Athlete Minded Interviews USA National Team Athletes     

Sarah Gascon, Jence Rhoads and Ford Dyke discuss how they got introduced to handball

Sarah Gascon, Jence Rhoads and Ford Dyke discuss how they got introduced to handball

The Athlete Minded Podcast, hosted by Tyson Hartnett, recently interviewed Women’s National Team members Sarah Gascon and Jence Rhodes and Men’s National Team member Ford Dyke.  Each of the interviews in comic book parlance tells their origin story.  What sports they played when they were young and how they eventually transitioned into handball.

Athlete Minded Website:  Link

Sarah Gascon Interview:  Link

Jence Rhoads Interview:  Link

Ford Dyke Interview:  Link

 

Team Handball Reality TV Show in Development

HBO's Hard Knocks Reality TV Show takes a closer look at NFL training camps.  Could a Team Handball reality show soon do the same?

HBO’s Hard Knocks Reality TV Show takes a closer look at NFL training camps. Could a Team Handball reality show soon do the same?

The latest USA Team Handball Board of Director’s Meeting Minutes from December 12 of last year include a short paragraph regarding a reality TV show concept centered around team handball.  Below is the text of the minutes:

Reality Concept – Bob (Djokovich) reviewed his attached document which goes back 20 months when the organization was approached by directors about a Reality Show.  The goal is to find ex-Pro and D1 athletes who learn the sport, win the Pan Am Games and then go on to do well at the Olympics.  The directors contacted USATH again six months ago and NBC also approached us about a similar process.  Since Rio, we have connected the producers and have pitched to NBC Execs and have a soft go.  We are currently looking for sponsors with the goal of starting to shoot the show in the February/March timeframe.  They want to attend our current events.  The Board received the original slides, which now have been updated and capture more of the intent.  When IHF President, Hassan Moustafa was given a preview of the slide deck on the project, he wanted the directors to come to Paris to see the finals of the Men’s World Championships in late January in Paris at his expense.  We are moving cautiously to make this happen and the USOC is aware of this project.

An NBC Executive Producer did in fact attend the recent World Championships and efforts are ongoing to get formal NBC approval to proceed.  The timeline, however, has been moved back to starting this summer at the earliest.  And, as with most TV projects, a number of steps are involved between the development of a concept and it’s airing on TV.  But, make no mistake:  This is a real effort with a solid chance of eventually making it on TV.

Commentary:  I, for one, am skeptical as to whether this show could accomplish the stated goals of winning the PANAM Games and qualifying for the 2024 Olympics.  Brazil, in particular, would be a really tough foe to beat for a bunch of handball newbies, even if they are very athletically gifted.  That being said this reality show would surely be very entertaining to watch.  If they get some good athletes they might not be able to beat Brazil, but given some solid training for a month or two they could beat every club team in the U.S. and probably our current national team.  It would depend on the athletes participating and it would depend on how seriously they take their training.

Setting aside the practicality of the show’s premise the real story is the potential impact the show could have in terms of promotional value.  A television show about team handball in prime time on a major TV network!  We get excited every four years during the Olympics when handball is discovered by thousands of people on secondary TV channels at odd hours of the day.  This exposure would dwarf that Olympic exposure and if the show is a success ratings wise it could trigger a grass roots explosion.

USA Women Hold Training Camp in France

USA Women with French club, Grand Poiters 86

USA Women with French club, Grand Poiters 86

The USA Women recently held a training camp in France in preparation for this spring’s North American and Caribbean Championships.  The camp as based in Poiters, France where USA Women’s coach, Christian Latulippe coaches Grand Poiters 86 men’s team.  The attendees were a mix of veterans, newcomers, U.S. based players and European based players.

According to various social media and news reports the squad played four matches against club teams.

