USA Team Handball Summit (My Personal Notes)

Here are some highlights from the recent summit meeting in St Louis from my perspective. As my notes aren’t official and will contain some commentary they should not be considered the official word. The new USA Team Handball Federation has indicated that they will be publishing official minutes of the meeting.

[b]Ground Rules and Expectations: [/b] Dieter Esch highlighted that there would be no major Board decisions at the meeting and that the focus would be for everyone to have a clear cut understanding of the Federation’s goals going forward. Past events would be discussed only in the context of learning for the future.

[b]US Team Handball Mission Statement:[/b] It was agreed that a good, clear cut mission statement was needed. A mission statement which emphasized development of the sport, but also included a reference to winning medals in International competition was discussed. The text of the proposed mission statement should be in the minutes.

Realistic long term goals for USA Handball were discussed. Qualifying for the 2012 Olympics was viewed as an unlikely prospect and qualifying (if Chicago is not selected to host) for 2016 was viewed as challenging, but feasible. Teams would also be competitive, but long shots to medal. It was also assessed that it would likely be easier for a Women’s team to be competitive.

[b]New Federation Organization and Structure: [/b]

[b]National Board:[/b] The board will consist of 9 members. 7 board members of the board will have business backgrounds and will contribute $50,000 to the Federation. 5 of those 7 board members have been identified (3 were in attendance, Dieter Esch, Brad Krassner and William O’Brien). The remaining 2 board members will be athletes.

[b]National Staff:[/b] At different points in the meeting National Staff positions were discussed. Steve Pastorino, who has 16 years of sports management experience with minor league baseball and the Major Soccer League (MLS) has already been hired as the General Manager. Other positions that were mentioned were a deputy position focused on working with the Regional Directors/Coaches(technical directors), a Women’s National Team Manager and a Men’s National Team Manager.

[b]Regional Boards:[/b] There will be 5 regional boards and they will be charged with the developing the sport in their region. These boards will have 7 members. 2 members will have business backgrounds and will contribute $30,000 each. The other 5 members will have handball experience.

[b]Regional Staffs:[/b] Each region will also have two full time staff members, a regional director and a coach/technical director. Several potential candidates were identified and the Federation committed to advertise openly for these positions.

[b]Comment: [/b]I’m a little skeptical about the regional boards/staffs as handball is not very well developed in these regions and the hired personnel will have to spend a considerable amount of time traveling in order to promote the sport and do their job right. With these salaries and travel costs, I’m skeptical that the income will match the expenses to fully sustain 5 regional boards. Just my opinion and I will certainly be happy if I’m proven wrong.

[b]Clubs:[/b] The attendees discussed the desired structure for clubs in the USA. It was noted that clubs should have an organizational structure, 501 (c) status, a certified coach, paid up dues. Additionally, to be recognized by the Federation the club would be required to play in 2 sanctioned events each year. Finally it was desired that the clubs field both Men’s and Women’s team as well as junior and youth teams.

There was also substantial discussion on whether there should be both club and individual dues. In principle, it was agreed that all club members should also pay individual dues.

[b]Grassroots development: [/b] The main focal point for grassroots development in the regions will be each region’s coach/technical director. It was agreed that more referee training was also needed and that any USA refs that were IHF certified would be expected to support referee development on the local level.

[b]National Teams[/b]

Mr Esch noted that the current state of the USA national teams was somewhat fragmented and can‘t be fixed overnight. The new Federation will consider the establishment of National Team Center, similar to the program that was at Cortland, NY and the Atlanta DITC. The current Federation funding priorities, however, would require potential training sites to contribute substantial funding. It was noted that Delaware has expressed interest and that Penn St was also a possibility. Dennis Berkholtz suggested that Chicago as an Olympic bid city should also be considered

[b]Women’s National Team: [/b] In the near term the USA Women are eligible to compete in the PATHF Div 1 Championship, 25-29 November in Monterrey, Mexico. The top two teams from this event will then qualify for the Women’s PATHF Championship in Spring 2009. The top 3 from the PATHF Championship will then qualify for the 2011 World Championships. Mr Esch indicated that the NGB did not plan to fund participation for the upcoming tournament in Mexico, but that he would support self funding if the players were able to organize a team for participation.

[b]Men’s National Team:[/b] The next scheduled qualifying event for the Men will be the Div 1 Championship in November 2009. If the Men place 1st or 2nd they would then qualify for the PATHF Championship in Summer 2010, which in turn will serve as qualification for the World Championships in 2011. As there are 16 months to prepare for the Division 1 championship, the Federation tentatively plans to participate and will also consider bidding to host the tournament in the USA.

