (USHA 2006 champion) and John Wright (USHA 2008 & 2009 big ball champion).
F.) 2010 also marks the first time Tyree Bastidas becomes the first teenager to win the USHA 1-wall nationals men's open singles at the Coney Island handball courts.