24 January; USA 32, Grand Poiters 86, 21 (Grand Poiters 86 has an 8-1-0 record and is the 1st place team in Pool 2 of N3F)

26 January; USA 28, Moncoutant 29 (Moncoutant has a 5-3-1 record and is 4th place in Pool 2 of N2F)

27 January; USA 19, HBC Celle-sur-Belles 39 (Cell-sur-Belle has a 0-9-1 record and is in last place in the LFH, France’s top pro league)

28 January; USA 20, Stella St Maur 32 (Stella St Maur has a 1-8-0 record and is in last place in D2F)

Short Tutorial on the French Club System Hierarchy

For some context on the level of competition Team USA faced here’s a short tutorial on the somewhat confusing French Club system hierarchy.  There are five nationwide levels of competition

  • Ligue Feminine de Handball (LFH): France’s top professional league consisting of 11 clubs
  • Pro 2: France’s 2nd professional league consisting of 12 clubs
  • NF1: 36 clubs playing in 3 pools
  • NF2: 48 clubs playing in 4 pools
  • NF3: 96 clubs playing in 8 pools

French Club Standings: Link

Clubs move up and down this hierarchical pyramid each season using a standard European promotion/relegation system.  In principle, this means that most of the clubs at each level are superior to the clubs below them.

Commentary:  One shouldn’t read too much into these lackluster results.  The USA women haven’t had any significant competition since the 2015 Pan American Championships and the majority of their players are no longer based in Auburn, so they haven’t even practiced/scrimmaged together in a long time.  The level of competition at NORCA is also probably significantly lower than the 2 pro teams that they faced.  That being said securing 1 of the 3 spots for this summer’s Pan American Championships won’t be a walk in the park.  Hosts Puerto Rico, Mexico, Greenland and the Dominican Republic all field sides that have a realistic chance of competing for the title.

USA’s Nico Mukendi Training with Spain’s #2 Club, Naturhouse La Rioja

Team USA's, Nico Mukendi, in action this past summer at the Pan American Championships in Argentina

Team USA’s, Nico Mukendi, in action this past summer at the Pan American Championships in Argentina

Team USA’s, Nico Mukendi is currently training in Spain with the professional club, Naturhouse La Rioja.  Naturhouse La Rioja, located in Logrono, is currently in 3rd place in Spain’s top professional league, the Liga Asobal and for the past few years has been considered the #2 club in Spain, behind perennial powerhouse FC Barcelona. La Rioja is also in 2nd place in Group C of the Champions League (Group’s C/D are a notch below the elite pro squads in Groups A and B.)

Mukendi, age 23, is a native of Hillsborough, NJ and has been with the Residency Program in Auburn since it was established in 2013.  He was identified in 2012 after he broke the record on a performance test conducted by Athletic Standard.  Since joining the program he has participated in several junior and senior national team competitions.  A back court player, he will be practicing with La Rioja informally for 3 days to help assess his development as a player.

Commentary:  This is a great development for USA Team Handball and hopefully he is just the first in a steady stream of players heading to Europe to be evaluated by top clubs.  More importantly, he is one of the few athletes that have joined the Residency Program straight out of high school.  This is important as it takes several years of training to develop technical handball skills and pro clubs are less interested in further developing athletes in their mid to late 20s.  More athletes with his combination of age/athletic ability are needed if the Residency Programs are ever to be successful.

Marca.com article (in Spanish): Link

Athletic Standard video on Mukendi: Link

Commentary on Handball Training Academies in Europe:  Link  (This commentary from 2014 includes a fake news story about Mukendi signing a professional contract in Denmark.)

EHF Magazine Features Brazilians in the Champions League

Brazil's 22 year old plays right back for Poland's Wisla Plock. 1 of 5 Brazilians featured in EHF Inside the Game feature.

Brazil’s Jose Toledo plays right back for Poland’s Wisla Plock. 1 of 5 Brazilians featured in EHF Inside the Game feature.

The European Handball Federation (EHF) weekly highlights show includes an “Inside the Game” segment which often includes behind the scenes interviews with players and coaches.  This past week’s segment focused on Brazilian handball players in the Champions League.  Currently, there are 5 Brazilians playing for Champions League Clubs.  They are:

  • Gabriel Jung, Barcelona, Right Back, 19
    Haniel Langaro, La Riolla (Logrono), Left Back, 21
    Jose Toledo, Plock, Right Back, 22
    Rogerio Ferreira, Vardar, Circle Runner, 22
    Thiagos dos Santos, Szeged, Left Back, 27

The video feature can be seen here: Link

Commentary: Four of those players are age 22 or younger and are playing and practicing with some of the top clubs in the world.  This is a testament to the grass roots programs that Brazil has established if they can develop talent that top clubs are willing to sign and further develop as players.

