Handball player for life.

T. Bastidas is interviewed at the 2004 USHA National Three-Wall Championships.





Above: Tyree Bastidas interviewed for the first time at the age of thirteen in Toledo, Ohio in 2004

Off the wall action at Coney Island- USHA championship tournament returns to Brooklyn.



By Joe Maniscalco 08/02/2007

A handball rocketing off a concrete wall in Coney Island can appear no bigger than a pea and sound as loud as a gunshot.
The men and women stalking the ricocheting pellets on the courts beside the boardwalk on Surf Avenue and West 5th Street this week – where the names of legendary local champs the Obert brothers still loom large – are considered some of the best one-wall handball players in the country.
The elite started pounding those very small and very hard rubber balls with renewed vehemence on Wednesday morning in an effort to claim the United States Handball Association championship (USHA) title.
The tournament runs through August 5 with each day’s schedule of games beginning at 10 a.m. and concluding at 3 p.m. Coney Island has been home to the USHA championships for the past 15 years.
“One-wall handball is something of a New York phenomenon,” USHA Executive Director Vern Roberts says. “In the rest of the country it’s three walls. New York has got the big edge.”
On courts where seething summer temperatures can hit you like a blast furnace, Coney Island can truly be thought of as a crucible of handball excellence where only the strongest players will be left standing to claim their prize – in this case a $2,000 purse for the top men’s player and $800 for the top women’s player.
Brooklynites Theresa McCourt and Ceasar Sala – both New York City police officers – are among the top seeds.
But one of the most formidable opponents stepping onto the courts this year is just 17 years old.
Tyree Bastidas hasn’t even started his senior year at Midwood High School yet but he’s already amassed 11 national handball titles under his belt, and there’s nothing he’d enjoy more than adding another one right here at home in Coney Island.
“Basically, I’m just going to try to run you down,” the Brooklyn champ says. “I don’t give up. I never stop. If there’s a way to win I’ll find it. I just have that drive.”
Everybody who plays handball at Midwood field near Avenue J knows that Bastidas is the man, and that’s the way he likes it.
“Of course,” he laughs with a lot of Brooklyn bravado in his voice.
Bastidas says he got onto the handball court and just started playing when he was eight years old. But he didn’t really get serious about playing the game until he was 13.
A dedicated student of the game, he’s learned to become a master by watching others.
“If I like a shot, I’ll put it into my game,” Bastidas says. “There are so many game styles. There’s power and smarts, skill and talent.”
There are over 8,000 members of the USHA. Founded in 1951, the organization sponsors numerous tournaments throughout the year and publishes Handball Magazine.
According to Roberts, Irish immigrants originally brought the 3-wall handball game to America in the 1800s. In the early 1900s, New York City popularized the 1-wall game when courts started going up in parks all around town.
“They played with a cork, string and leather ball,” Roberts says. “Before that, the game goes back to the Aztec and Egyptians.”
The biggest trend in handball today, according to Roberts, is the tendency for the casual recreational player to use a larger ball. In fact, the type of ball used can often be an indicator about how serious a player is about the game.
“More people migrate over to the small ball when they want to get into organized play,” Roberts says.
The smaller ball the elite players use is considerably harder than the larger handballs you see most people playing with down at the local schoolyard.
The pro-level players do wear special gloves, but Bastidas says that they’re really worn more to protect the ball rather than the players’ hands.
“That’s not for protection, it’s to keep sweat off the ball,” he explains.
That’s a lot harder to do than you might think – especially on the scorching handball courts of Coney Island in August. It’s a good thing the Atlantic Ocean is right there too.
There are a couple of players in this year’s competition that Bastidas is mindful of, but he has no illusions about who his biggest opponent might be this week in Coney Island.
“You might not lose to the point, you might lose to the sun,” he says.
Both Roberts and Bastidas say that they’d like to see the organized sport of handball get as hot as inline skating or BMX biking.
Bastidas already has a few sponsors behind him and he says there’s hardly a week that goes by when he isn’t off competing in a handball competition somewhere in the United States.
“I’ve been to Canada too, and I might go to Australia,” the Brooklyn teen says.
The appeal of handball is great, according to Roberts, and full of potential for mass consumption.
There’s no social class to it,” he says. “There could be a doctor playing with a homeless person on the court. It’s all individual guys and girls.”
The United States Handball Association Championships at the Coney Island handball courts, Surf Avenue and West 5th Street run through August 5. Games are played between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free for spectators. For more information log onto www.ushandball.org.

