This weekend several hundred Army cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY will travel to the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, CO for the annual Army – Air Force football game. American Football, however, is not the only sport that will be contested this weekend as the Army and Air Force will also battle it out for Service Academy Team Handball bragging rights.
And it may seem like hyperbole, but this is also the longest and most storied Team Handball rivalry in USA collegiate and arguably club history as well. For at least 25 years (I know, I was there in 1986) and surely longer the two schools have been playing each other on a regular basis. They’ve also been the two most consistently successful collegiate programs producing several Olympian and National Team players. And while I will begrudgingly admit the rivalry has largely been one sided in favor of Army, I think it’s safe to say that both sides get fired up for the match against their fellow service academy.
But, now it’s time to get around to the title of this commentary: Why is this rivalry just an Army – Air Force affair. Where is the Naval Academy Team Handball Club? For the record, this is not a new question. I first asked the question a quarter century ago. While living in DC a decade ago I made some phone calls to Annapolis, but meant resistance from the intramural leadership there. Then out of the blue a couple of years later I got an email from someone at the Naval Academy looking for some advice on where to buy some handballs. Yes, believe it or not they were starting an intramural program.
At that point I figured it was only a matter of time before a bunch of like minded midshipmen would start a club. After all, that’s how I got introduced to the sport. If you’ve got 500 or so Midshipmen taking up the game in intramurals there’s got to be at least 10 or so who fall in love with the game. And when those 10 guys find out that AF and Army duke it out every year there going to want a piece of the action. And for a year or two in the early 2000’s Navy did have a new club, but for whatever reason the club never got traction and faded away.
In a sense, the failure for a quality club to get started at Annapolis is a perfect example of the struggles this sport faces in the U.S. In theory, this should be the easiest college in the country to start a club. Here’s why:
Existing model/rivalries: There are differences between the 3 service academies, but there are probably not three institutions of higher learning with more in common in terms of structure and organization. The rivalry goes without saying.
An existing intramural program: It’s probably not an exaggeration to state that there are probably more people playing Team Handball at Annapolis than just about anywhere else in the country (excepting, of course, Army and Air Force). Contrast that to the challenge of starting a club program where you have to first explain the sport to people.
A perfect location: There’s one other college besides AF and Army with a pretty well established collegiate program: North Carolina. And Annapolis just happens to be about halfway between UNC and Army. Navy could easily drive to matches between the two existing major programs on the East Coast. Additionally, there is a relatively new club, the DC Diplomats only 40 minutes away. Clubs in Seattle, Minneapolis, Phoenix and other locales can only dream of such convenience
Folks willing to help: It goes without saying that Army and Air Force would bend over backwards to help start a program at Annapolis. In fact, efforts have been made in the past. The DC Diplomats would also love to have a nearby foe. The USA Federation would also surely step in, simply based on the wealth of national team athletes that Army and Air Force have provided.
The wonders of Google and a challenge
Finally, the ulterior motive behind this posting, in particular the title, is that it’s only a matter of time before some Midshipmen looks into Naval Academy Team Handball and stumbles upon this webpage. (There’s a good chance: type in Bernd Wulffen into Google and see what comes up.) And should that happen, Midshipmen X, please drop me a line at email@example.com. We’ll help you get your team started so that one day Navy makes it a 3 way battle.
Naval Academy summary of NCAA, club and intramural sports: http://www.usna.edu/admissions/athletics.htm
THN (3 May 2011): Commentary: USA Team Handball National Teams: Are there too many guys with short haircuts and accents? (Part 1: Military Athletes): http://teamhandballnews.com/2011/05/commentary-usa-team-handball-national-teams-are-there-too-many-guys-with-short-haircuts-and-accents-part-1-military-athletes/