It will be very challenging for the U.S. to take athletes that are older than those players, that have barely played handball before, train them in the U.S. where there is not quality competition, and then beat Brazil in an Olympic qualification match.   And, trust me, “challenging” is a diplomatic choice of words.

All is not doom and gloom, however.  In the most recently posted USA Team Handball Board Meeting minutes it is noted that U.S. Men’s coach Javier Garcia would like to see the players do 1-2 years in Auburn and then head to Europe for competition.  And, that players need to improve in quality in order to facilitate their integration in teams overseas.

For me, this was a sign of a potential change in focus for the residency program at Auburn, away from National Team preparation and more towards athlete development.  Perhaps, not to dissimilar from my commentary two years ago suggesting that the national team residency program at Auburn be rebranded and as a development academy focused on younger athletes with greater potential.  The sooner we can get such a pipeline to Europe going the better our chances will be of competing against the likes of Brazil and Argentina.  Who knows?  Maybe, one day in the not too distant future we’ll see an “Inside the Game” feature on up and coming Americans playing on Champions League Clubs.

 

Podcast:  Redbirds Rising: Coach Ross Miner talks Illinois St Handball

Illinois State Redbirds after winning the 2016 Buckeye Classic.  Coach Ross Miner is in the back row at the far right.

Illinois State Redbirds after winning the 2016 Buckeye Classic. Coach Ross Miner is in the back row at the far right.

The Illinois St Redbirds won the Ohio State Buckeye Classic Tournament last weekend, their first ever major tournament title.  Coach Ross Miner talks about the tourney, the Team Handball Nation website, his experience at the Aarhus Academy and how he got into coaching.

And, what’s a podcast without a little controversy so we try to answer a couple of questions:

  • Is Illinois St is poised to crack into the top 3 hegemony (West Point, Air Force, North Carolina) that has dominated collegiate handball for the last 20 years? (I try to get a little bulletin board material)
  • Should the weekend tournament format for competition should be scrapped in favor of league play?

Some related links to topics discussed
Podcast on the Aarhus Academy: Link
The college handball club graveyard: Link

Sponsor of this week’s podcast:  Team Handball Nation:  “Your U.S. based source for balls, handball shoes and socks”: Link

If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

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Trump’s Victory and its Impact on Handball in the U.S.

makehandballgreatagain

How will the trump victory impact USA Team Handball?

I could be wrong, but I would guess that the somewhat insular Donald Trump is not familiar with the sport of Team Handball.  Perhaps his Slovenian wife has educated him, but more than likely the only handball this native New Yorker is familiar with is the wall version more commonly known in the U.S.  One might think, therefore, that the Trump Presidency will have no impact whatsoever on the sport in the U.S.

But, that neglects taking into account the role that a U.S. President has indirectly or directly in the upcoming IOC host city selection for the 2024 Olympics.  And, should Los Angeles become the host city for the 2024 Olympics, make no mistake, that would be a huge deal for USA Team Handball.  For starters, the U.S. would automatically qualify both its men’s and women’s team.  Overnight this reality would improve recruiting dramatically.  Exposure for the sport would increase and sponsors that wouldn’t give USA Team Handball the time of day before would suddenly be interested in contributing to the sport’s bottom line.  Effortlessly, handball would get a nice little boost.  And with a smart strategic plan the Olympics could even be the catalyst that transforms handball from an unknown oddity to the next lacrosse or rugby.  This series of commentaries provides a broad outline of what that strategy might look like: Link

All well and good, but does a Trump Presidency help or hurt the U.S. chances?  Well conventional wisdom is that it has to hurt.  Donald Trump was able to surprise the pundits and the pollsters by energizing rural America to turn out in greater numbers than anyone expected.  The “coastal elites” were shocked with the result.  The IOC election, however, will hinge around the opinions of around 95 IOC Board Members.  A board that is top heavy with Europeans who probably can be considered to be a lot more coastal elite than salt of the Earth Midwesterner in their outlook.