©Courier-Life Publications 2007

Interview with one-wall junior national champion, Tyree.  




One-Wall champ Tyree Bastidas aiming at the ball. Bastidas also plays in three-, and four-wall championships.

By Paul Cassano on 08/26/08


Q . How do you manage to play and win all codes of handball?

A . It does not come easy, I train hard to win them all, I spend a lot of time on the courts and I usually play until dark. I guess I’m addicted to it.


Q . Do you have a secret or strategic to win a record of twenty four National Titles in one-, three- and four-wall handball tournaments?

A . My secret wouldn't be a secret if I answer this question, but if it's going to help other jr handball players, here it goes.

My secret is One Wall, “says Bastidas”. When I play three- or four-wall games I use my one-wall shots to quickly surprise my opponents and to finish the games fast, ..that is why I always say “One-Wall  Rules“. If you don’t play one-wall, you can't win all forms of handball consistently the way I do it. If you look at the facts you’ll find out that only One-Wall New York players have won all three codes of handball consistently and they are the only ones in the country to have been crowned with this milestone. That is why ‘One-Wall is King“, Bastidas says.


Q . You were ranked number ten in the combined world ranking of the WPH ( World Pro Handball ) recently. How did you accomplish that?

A . It took me a lot of time and effort to accomplish this, you have to compete and win to get the best ranking possible. You have to prove that you belong in this league. You have to prove you deserve your seeding.


Q . Recently you have been in a losing streak playing in the Open division in one-, three- and four-wall. Any reason why?

A . I got to the point where smarts shots are not enough to win a game. People are overpowering me lately and I need to build my strength to keep up with their power. I’m working on it and I expect to be ready pretty soon.


Q . There has been a big surge of one wall junior players in New York in the past couple of years. Is there a particular reason for it?

A . The PSAL (Public Schools Association League) thru Lin Fernandez and The ICHA (Inner City Handball Association) run by Paul Williams are responsible for this big surge of junior players, they are both doing a great job by running various juniors tournaments and attracting hundreds of new players. Their tournaments have attracted record number of players never seen before. These tournaments have giving me and other junior players an opportunity to play and improve our handball skills. I feel very energized and happy to be part of this historic surge. I’m happy to be the reason to motivate these young players to aspire to greatness” “added Tyree”.


Q . Do you have any regrets about handball?

A . Yes, I wish I’d learned how to play handball when I was six years old like most kids did in the junior divisions.


Q .  Do you have anything to say to the handball community?

A .  I would like to say thanks to all the people across the country who've helped me with advice and tips on how to play the game. Special thanks for coaches M. Watson and P. Williams who have supported me morally and financially during the last four years.


Q .   Which handball form would you recommend to a young player, one-, three- or four-wall ?

A .    When I was eight years old, I also did other sports. My suggestion would be: Don't limit yourself to one form of handball for the rest of your younger years. It can get boring, and you can burn out really quick.


Q . Do you have any special words of encouragement for the junior players across the country?

A . Yes, believe in yourself, trust your instincts, listen to your coach, practice a lot and play one-wall.

The Brooklyn Spectator

Rapid ascent for Midwood's handball star Tyree Bastidas

Tuesday, January 6th 2009, 12:40 PM

It was a holiday season that Midwood HS handball star Tyree Bastidas will never forget.

While most 18-year-olds enjoyed the week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day by waking up late and lounging around the house, Bastidas traveled across the country to Vancouver, Wash., where the Brooklyn product tied a record by winning the U.S. Handball Association National Juniors one-, three- and four-wall championships in the 19-and-under singles bracket.

