It is ironic, for those who know me, that the first published interview, out of the four I conducted at the Delaware Nationals, would be the only written one. I am making light of my constant inability to find the free time necessary to edit the audio interviews and to upload them on THN.
It was that same "lack of time" that prevented me from doing an audio interview with Coach Mariusz. Throughout the Delaware Nationals he was everywhere and I mean that. Managing and coaching ONE team, isn't easy. Try three! As mentioned on my brief Nationals blog entry, Coach Mariusz, whose trademark serious demeanor comes across as refreshing, had a lot to smile about at the 2007 Nationals awards ceremony. All three of his Chicago teams won a medal. He and his players were without a doubt the revelation of this year's Nationals.
So. What better person to interview than Coach Wartalowicz?
Bogdan Pasat: "Given the immense success of your club and in such a short period of time, I naturally have to ask you about your background. Who are you, where you come from and most importantly, where are you going."
Coach Mariusz: "My name is Mariusz Wartalowicz and I am the Head Coach and General Manager for Chicago Inter Handball Club. I am Polish and have been in the USA since 1989. Back in my homeland I used to play handball in Polish Men’s Premiere League and coached number of junior, military, and collegiate handball teams. I hold two Master Degrees, first in Physical Education and second in Sport Science along with handball master coaching certification. Since my arrival in the US in 1989, I have been involved in developing and promoting handball in the Chicagoland. Also, between 1999 and 2001, I did coach the Men’s National Team, first as the assistant coach and later as the head coach for 2001 Men’s World Championships in France. In 2001, I was appointed to the Board of Directors of the USATHF to lead the Coaching and Methods Committee but had to resign from it due to health problems.
Chicago Inter Handball Club was formed in 2005 in place of Cracovia Chicago THC that was active handball organization within USA Team Handball Federation between 1991 and 2001. Cracovia’s biggest success happened in 1997 in Orlando, when we captured bronze medal in the Men’s Elite Division. In the past most our players used to be Polish and that was the reason for the name. Yet, after 4 years of ceased operations (2001-2005) due to organizational and logistic problems, our demographic changed and we decided to rename the club. Currently our members, both men and women, come from 15 different countries from four continents. Our adult membership stands presently at 60 and counting.
2007 Nationals turned to be very successful for our club from the final standings point of view. Of course we are most pleased with our women’s team Championship title in its first ever competitive appearance. But both men’s team also did well. Men’s Elite team advanced from last year’s 5th place to 3rd this year. Men’s Division 1 team won all 7 games, won the gold medal, and advanced to the Elite Division. These are significant accomplishments but we are not done yet. During the tournament, we had noticed already some shortcomings both on sport and organizational level that we will diligently work on to eliminate and/or improve on to become a dominant handball organization in years to come. Our club’s goals reach far beyond winning the USA Championships."
Bogdan Pasat: "You brought up Chicago Inter! Who are the faces behind this club?"
Coach Mariusz: "Most of our adult players started to play handball as young children. Some had very successful semi and professional handball careers while others competed on high school and collegiate level only. Yet, all share several of the same attributes such as love for handball, intrinsic motivation, dedication to self-improvement, professionalism, focus, empathy for each other and unselfishness. They are truly unique, diverse and a pleasure to work with, bunch."
Bogdan Pasat: "You mentioned that most of your current players and club members had prior semi and pro handball careers. What do you say to those who frown at your achievements and claim that you are not developing this sport but simply taking former experienced players and winning tournaments with them?"
Coach Mariusz: "As far as I know, our club is the only one in the country that besides adult members has the junior divisions under the same umbrella. We do have more than 20 high school athletes and over 60 middle school players (boys) who regularly practice and learn the game of handball.
We are in the process of establishing a collegiate program at Northwestern University/University of Illinois in Chicago to finish creating the developmental pipeline from novice school age students to advanced adult players. We believe that our European players do and will in the future play very important roles for our programs in the region. They are and will continue to serve as ambassadors of handball in their workplace and civic/religious communities, coach a new wave of inspiring young athletes, referee the games, take on progressively more important roles within our organization, etc. Also, starting this fall, we are planning on starting the girl’s junior program. We do not have time for rhetoric. We are too busy leading by example and leave frowning, complaining, criticizing, backstabbing for our adversaries."
Bogdan Pasat: "So, as a veteran former player, current coach and general manager, what is your opinion about why this great olympic sport remains stagnant and is on course to become extinct here in the US?"
Coach Mariusz: "With handball being stagnant for so many years and free falling into the abyss of extinction, you asked a very important question and an equally difficult one to answer!
