Legal (and rewarding) border crossings

These days, when border security and migration are hot political topics in the U.S., and pros and cons of the trade agreements with Canada and Mexico remain a matter of debate, it is reassuring to observe that in the world of handball there is still room for a friendly and undisputed interchange across our northern and southern borders!

As John noted in his posting from the U.S. Nationals yesterday, a team from Houston was totally dominant on the women’s side, but the remarkable discovery was that they were really a team consisting of Mexicans; no, not ‘guest workers’ in the traditions of Texas, but very temporary guests from Monterrey and other areas close to the border. Monterrey has been one of the prime locations for handball in Mexico in recent years, and it has been a natural thing for them to collaborate with the handball folks in Houston who are also a bit isolated from the nearest handball ‘hot spots’ within the U.S. And this time they took the step of providing an entire team to fly the colors of the Houston Firehawks, fully in accordance with the regulations for the U.S. Nationals. (And, yes, they do have visas for the U.S…. this is what made the entire endeavor feasible!)

Some observers noted that Mexico had qualified as a substitute team for the ‘under-21’ World Championship later this year, so there was some speculation about a connection with the team representing Houston, especially as the team seemed to be very well prepared and cohesive. However, there is no such connection, and the team has to cover its own expenses, as there is no specific support from the Mexican Federation; of course, this does not mean that the Federation is not proud to have one of its teams do so well north of the border. It also appears that the star of the team, who was voted MVP at the U.S. Nationals, is currently playing for a Spanish club.

Then we move to the Canadian side of the border. This year, the Canadian and the U.S. Nationals took place during the same weekend. The Canadian event was held in Edmonton, Alberta. Although the Canadian Championship is based on a competition among teams representing the respective provinces, the Canadians still see it as an ‘open’ event, where teams from the U.S. are welcome to participate. Such cross-border participation might not have seemed natural this year, precisely as the two Nationals coincided, but one of the traditionally strongest U.S. club teams, Condors, was in Edmonton nevertheless.

The Condors had committed to the Canadian event long before the U.S. Nationals were moved from its tentative date in July to this past weekend. Moreover, it seems that the Condors had some scheduling conflict for the tournament where they would have needed to qualify for the ‘Elite’ division. In any case, the Condors became a very popular participant in Canada, especially due to the spectacular play of up-and-coming star Gary Hines and the veteran star Darrick Heath, still showing some of his patented moves. In the end, however, the Condors ran out of steam a bit, drawing on only one goalkeeper and seven court players. They qualified for the bronze medal game but lost. The medal winners on the men’s side were: Alberta, Quebec, and Manitoba.

During the Championship weekend, the Canadians also held their election congress. After about eight years as President, Ward Hrabi was ousted. (My interview with Ward from a few months ago can be found here: ) It seems likely that inter-province politics played a role. Ward has always been a ‘straight shooter’, standing up for sound principles and strong beliefs. This was often particularly obvious when he was ready to take on the Pan American federation establishment, on occasions when the South Americans were all too ready to run roughshod over the legitimate interests of the North Americans. He has always been a strong proponent of U.S.-Canadian collaboration and interchange. So also in USA Handball there are reasons to be grateful to Ward for his efforts over many years. I bet he will not quit as referee, so perhaps we will he see him in that capacity at the 2011 U.S. Nationals!? We wish him well, and the same goes for his successor, Rick Ryll from Alberta.