It wasn't the victories themselves that Bastidas remembers most vividly about the experience, however.

"There was this kid, probably about 13," Bastidas said. "He watched most of my games in the tournament, and he would talk to me a little bit here and there. At one point, the ball I was using popped, and I guess he must have gotten a hold of it. After the match, he walked up to me and asked me to sign it for him.

"I was just amazed. I'm not someone that should be autographing anything."

Perhaps signing popped balls is just the natural next step for this rising phenom. Bastidas' performance last month made him only the second ever to win the USHA's National Junior Singles title in each of one-wall, three-wall and four-wall handball in the same year. In one-wall, he is ranked seventh in the world. On the overall pro rankings, the high school senior is already 22nd.

Bastidas knows about winning; just one glance around his room will tell you that. His walls are covered with plaques, and most of the flat surfaces in his room are topped with trophies and ceremonial plates. Every so often, they'll glisten as they reflect the light shining off of the many medals that hang from the ceiling fan.

"I won the first tournament I ever played in," said Bastidas, who began playing for fun in his local park as a nine-year-old. "I loved that feeling. It made me feel like this was something I could be really good at."

Bastidas has become so good that he and fellow Brooklynite Tracy Davis are now the subjects of a documentary.

"He's not a typical kid," said V.B. Paravati, the director and executive producer of "Handballers," a feature-length documentary that the filmmaker plans to release in June. "He's competed so well from such a young age. He's so driven and so focused. A typical person isn't capable of what Tyree is capable of."

Paravati said that when he met Davis less than a year ago, he didn't know the first thing about handball. Since May, Paravati has shot more than 140 hours of footage and taken more than 50,000 still photographs for the film. Recently, he took a couple of lessons himself.

It's an addicting sport," Paravati said. "It's been termed a subculture by some, but I see it as just a real great New York story that hasn't really been told yet. It's a thinking man's game, and it's a lifestyle that not every person can live.

"There is no big payday here," he added. "It's basically an amateur sport. There aren't huge cash prizes. There is a lot of traveling to different tournaments and all that is waiting at the end, if you win, is a plate or a trophy. It garners respect, that kind of focus."

Handball has also endowed him with a remarkable social skill set, one that many teenagers have yet to develop.

"It's helped me grow and become more mature," Bastidas said. "I know how to deal with people and talk to people now. Sometimes I go to tournaments, I'm traveling by myself, taking flights. I'm out there on my own. A lot of kids my age don't experience things like that."

Most great accomplishments, however, do not come without their sacrifices. Bastidas rarely has trouble getting along with new people, but he admits that his lifestyle is not conducive to close friendships.

"I probably know myself better than most people know themselves, but I don't know other people that well," Bastidas said. "When you're away traveling all the time, you miss parties, birthdays, a lot of things. It's hard to get close to people."

Friendships weren't the only thing hampered by Bastidas' success. He needed an extra semester of high school to graduate, an accomplishment he hopes to reach by the end of this month. He plans to attend Kingsborough Community College, in hopes of becoming a physical education teacher.

"He could have done better in high school for sure," said Bastidas' father, Jose. Originally from Ecuador, the 49-year-old accountant is one of Tyree's biggest supporters, and the member of the family who is most involved in Tyree's handball career.

"It did affect his schoolwork, and I was concerned about it," Jose Bastidas added. "It's hard to do both. But he is happy, and I decided to support him. I notice that most of the tournaments I go to with him, the kids that do well are the ones who have the support of their parents. Maybe this is a coincidence, I don't know. Maybe not.

"He wants to be the greatest handball player in the world," Jose said. "Eventually, he will do it, and I want to be there when he does."

Read more ................



Greatest junior ever? Evidence mounts for Bastidas.





