From a First Time Visitor

The Glass Room

By Kim Coleman

March, 2007

      Never played handball. To be honest, never seen the game played until a couple of weeks ago, although I have heard a lot about it.  Seems fast, confusing and the only people that seem to know the score are the people on the court.  Lots of yelling, slamming into walls and sweating.  Yeah………..that sounds like a lot of fun.  So when I was invited to watch a tournament, I thought, what the hey, I’m game.  Never in my life did I realize that those two hours would have such an impact on my child.

     The first thing I noticed about this sport of physical abuse and mental harassment was the people that my son and I were introduced to.  I don’t think a stranger has ever walked through their doors.  I wonder if they even know what a stranger is.  Being introduced to several people at one time can leave ones head spinning trying to remember names, spouses and which player is whose partner.  To my surprise, names stuck with me as faces popped in and out through the evening.  Pleasantries were exchanged along with hand shakes and smiles. 

     Then it happened, the first inclination that this handball stuff, and more importantly, the people involved, was more than just a sport.  My son, Patrick, was introduced to a gentleman named Jim Hale.  Jim reached for his hand and Patrick took it in a firm but short child to adult handshake that more resembled priming a water pump than a handshake.  The fact that my child has always been taught proper manners and how to shake hands is one of the things that makes me proud.  The fact that he is so intimidated by people that he won’t look them in the eye, does not.  So it wasn’t much of a surprise that Patrick shook Jim’s hand without making eye contact and as usual I was biting my lip trying to telepathically tell him to look up. Without a beat Jim stopped the handshake, told Patrick to look him in the eye and resumed the handshake as it should be, now not as adult to child, but man to man. Impressed as I was at this simple but heartfelt and important lesson a complete stranger was trying to impress upon my child, this was only the beginning.

     Patrick is a little short for his age but very athletic, so for him to see people playing handball, him eating all the pizza that he could and being bored from standing around being told to behave or suffer my wrath, it was not all surprising that he turned to me and asked if he could participate.  Of course my answer was no.  Don’t know the sport, lots of controlled chaos going on around us and we’re just visiting.  And that was the end of it…………. until Gene (Schneider) walked up to him and said, “Want to try it out?”  With my son nodding yes like a bobble head doll, they entered one of the courts which my son referred to as “the glass room”.  Patrick was given a rubber ball that he now carries around like a badge of honor.  Gene showed him some basic moves and played a game with him.  Patrick was then left alone to play by himself, bouncing the ball off the front wall and hitting it back. Slightly relieved to have my child occupied for a little while, I watched in amazement how this small boy could exert so much energy chasing a ball around a square room.  Why is youth wasted on the young?

     As Patrick swatted at the ball, sometimes hitting, sometimes missing but all the time turning to see if Gene and I were watching each attempt, a young man thirteen years old stepped into the court.  My first thought was “this is a take over”.  So much for Patrick’s playtime and my somewhat free time.  I stood and watched…….and waited…….and watched………..and waited.  I just knew that Patrick would at any minute turn and walk off the court with his shoulders slumped over, whining about how his court was invaded and how the boy would not play with him.  Any minute now……………….and again my anxiety was misplaced when, to my surprise, Patrick was being taught how to serve, bounce the ball off the back wall and different hand positions for different shots.  I later learned the boys name  was Mircea Mosely. What an amazing young man to take the time to show my son how to play, enjoy and participate in this sadistical sport.  As they continued playing, they were joined by Alex Ibarra. He in turn, spent time hitting the ball with Patrick and setting up shots for him to try and retrieve.  Amazing! Patrick’s father hasn’t reached out to him in two years and already three total strangers have reached out to this semi-orphaned child with no questions or expectations. How great is this and how could it get any better?

     Well it did, in the form of a freshman at CSU named Jeff Screen.  As Mircea and Alex moved on and off the court, Jeff stepped in and offered Patrick tips, suggestions and time.   Again, Patrick was soon running, diving and slamming into the wall with the rest of them.  As Patrick came off the court, sweating, red faced and breathing hard, he took off his shoe, grabbed a piece of ice out of a nearby cooler and started nursing his ankle.  When Gene asked him if he hurt his ankle, Patrick smiled and showed off his two centimeter blister that had since developed.  Another reason why I think handball players are insane.

     As Patrick and I left, there was nothing else that he would talk about except for Gene, Mircea, Alex and Jeff.  What they did, what they showed him how they treated him.  As his voice droned on and on, my thoughts drifted from the amazing man that invited me to a simple handball tournament and to a man who had nothing to gain, but in a simple handshake, took the time to make my child’s world a better place.  With my thoughts returning to reality, I realized that Patrick’s monolog had continued nonstop for an hour and a half.  Being the understanding and patient mother that I am, I turned and said, “Patrick would you please shut up?”  Patrick took a deep breath, puffed out his chest and said, “Mommy, you don’t understand. I was in a glass room and everyone was watching ME!” 

            It was then I realized that in this arena, it’s not the sport of handball itself that draws this caliber of people to play, but it is the inspiring character of the players that define the sport of handball and their contribution they unselfishly offer. For the people that I met that night, handball is not just a sport, but an expectation of integrity on the court and in their way of life.

            Thank you Gene, Jim, Mircea, Alex  and Jeff.  If in your life you ever wonder if you did anything to make a difference to someone, it was in the form a small boy that for a brief moment was a “shining star” in the middle of a glass room.

Gene Schneider writes about Kim:

This special lady is the single Mom of two boys: Patrick, 10 and Joseph, 17. She is a nurse at Elizabeth Family Health care. Her time is spent hustling her two boys to and from school , taking care of her wolf /Alaskan hybrid, tooling around on her Harley and trying to figure out what planet I come from.