But, that’s conventional wisdom.  A number of pundits like Olympics commentator, Alan Abrahamson, are more optimistic.  Here are some of the reasons supporting the notion that it doesn’t matter who the President is:

  • It doesn’t matter who’s in charge of a particular country and some pretty autocratic nations have won Olympic host city elections recently.
  • Obama was well liked, but the U.S was still humiliated when its 2016 Chicago bid lost in the first round of voting in 2009.
  • IOC electors know that the U.S. could very well even have another President in charge by the time 2024 rolls around.
  • France has its own Presidential election coming up and Marine Le Pen, if elected, might be even more unpalatable to an IOC voter.
  • Trump, if he does play an active role in the bid, is a better schmoozer than people give him credit for.

Still, I for one, have a hard believing that the reality of Donald J. Trump, President of the United States won’t be an overall net effect in the hearts and minds of IOC voters.  Certainly, I don’t see him working the room and changing votes come next September in Lima, Peru the way that Tony Blair did in 2005 for the London 2012 vote.

Betting Markets

Aside from punditry, there is also the betting markets where people can put money down on which city will win.  This site currently lists the odds as:

Paris .62 to 1
LA 2.25 to 1
Budapest 4.5 to1

So, Paris is a better than even money favorite and L.A. is a more than 2-1.  Since the election the odds have shifted a bit in the favor of Paris, but they aren’t much different than they were before the election.  And, strikingly these odds are quite similar to the U.S. Presidential election odds, which suggested that Trump would win 1 out of 3 times.  Maybe lightning will strike twice.  Let’s make handball great again.

 

Additional articles on LA’s prospects in light of the Trump victory:

LA Times: Link
Sports Illustrated: Link

 

The International Handball Goalkeeper Camp: The Chance of a Lifetime for this American Goalkeeper

USA goalie Joey Williams with Hungary’s Roland Mikler, fellow camper, Alex Djurdjevic, and getting tips from Croatia’s Mirko Alilović

USA goalie Joey Williams with Hungary’s Roland Mikler, fellow camper, Alex Djurdjevic, and getting tips from Croatia’s Mirko Alilović

Joey Williams is a 20 year old goalkeeper from Farmington Hills, Michigan. He plays for the Hope College Team Handball club, and was a member of the U.S. Junior National Team for the 2015 Partille Cup in Sweden. Last summer he attended the International Handball Goalkeeper Camp in Croatia and the following is his account of his experience.

One of the many perks of handball is that it presents the opportunity to connect with new people and places through a shared love of the sport. As the level of competition increases, so do the opportunities to make lifelong memories and friendships. For an American goalkeeper, chances to get proper coaching and bonding time with fellow keepers are few and far between. However, for one week this past summer, I was able to both meet goalkeepers from across the globe and receive personalized coaching from some of the best goalkeepers and coaches on the planet. To any goalkeeper seeking to bring their game to world-class standards, I would recommend attending the 2017 International Handball Goalkeeper Camp in Split, Croatia.

Split, Croatia is somewhere I never imagined myself traveling to when I first started playing handball in 2012. I discovered the camp while scouring the internet for handball drills, and was at first hesitant to travel half-way across the world for a sport that my friends were convinced that I had made up. Further research into the camp’s coaching staff (which had included superstars like Thierry Omeyer, Mirko Alilovic, and Roland Mikler, to name a few) and the realization that time was ticking away at my dream of playing professional handball convinced me that I had no choice but to attend. After months of frugal saving and hernia-inducing lawn work, I was on my way.

My leap of faith had paid off immediately as I brushed shoulders with handball superstar Nikola Karabatic when I was picking up my bags at the Split airport (a complete coincidence considering he was not affiliated with the camp, but I took it as a blessing from the handball gods nonetheless). From there, the sense of awe and wonder only continued. My driver happened to be German national who played professional American football in Germany (ironic,right?). It was difficult for me to chat about football or handball though, because I was busy picking my jaw up from the ground as I gazed at the scenery on either side of the road. To our right were striking mountains that provided a geographic backdrop to the city of Split, while to our left was the stunning blue of the Adriatic Sea. When I arrived for the opening meeting I was greeted by a round of applause from about 100 parents, campers, and coaches as handball goalkeeper guru Vanja Radic pointed me out as being the first American to attend the camp (and probably the first American handball player many of them had ever seen in person up to that point). Although being the lone American did little to help my handball skills, it did provide me with some humility that comes from both being a newcomer to the game and a representative of my country. Not to mention a level of gratitude that came from finally being immersed in the world of handball goalkeeping.  