By Dan Flickstein

How good can a teenage handball player be?  A champion requires skills, strength, poise, and discipline, which the majority of teens lack.  In 1962, Ken Davidoff won the One-Wall singles title from Oscar Obert. But Davidoff had already turned 20. In 1970, at 18, Mark Levine surged to the final and beat Hall of Famer Steve Sandler in a controversial match.  The next year, Levine again reached the final but lost to Sandler in a three game match.  In 1973, at 17,  Joel Davidson became the youngest National Open One-Wall Singles Champion ever, a mark that still stands, He defeated five of the day's best players of the day, including Hall of Famers Al Torres, Sandler and Levine.  But two weeks later, that same 17 year old lost to another high school player of little acclaim.  Hall of Famer Wally Ulbrich was 18 in 1965 when he won the National One-Wall junior singles and the National Open One-Wall Doubles.  It is unusual for a teen to compete well in the adult handball world, but not unique.

    When Hall of Famer Al Apuzzi suggested a story about 17 years old Tyree Bastidas, he said the young man was in the process of accumulating the best record of any junior player in any phase of handball.  Though somewhat skeptical, having seen other great teens play, I contacted Bastidas.  His dad, Jose, e-mailed his son’s handball biography. I was flabbergasted!  Apuzzi’s statement about Tyree’s records had been sorely understated.  The boy’s statistics could be scrolled down from a ten story building and hit the pavement. 

     Bastidas is of slight build, compact yet muscular, not unlike many great handball champions. He presently sports bleach-blond hair not atypical of youth attempting to express individuality.  He said he had begun playing handball in a local playground at Marine Park in Brooklyn, where his father and brother, Jurell, 22 competed.  Bastidas was only 8 when he began to experiment, tossing and hitting a big blue ball to the wall and chasing it, while his brother and father were involved in games.  “By 9, I began to play people – adults. I didn’t win, but I could keep up a volley.  I think I was motivated by the appreciation the other players in the park showed for what I could do.  Sometimes I would run down everything until my opponent missed.”

    At 13, Bastidas said, he “found small ball.”  Playing “small ball” for two weeks, he entered his first tournament.  After defeating three challengers, he became the national juniors 13-and under one-wall champion in July 2004.

“It was after that,” Tyree says, “that I thought I could be the best.” he said.

That same year Bastidas branched out to three wall.

"My dad took my brother and me ( to Toledo)," he said. " I made it to the finals of the 13-and-under, but I lost."

The next year, Bastidas won the 15-and-under three-wall at the age of 14, which geve him three junior titles that year.

          One-Wall 15-and-under singles.

          One-Wall 15- and- under doubles.

          Three-Wall 15-and under singles.

    Bastidas enjoyed three-wall, and from there he moved to the four-wall venue. In 2006 he earned Junior National Championships in all three phases of handball:

          One-Wall 15- and-under singles.

          Three-Wall  15-and-under doubles.

          Three-Wall 15-and-under singles

          One-Wall men’s C division singles.

          Four-Wall 17-and-under doubles.

     Although loving all forms of the game, Bastidas favors one-wall for the opportunity to be 100% aggressive.  “My favorite shot is the corner spike,”he said. That shot rises above an opponent’s head from  having been struck overhand, low on the wall, then hitting the ground as close to the wall as possible.  Despite his proclivity for one-wall, Bastidas continued to play all three forms of handball, and in 2007 he added nine more national championships to his rapidly growing collection:

          Canadian Four-wall 17-and under singles

          Four-Wall men’s B singles.

          Three-Wall 17-and-under junior singles.

          One-Wall men’s A doubles.

          Three Wall 17-and-under singles.

          Three-Wall 19-and-under singles.

          One-Wall big blue 17-and-under singles.

          One-Wall big blue 19-and-under doubles.

          Four-Wall 17-and-under singles.

    Tyree has grown to love handball more every year.  “My dad became my travel agent" he said.  He found tournaments for me to enter, and, in the beginning, he would travel everywhere with me.  Now that I’m older I go to many of them alone.  In 2008 Bastidas won seven more national or international titles, and his notoriety grew even greater.  The USHA featured him on the cover of Handball Magazine for his brilliant victory in the 19-and-under four-wall final.  His 2008 record :

          Irish Four-Wall 17-and-under singles

          Canadian Four-Wall  men’s open doubles finalist(though not a championship, a remarkable finish for a 17-years-old).

