Interview: USA Team Handball General Manager, Steve Pastorino: Part 3: College Programs and Club Issues

In part 3 of our interview, we discuss college programs and club issues in the U.S.

[b]College Programs[/b]

JR: What’s the USATH plan for college programs?

SP: We work with interested college students, club sports organizers, athletic departments, etc. On a case-by-case basis, we are trying to build programs. We try to identify an advocate everywhere we go. Success stories include: Texas A&M, Ohio State, Florida Atlantic, Oregon State, Gallaudet, Cal Lutheran – all of which participated in events last year. This coming year we are working with many schools including: Claremont Colleges, Utah, BYU, Colorado State, University of Illinois-Chicago, Western Kentucky, Penn State, Pitt, several Florida and Georgia schools. We don’t have an advocate / see a path to get it done more quickly on an intercollegiate/conference/regional basis.

JR: This year’s tournaments didn’t have a lot of college teams participating. What steps are being taken to expand the number of college clubs? Long term, how many clubs do you think the U.S. will have?

SP: I think we can get to 24 schools by 2012, with roughly half west of the Rockies. One key is to develop them in clusters, so they have nearby competition. I think the idea of College Nationals is ahead of its time; and we’d be better served with College West and College East championships, but for now, it’s worthwhile to protect and continue the tradition of one collegiate champion. I loved having Nationals outdoors in Myrtle Beach – it attracted a lot of attention and was a fun Spring Break type destination for our athletes, but it’s an expensive place to get to by air. We’re looking at similar environments near hub airports in the future.

JR: There was a short snippet in one of the Board’s Meeting minutes highlighting Cal Lutheran in Southern California as becoming a training site. What exactly is planned for that program?

SP: Cal Lutheran is one of USA Water Polo’s training centers so there’s precedent for their relationship with an NGB. They have lined two gyms with permanent handball lines and purchased equipment. They have supported the formation of a student club. They are making dorm space and gym space available to us on an annual basis for tryouts, clinics and/or camps. We will likely hold residential camps in the summer there as soon as 2011. We’re talking to University of Utah to do the same; and to schools in Central and Eastern time zones as well.

JR: Funds are limited and choices have to be made. Are college clubs seen as a cornerstone for USA development or a “nice to have”? In other words where does it fall in terms of priorities?

SP: They are a cornerstone. But we felt that we needed to establish a base of high schoolers playing first so we could begin to direct them to college programs starting in 2012 or so. We’ve spent more time on HS programs (futures and other grassroots) but always had our eye on colleges that would complement our other programs.

JR: Are there any plans to get Team Handball back on the NCAA Emerging Sports list? Could we even envision it as a fully sanctioned NCAA sport?

SP: It could be sanctioned NCAA sport sooner on the women’s side – which is why the Futures program was launched for girls one year before boys. But there’s a lot of work to do. We need dozens of established clubs before we can even think about Varsity status. When we have 10-20 solid clubs on men’s or women’s side, then we’ll revisit the idea of being an Emerging Sport again.

JR: Some sports federations, (USA Rugby for example) have a full time college director. Is that a possibility for USATH?

SP: Some day.

[b]Club Issues[/b]

JR: A lot of our discussion has focused on the end goal of a competitive National Team. But, this is not necessarily a priority for many members of the rank and file that just want to play the sport. How do you balance developing national teams while serving the needs of the membership base? Which has a greater priority and what’s a rough percentage as to how the USATH splits its efforts between those needs?

SP: I ask our regional directors (currently Brian and Dominique) to focus on clubs, members, grassroots – and as little as possible on National Teams. Mariusz and Dan spend time split between National Teams and Clubs. In Mariusz’ case, he oversees Coaching, Referees, Domestic competition, National Team organization, etc., so he’s pulled in many directions. Dan spends a significant chunk of time managing our Membership, but also helps communicate with the National Team pools and spending a few weeks a year with National Teams (where he doubles as our trainer).