The week was filled with sweat, memories, and more sweat. We had 2 training sessions a day with different coaches and a new emphasis at each session. The coaching staff included a variety of legendary coaches and players. Coaches Haris Porobic (KC Veszprem), Vladimir Vujovic (Croatian National Team),Vlatko Đonovic (Buducnost), and many others led practices and provided input and guidance for campers. Roland Mikler (KC Veszprem), Jelena Grubisic (Bucharesti), and Mirko Alilovic (KC Veszprem) both demonstrated drills and offered feedback to players. Some of the world’s finest young goalkeepers were in the mix among the campers. Egypt’s junior national team goalkeeper, a former Mauritius national team keeper, and an 18-year Serbian who rose through the ranks of Veszprem to be on the first team behind Mikler and Alilovic, were in attendance. Campers and coaches alike were able to bond during the 2 hour training sessions as well as during a half day boating excursion to a few of Croatia’s thousands of islands.

In addition to physical development, the camp offered a unique opportunity for both mental and social growth. Karina Aas, a sports psychologist for several Norwegian national teams, lectured on ways to increase mental toughness and resilience in both goalkeeping and life. I gained a lot of confidence and perspective from these sessions and they were definitely a highlight for me. Socially,  I was able to make friends with people from all over the world, from Scandinavia to Egypt. My friends Eske, Alex, Ludwig, Lovro, Sindre, and Magnus immediately took me in as one of their own both on and off the court. Their patience, kindness, and knowledge of the sport made my time in Croatia exponentially more memorable and fun.

In addition to creating new friends, this camp created an opportunity to expand my handball network, which is essential for anyone aspiring to play handball in Europe. The connections I made both personally and professionally, in addition to the experience and expertise I gained, made attending the 2016 International Handball Goalkeeper camp an incredible investment. To any handball goalkeepers seeking to take the next step in their development, make plans to attend the 2017 International Handball Goalkeeper Camp. I’ll see you there.

International Handball Goalkeeper Camp website: Link 

For information or questions, please email me: 14williamsj@gmail.com

Podcast:  Craig Rot Talks Youth Development in the U.S.

USA and Alberta Youth Teams at recent XPS Network North American Cup. Coach Rot is on the far right.

USA and Alberta Youth Teams at recent XPS Network North American Cup. Coach Rot is on the far right.

For the past 7 years Craig Rot has been at the forefront of youth development in the U.S., first in Minnesota and now in the Chicago area.  In this wide ranging podcast we discuss his efforts to introduce handball in schools and his after school program which is starting to produce more technically sound players.  Players that are playing key roles on youth national teams that Rot has coached at the Partille Cup, IHF Challenge Tournaments and most recently a 3 game series vs Alberta.

And, what’s a podcast without a little controversy so we debate the following topics:

  • The pros/cons of focusing on lateral growth to expose the sport at a top level to as many athletes as possible vs more in depth training on a select group
  • The challenge of getting “elite” athletes to play handball vice a more established sport
  • The pros/cons of dual citizen athletes playing on USA youth teams

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USA Beach Handball Men’s National Team vs Brazil

USA and Brazil in action this past weekend.

USA and Brazil in action.

This past weekend the U.S. Beach Handball Men’s National Team traveled to Niterói, Brazil (near Rio de Janeiro) to take on the Brazilian National Team in a couple friendly matches to celebrate Brazil’s first world title in Beach Handball in 2006. The U.S. lost an informal match Saturday 2 sets to 0, and an official match on Sunday, also 2 sets to 0. The score of the first set was 22-16 and the second set was 28-11.

The U.S. roster consisted of Darryl Yarbrough, Ebiye Udo-Udoma, Taylor Lapin, Kenneth McKagan, Bill Bigham, Matt Singletary, Bryan Cook, Ethan Pickett and Michael Hinson. Singletary, Cook, Pickett and Hinson each made their international debut as players. Brazil is a world power in beach handball, placing 2nd at the 2016 World Championships after winning the title in 2006, 2010, 2012 and 2014.

The Sunday match was broadcast on Brazilian TV and when video is made available we will add a link to it.