          Four-Wall Singles – 19 and Under – held in Kansas

          One-Wall 17-and-under singles.

          One-Wall 17-and-under doubles.

          Three-Wall 17-and-under singles.

          Three-Wall 19-and-under doubles.

          Four-Wall 19-and-under singles.

     So far this year Bastidas, at 18, has won the 21-and-under One-Wall singles Challenger’s Event in May, which puts even more icing on an amazing piece of cake.  While the number of his national titles is incredibly formidable, it remains not even half his story.  Amazingly he owns more than thirty first-place trophies for local and regional tournaments as well.  And this does not even include his fabulous record as a New York City High School player.  In May of 2008 he led Brooklyn’s Midwood High School to the PSAL Championship.“Tyree left his mark on the Public School Athletic League and the High School Spring Meet Championships by crushing the competition. said Paul Williams, founder and director of the Inner City Handball Association. Tyree is the leading player of the biggest junior handball surge in New York in recent memory.”

     Noted coach Mike Watson adds glitter to Williams’ words:  “Tyree Bastidas is the only U.S. player to have played 500 games by the age of 17.  Bastidas was able to achieve this remarkable milestone because of his unique handball skills in one-, three-, and four-wall.  Tyree’s 500 documented games have covered National Championships in the USA, Canada, and Europe, in USHA sponsored and sanctioned events only.”

     Al Apuzzi succinctly sums it up:  “Tyree Bastidas is the USHA’s all-time most prolific junior handball player.”  Moreover the USHA files show that Bastidas has won more junior National and World titles than anyone by the age of 17!

     Just reading his accomplishments is exhausting, so you have to wonder how a boy plays five hundred sanctioned games of handball by the age of 17, retains the skills level he possesses, and educates himself for a future beyond handball.  “I study between classes,” Bastidas said.  I do my homework nightly and check it over after it’s complete. I graduated from Midwood in January and I go to Kingsborough Community College now.  In two years I hope to be full time at Brooklyn College.  "I know that playing handball doesn’t provide a reliable source of income, so I’d like to teach  physical education .” How many teens  could Bastidas motivate by demonstrating his own skills and training techniques as a handball champ? 

     To attain his goals in handball, Tyree is well aware of the amount of practice he has to put in:  “I used to have time to play computer games once in a while, but I don’t do that much any more,"  I did find a piano room at school, and taught myself to play a song with both hands.  I’d like to take lessons some day.”  But that day may be a long time in coming.  Bastidas wants to be “the best handball player that ever lived,” and he has his eyes set on the USHA One-Wall Pro- Singles Championship this month.

     To be convinced he has some chance of being the 2009 singles champ, I needed to see him play.  But because he had come to Coney Island only for the interview, getting a match for him was unlikely.

     However, the opportunity to witness Bastidas’s talent materialized in the form of reigning National One-Wall Singles Champion Cesar Sala, who had strolled in.  The two decided to play singles, and I decided to prolong my time at Sea Breeze Park!  On realizing that I would be analyzing their styles, Sala jokingly declared that he would now need to show “all his stuff.” And Bastidas had to borrow gloves from Sala and eye guards from me.  Watching the teen warm up, it was impossible to determine that he was right-handed. He was swinging smoothly, and connecting with the ball with equal power with either hand.

     As the first game began, Bastidas clearly was the aggressor. but with plenty of firepower of his own, Sala tends to enjoy running and catching up to shots that seems irretrievable.  As he served, Bastidas' muscular triceps were obvious. His father said those muscles had been newly acquired, a result of weight training to increase his power.  Bastidas returned Sala’s serve with snapping drives with either hand, rather than defensive lofts.  His shot selection incorporated a combination of power passes, kills, and finesse placements.  His control was the best I have ever seen in so young a person.  His speed rivaled Sala’s,  Then again it was Bastidas who was chasing Sala around the court.  Sala barely scored in game one, but he made it more interesting in game two.  But that game also concluded with Bastidas achieving the necessary 21 points.  While I was leaving and they were preparing for a third game, I overheard Cesar questioning whether it matters if he won the third now that he had lost the first two.