Our members and their heritage as handball’s core supporters in America are still a huge priority. But we ask them to demonstrate that they are building a bridge to the next generation – incorporating young players into their clubs; coaching/mentoring kids; helping us with clinics/tryouts or other developmental activities. I think we’ve found a good balance between sustaining traditional competition, managing developmental programs and establishing a structure for National Teams.

JR: With a few exceptions, the current demographics for U.S. clubs tend to be older and international. How big a concern is this and what can be done to get to change those demographics to more and younger Americans playing?

SP: The overwhelming majority of participants in all of our new programs (Futures, urban programs in NYC/ATL/CHI, recently established clubs, grassroots programs) are individuals with US citizenship. We need to get the sport into the psyche of young American people and let them grow into our future. I know the demographics are changing, but you can’t tell yet by the rosters at Nationals. We are discussing an Olympic Sports Festival style event in 2011 that is for Youth & Junior National team candidates only.

JR: USATH has implemented a qualifying system for the Elite Championships. Are you satisfied with the current system? Do you expect it to continue to evolve?

SP: I’m sure it will evolve. For now, I think it’s what the member clubs want.

JR: There’s a real lack of legitimate Women’s clubs in the U.S. How is this being addressed?

SP: The Futures program introduced 150 young female athletes to the sport – and that number will hopefully double in 2010-11. As they get older and move on to college, they will be the core athletes that will comprise our next generation of college programs. If we form a dozen strong women’s collegiate programs, I think women’s clubs will follow. NYC THC, DC & Philadelphia are to be commended for starting women’s teams in 2009-10. Army, UNC, Furman Boston and Chicago continue to provide opportunities for women. The Futures program is primarily in the West right now, where opportunities have been especially thin.

JR: Many clubs in the U.S. put forth either no effort or only a token effort in regards to broadening their club to include youth and women teams. Is this a concern? How can these clubs be encouraged to do more?

SP: This is an old generalization, based upon “old clubs” in a club structure that is somewhat archaic. New clubs are putting more of an emphasis on broader development (Denver, Minnesota, DC, Philadelphia, Colorado Springs, Salt Lake, Chicago all come to mind). There will be a place for all of these clubs in the future… but we hope the majority of clubs become broader based.

JR: The National Championship Tournament has evolved to include a Men’s Elite and Open Division. Do you foresee this format continuing? Are you concerned that the open tournament might get too big?

SP: I hope we can continue the format… and I hope the Open tournament gets so big that it challenges us in every way. More clubs and competition is good – we all have to work collectively to make sure we can sustain and fund the growth.

JR: The Houston Firehawks Women’s team which dominated the Women’s Championship was almost entirely composed of Mexican citizens living in Mexico. Will USATH rewrite the rulebook to preclude non-American teams participating in the U.S. National Championships?

SP: Our Championships are open to teams that adhere to the Rulebook and meet the established criteria. There are no plans to overhaul the Rulebook. If we elevate the level of women’s handball in the USA, the Firehawks’ makeup won’t be the issue.

JR: U.S. sanctioned events now charge foreign clubs an extra $100 to participate. This has upset some Canadian clubs that were never charged before. What’s behind this policy? Is the extra revenue worth the ill will it may have caused?

SP: The more teams that compete in events in the USA, the higher the costs are for the organizers and USATH (referees, sanctioning, insurance, facilities, etc.) It’s a modest fee to ask (roughly $5-$10/player) when we ask our own players to pay $60 to compete. In Minnesota next month, we are waiving the fee because Canada is supplying some referees. If Canadian teams/players would rather register as USATH members, they can avoid the $100 fee. It is not intended to cause long-term strife between us and our friends in Canada.

In the 4th and final part of our interview, we discuss USATH’s organizational structure and financial status.

Links to Parts 1 and 2:
Interview Part 1 (National Team Planning):
Interview Part 2 (Overseas Players and Future’s Program):