I believe that we can’t ignore the USOC’s incompetence in managing the Women’s and Men’s National Teams’ operations but at the same time all our efforts and energy ought to be put into rebuilding the National Governing Body, becoming self-funded, self-managed, and independent handball entity within the USOC’s family of Olympic sports.
The USA Team Handball has been decertified for over 14 months now and the sport continues to be fatally wounded, slowly bleeding to death. Handball’s dire situation in the country is the USOC’s least urgent problem. It will do for handball whatever minimum it is required to do by the federal law and nothing more. Mike Cavanaugh, who served in the past as the Executive Director of the former USTHF, is employed now by the USOC as the High Performance Manager for Team Handball. He will only maintain status quo. His superior, Jay Warwick manages 5 or more other sports for the USOC and will not lead us to medals on the international scene or make handball more popular among youth. In all honesty, promoting and developing handball, or any other sport for that matter, is not in the USOC’s job description. We, the people who care about handball’s future, must take on the leadership role and show the way out of the impasse.
However, we have to be very careful not to let the same individuals who repeatedly compromised the well being of handball for private agendas sneak into power again and ruin unprecedented chance to put past behind and start over. For example, during the ill advertised, poorly run, and minimally attended Town Hall meeting, that took place last weekend in Delaware during Nationals, we did learn from Mike Cavanaugh that one unidentified group has already applied to the USOC to be recognized as the NGB?!
According to my sources, this group includes among other “old timers” Mr. Dennis Berkholtz who again is trying to steal the show. Interestingly enough, Mr. Cavanaugh, who admitted to fail to communicate with whatever disfranchised membership there is out there in the last 14 months, could not explain how come this group has been already involved in discussion with the USOC. A far as I know, the USOC has not changed its position, at least officially, of not even entertaining idea of accepting any proposals to recreate the NGB. One can only wonder if it has been done purposefully so quiet to give the “preferred” group the unmatchable handicap."
Bogdan Pasat: " Believe it or not, you are not the only one who feels this way. Some of the players and coaches with whom I spoke last weekend, felt very much the same way. I, for one, dislike those who complain, so let me turn the tables on you, if I may. WHAT would you do, if given the opportunity, in order to turn this sport around, here in the US and A? :)"
Coach Mariusz: "It happens that since last June I have been involved in and coordinating efforts of still informal but dedicated, passionate, and visionary initiative group that has set the goal of building new Team Handball NGB. Our members are both private citizens across the country and/or manage both privately owned and publicly traded USA corporations. We have been using the “Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Act” as the primary guide for our preliminary, exploratory studies and formal actions and believe that we already met several eligibility requirements specified in the Stevens Act. Our focus from day one has been threefold. First, we have set to find the right people (experts in their respective fields) who in turn will develop ideas and plans for better future. Second, our plans are to utilize effectively and efficiently the existing infrastructure, good working models (selected clubs’ structure, coaching/refereeing education, fundraising, marketing, etc.) as well as all other programs, resources that we might inherit in the process. Third, we go very aggressively after securing adequate funding, year in and year out, for those plans. One of our members called it liberation from begging for pennies and mercy of others. Of course obtaining and sustaining financial independence will be the most challenging task in the long haul. Understanding the obstacle(s) considering current status of handball, one of the first things we did was to create a separate Marketing and Finance Department. Within just several months we were able to line up several serious investors, donors, sponsors, partners in several key areas. We hoped to continue our “unofficial” work a bit longer but in light of the recent Town Hall Meeting in Delaware, we decided to accelerate our efforts and officially apply to the USOC for the NGB status in the next several months. From get go we are prepared for the dog fight as people who are working behind the scenes and are responsible for bringing the sport to the pariahs echelons will just not let go. Even if it takes years to lead by example and be recognized as the NGB, we will continue our work as the independent and alternative organization to the one put in place by the USOC. Olympic wrestling went that route many years ago and look at their sport today.
Our resolve is very strong and we believe that ultimately and despite all difficulties, we will prevail. Our mission and vision is inclusive of all individuals who truly put well being of handball first. Therefore, we would like to use this forum to invite any and all handball enthusiasts to join our cause. If interested, please contact me directly through email at email@example.com."
Bogdan Pasat: "Coach, I want to thank you for taking the time and for expressing yourself in such a clear and concise way. I think you and your players are an asset to this great sport. I wish you the best of luck and lots of patience. You will indeed find yourself in a full blown dogfight. It will not be easy but nothing is. I do believe that you have the support of many fellow handball players, coaches and clubs. It will be interesting to see how everyone will understand and interpret what is about to happen. Once again, thank you and good luck."
Coach Mariusz: "It was my pleasure, Bogdan. Keep up the good work both in Houston and with THN."