     In Sala’s defense, he had begun the match by heavily taping a raw and bruised right hand. A couple of spectators pointed out to me that Sala had not played for nearly a month.  This, of course, makes a huge difference to a great player when up against a worthy opponent.

     This, in itself, says a lot. At 18, Bastidas is a worthy opponent for the current champion!  His skills compare well to the very best of those on top of today’s one-wall world. 

     Even during Tyree’s discussion of his handball heroes, one could perceive the thinking athlete in him. He said his favorite one-waller is Pee Wee Castro because of his overhand power serve, which pushes everybody back and opens the court for scores.  “If Pee Wee had a better left,” Bastidas speculated, “he’d beat everyone.”  Bastidas has that better left – much better.  [Vince]“Munoz is my favorite three-waller,” he went on, “because of where he places the ball.”  Bastidas' own placement was remarkable, intelligently selected and accurate.  “In four-wall,” Bastidas continued, [David] Chapman’s ceiling-front wall-floor shot pushes everyone back.  Unless you run in and spike it, you have to get pushed to the back wall.  He really limits your options.”  A similar technique was apparent in Bastidas' one-wall play.  He is indeed a thinking player whose execution has meaning.  “My favorite four-waller, though, is [Paul] Brady,” Bastidas said.  “He overwhelms you with power.”  Bastidas hits with power with both hands, though not yet with overwhelming power.  He varies his serves, most hit deep.  And not one of his serves bounces straight.  They all have that little “wrinkle” that annoys opponents.

     If Bastidas hopes to dethrone Sala to become the next one-wall singles champ, he will have his hands full.  In the Pro-Division he will not be meeting youthful opponents whom he holds to single digits.   The top men in today’s one-wall game are tournament hardened, used to dealing with the pressure that a great rival can apply in a close match.  Bastidas may have to pit his abilities against Joe Kaplan, John Wright, Willie Polonco, Satish Jagdadnan, Castro and a tournament ready Sala.  He will likely have to play two or even three of these championship-quality players to achieve his goal.

     Whatever happens at the Nationals, Bastidas will go on experiencing the joy of playing handball and competing at the highest level. His love of the game, as well as his talent, is easily evidenced in his body language and facial expressions as he pummels the ball and chases down his opponents’ best efforts to score.  “Handball should be in the Olympics,” Bastidas said, “not the three- or four-wall games because you can’t get enough spectators to see them, and they’re harder to film.  But one-wall should be in it – little ball more than big  because you can do more with the little ball – hooks, placement, kills.  First, though, you have to get some of the ‘street’ out of the players.”

     Bastidas' skills are currently being documented along with the skills of other great players of the day. "Handballers," produced by and directed by V.P. Pavarati is expected to be completed by Jan.1. The film unintentionally became centered on Bastidas. Pavarati says Bastidas is a truly humble person who simply wants to be, as he states in the film.The best handball player." Of the movie itself, its director adds: " Not since 'Hoop Dreams' has there been such an up-close-and-personal look at the life of a junior athete in any sport.....It tells the story of a boy becoming a man and the inevitable ups and downs one encounters as we travel through this life, how we learn"

Joe Durso, a great champion who had also been witnessing the history-making junior champion, said simply  “The kid is great, and he’s only going to get better.” At first I was taken aback at Bastidas' objective to win this year's One-Wall Pro Singles Championship. Now, having scrutinized his techniques and skills, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he achieves exactly that – perhaps, for many years to come.  Watson said it best:  “After training with Tyree during the first year, I came to realize I was training a talented young man, who wanted to excel in all forms of handball.  And after watching him play in one-, three-, and four-wall, I came to realize – Tyree is the future of handball.”

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