Emory Report

January 26, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 18

Emory's handball team
makes No. 1 first time out

Few schools can proclaim themselves No. 1 in college athletics. While Michigan and Nebraska share the title in football, Emory is making a claim of its own in another sport-team handball.

Team handball has not become an official NCAA sport, but this school year marked the debut of its sanctioned college league. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC), in conjunction with the NCAA, is working to enhance development at the college level in certain Olympic sports.

The U.S. Team Handball Association successfully petitioned the USOC for a $500,000 grant to create the Southeast Team Handball Conference (SETHC), the first of its kind in the country. A total of eight colleges, including Emory, competed in a regular-season round-robin schedule followed by an end-of-the-season championship tournament.

Emory earned the No. 1 seed in the West Division by virtue of a 5-2 regular season record. The Eagles defeated Lander University in the opening round, Benedict College in overtime in the semifinals and Presbyterian College in the finals to claim the first-ever championship. Other competing schools were Furman University, Middle Georgia College, Georgia Southern University and Georgia Tech.

The intent of the SETHC is to identify and groom potential talent for the U.S. Olympic team, which finished ninth among 12 teams at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. One such player emerged from the Emory team-goalie Italo Zanzi.

Zanzi was voted the outstanding goalie in the West Division of the Southeast Conference and the Most Valuable Goalkeeper at the championship tournament. He was one of four players from the conference selected to join four U.S. Olympic players in representing the United States in the Pan American Team Handball Association beach tournament in Brazil this month. All in a sport he never played until October 1996.

Zanzi, an Emory graduate student, was a soccer goalie in his undergraduate years at the University of Chicago. He received honorable mention in voting for the all-conference soccer team his senior year, hence the transition to team handball.

The uninitiated might envision 10 people, crowded on a court normally used by two players, hitting a ball the size of a tangerine off three walls. In fact, team handball is something closer to lacrosse, except the bare hands are used to carry/throw a ball that is roughly the size of a large cantaloupe.

"Not too many people want to play goalie," Zanzi said with a smile. "I tell people that being a goalie is like standing in a doorway and trying to defend against people who are throwing a head of cabbage from 10 feet away. I've been hit in the face."

The popular version of the game is played indoors with seven players a side in an area slightly larger than a basketball court. Two goals and a ball are the only equipment needed. The low cost is one factor that will make the sport appealing to other colleges and secondary and elementary schools, said Matt Ryan, program coordinator for USA Team Handball.

"This is a rewarding sport," Ryan said. "There is a lot of scoring involved; teamwork is emphasized. It promotes development of mechanical skills such as throwing, running, jumping and conditioning."

Dan Magee, assistant coordinator of recreational services for Emory, called team handball "a sport of the future." Magee supervised the Emory club team and served as the West Division commissioner. "There's a lot of scoring, it's easy to learn, it combines basketball and soccer-two popular sports-can be played year-round inside or outside and is a fun sport," he said.

Emory, like the other seven schools in the SETHC, received money from the USOC grant to cover one-time costs of approximately $2,000 for goals, balls and uniforms, plus extra money to defray the cost of travel and a medical trainer. The schools will continue to receive some money in the coming years to help with travel costs until the USOC grant expires in 2001. After that, USA Team Handball hopes the schools will absorb costs into their own athletics or club sports budgets.

Along with Zanzi, the Emory team features an 18-year-old from rural Virginia, a player from Turkey and a 30-year-old ex-Army commando. They will be in action in late February at a tournament in South Carolina, open to club teams from around the country.

-John Arenberg

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