[b]Commentary: [/b]It's never easy to make decisions which weigh spending money now on National Teams vs spending on development, especially when you consider the players that get short changed. I don't much like the fact that the USA is not competing next week in Brazil and that the Women won't be fully funded for Mexico later this year. I also understand, however, that this is a situation that the new Federation has inherited. And I take comfort with the statement that Mr Esch made concerning that in the future the Federation will have no one to point the finger to, but ourselves.

[b]USA Team Handball Foundation: [/b] Foundation Board Member, Mark Noble, briefed the status of the USA Team Handball Foundation. The Foundation is an independent organization totally separate from the Handball Federation and was established from profits made during the 1984 Olympic Games. Depending on yearly income the Foundation has between $0 and $35,000 that it can award in grants. In the past requests have been funneled through the Federation. Board Members include Rick Hurst (Chair), Cathy Dean, Rod Oshita, Tom Fitzgerald and Mark Noble.

[b]Commentary: [/b] I made the point that while I personally know most of the members on the Foundation Board and trust that they are fairly awarding the funding, more transparency would help avoid any misperceptions that others might have. I’ve offered to help set up a very simple website that explains what the Foundation’s mission is and how individuals can apply for grants.

[b]Marketing, Promotion, Fundraising and Communication: [/b] It was agreed that the Federation should get their website up and running as soon as possible. Substantial discussion also took place regarding the importance of getting Handball matches on TV. Mr. Esch indicated that the Federation would take an active role in trying to make handball on TV a reality in the USA. Dawn Lewis, who will be providing commentary for NBC during the Olympics provided a top level overview of NBC’s broadcasting plans. The total number of games that will be televised has not been finalized, but Handball fans should be pleased with the expanded offerings that will likely be provided.

[b]Professional Handball:[/b] Dennis Berkholtz gave a top level overview of the planned Professional League he is trying to establish in the USA. More details will be provided at a later date.

[b]Commentary:[/b] I have been pretty skeptical about whether the USA is ready for a Professional League: After hearing more detail from Dennis at the meeting, however, I’ve turned down my skepticism a notch or two. There’s still a lot of hurdles for sure, but as constructed this league just might be doable.

[b]USA – Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) Relations:[/b] Dennis Berkholtz, VP North America for the PATHF, brief the status of the USA’s relations with the PATHF and indicated that after 8 years he would like to see someone else take his role. Mr. Esch indicated that he will represent the USA at the next meeting. Steve Pastorino, who is fluent in Spanish, will also attend and act as translator.

[b]Interaction with USOC:[/b] It was noted that the new Federation has established a good working relationship with the USOC and had met with them recently for two full days in Colorado Springs. Additionally, the USOC was represented at the meeting by Steve Powderly, who works for Jay Warwick.

[b]Leagues and Competition: [/b] The need to eventually move to a National Championship Tournament with fewer teams and fewer games was discussed. It was agreed that implementing such a tournament for Spring 2009 might be too soon. Tentatively an open championship, similar to previous Championships is planned for the April/May timeframe. The results of this tournament might be used to establish participants for regional competition for the 2009-10 season and to establish regional seeding and wild card seeds for an 8 team National Championship in Spring 2010.

[b]Commentary: [/b] I’ve been a big advocate for revamping the weekend tournament structure the USA has been using for many years. Additionally, one of the few bright spots of the previous administration was the competition rule book that proposes a similar concept.

[b]Final Thoughts:[/b] Mr. Esch thanked everyone for attending and asked that they spread the good word that USA Team Handball was back.

[b]Commentary: [/b] There weren’t a whole lot of decisions made at the meeting, but that wasn’t the point of the meeting. There was, however, a lot of constructive dialogue and I think that just about everyone there walked away with a sense of purpose to move this sport forward in the USA. Additionally, those new to Handball in attendance got a fire hose education on many aspects of the sport‘s needs in the USA and I think that will serve the new Board well. If they didn’t know it before, they know now that it won’t be easy to move handball from an obscure sport to a well recognized sport with quality National Teams and it certainly won’t be done overnight. On the flip side, while others (myself included) might be a little skeptical of the newcomers, I’m clearly impressed with their commitment (financial and time wise) to a sport that they’ve only been recently introduced to. Time will tell if the new Federation will find success where others have failed, but this observer is optimistic.