Podcast: A Discussion on Handball in California and Argentina

femebal

Femebal: The regional federation centered around Buenos Aires has been the developmental force behind Argentina’s rise in the handball world

Cal Heat’s Martin Bilello and I discuss the state of handball in California and why there’s only been 2 major clubs there for several years.  In this free flowing conversation Martin also explains how handball is organized in Argentina and what the U.S. might learn from successful development programs there.

Femebal Website: Link

 

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Podcast: High School Handball in the Bay Area

The Lycée Français de San Francisco and Sterne School exchange high fives after the first every High School Handball match in California. The Lycee de Francais won the historic affair 19-17.

The Lycée Français de San Francisco and the Sterne School exchange high fives after the first every High School Handball match in California. The Lycee de Francais won the historic affair 19-17.

It’s not every day that U.S. high schools compete against each other in handball.  Outside of a league in Montgomery County Maryland this is the only other league that I’m aware of.  To find out more, I interviewed Martin Bilello to discuss how Cal Heat has been developing youth Team Handball in the bay area and worked with 4 high schools to establish the new league.

Cal Heat Website article: Link

Youth League Website: Link

Need balls, socks or shoes?  Check out the sponsor of this Podcast:  Team Handball Nation

 

Flashback Friday: A look back at past USA Team Handball meetings and some optimism going forward

club-symposium

Yes, We’ve been here before… As USA Team Handball gears up for what has unintentionally become a quadrennial meeting to discuss the state of handball in the U.S. here’s a bit of history regarding the past two meetings. And, a bit of sunshine optimism going forward.

USA Team Handball is holding a Club Symposium next weekend “to share the vision and programs being planned and for clubs to know that they are the pillars of the organization and your input is most valued in this planning process.”

Meetings similar to this were held in 2008 and 2012.  In June 2008, Dieter Esch hosted a Team Handball Summit meeting in St Louis which was essentially an open forum opportunity to educate him and newly hired General Manager, Steve Pastorino on issues related to handball in the U.S.  I attended and here’s my summary of that meeting: Link

The meeting was a positive sharing of information and I was optimistic about the future.  Alas, 3.5 years later both Esch and Pastorino were gone: Link

Jeff Utz replaced Dieter Esch as Board President and Dave Gascon took the reins as the interim General Manager. Working with the USOC they held a Strategic Planning Meeting in April 2012.  This meeting included a professional facilitator and was designed to be the kick off for the development of a comprehensive strategic plan for the organization.  There was lots of good discussion at the meeting and in my podcast interview Jeff Utz discussed the major focus areas for follow on work: Financial Stability, “Pipeline” Athlete Development, Promotion/Marketing and Governance/Management Structure. (This podcast interview is available for download  at the top of this post) These areas were later expanded to the following committees:  Link

Again, I was optimistic about the future of the sport in this country as USA Team Handball was finally beginning to think strategically about its future.  But, as I’ve pointed out before this effort never continued.  The committees were not empowered to do anything and were simply told to submit their brainstorming ideas to the Board of Directors.  In 2013, most of the committees were quietly removed from the federation website as if the strategic planning meeting had never occurred.  (For some reason, promotion/marketing and fundraising are still identified even though the individuals listed haven’t been involved with the sport for a couple of years.) For sure, no strategic plan was ever written.  My overall thoughts are summed up here: Link

And, so now we come to 2016 with a new meeting and new opportunities to move the sport forward in this country.  I know I come off as a real pessimist sometimes.  (Hey, if you attended both of those previous meetings and saw the outcome you likely would be too.)

But, it’s time yet again for a little optimism.  USA Team Handball’s new leadership, Board President, Dr Harvey Schiller and CEO, Mike Cavanaugh have now had a few years to take stock of the current state of affairs.  The Olympics have recently provided some added buzz to the sport.  There’s a solid possibility of a 2024 Olympics in L.A.  And, if not 2024, then surely 2028 is in the cards.  Some solid youth programs have been established in Chicago and other locales. Our Men’s Beach Handball team won a Pan American Championship and played in a World Championship.  Maybe there’s even a good TV deal on the horizon.  All these developments and possibilities could lead to what I think is an inevitable tipping point for handball in this country.  A tipping point by which the sport moves from quadrennial, marginal niche sport to a solid niche sport with a significant fan and player base.

I hope to be a part of the planning that speeds up the timetable for that inevitable tipping point.  Yes, time for a little optimism.