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Handball Players Defend Historic Court

Supporters of the sport implore the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council not to knock down or alter a multidimensional court that is one of the most popular attractions at Yosemite Park.

Handball is good exercise and allows players to let out steam. The sport is also a great booster of attendance at meetings.

About a dozen male handball players, some of them accompanied by their spouses or girlfriends, were present at Tuesday night’s ERNC board meeting at the . The players used the meeting’s “public discussion” period to plead against any possible decision to modify or tear down a historic handball court at as a public safety measure.

The advocates—almost all of them from Highland Park—were reacting to last month’s Yosemite Park Task Force meeting, during which members brainstormed the pros and cons of knocking down a multidimensional, “H”-shaped handball court and either substituting it with a single wall or constructing a basketball court in its place.

The court, located near a children’s playground that received a $320,000 makeover last July, is evidently one of a kind: Its large, right-angled walls make for a terrific game of handball but they also serve as something of a hiding place for people to drink. And the fact that many handball players also tend to swear openly—with little or no apparent regard for the children or parents around them—was another factor in the task force’s discussion.

'A Few Bad Apples'

“Look at these people—do they look like gangsters?” asked a man sporting a mustache and wearing a jacket, scarf and hat (see photo). “There are a few bad apples” at Yosemite Park who give handball a bad name, he said, adding: “Not everyone can be a super athlete—this [handball] is an easy game.”

To the apparent surprise of many ERNC board members and some in the audience, one of the handball supporters admitted that he and his sporting companions “have a few beers” before playing the game.

But he and his buddies are also scrupulous about keeping potential troublemakers at bay, said Antonio H. Barajas, a burly, middle-aged Highland Park resident sporting a T-shirt depicting an image of handball players, with the words “JR Vasquez 3 Wall Handball Tournament 2007” printed on the rear. (See photo).

Barajas pointed to another player in the audience as an example of how beneficial handball has been to the community. The player—a relatively young man—had won a college scholarship because of his accomplishments in handball, Barajas said, adding that he and his comrades spend their own money to remove graffiti from the walls of the court as well as repair cracks and paint the surfaces.

The court is not just a venue for playing handball but also a convenient place to practice tennis shots, Barajas said.

Community Asset

Ramon Muñoz, another middle-aged Highland Park resident who said he recently retired as a computer technician at the Los Angeles Daily News, told Patch that he has “planted trees from my own pocket” at Yosemite Park. Several generations of players had grown up playing at the court, said Muñoz, praising it as an invaluable community asset.

ERNC Board Member Peter Hilton acknowledged that handball is a skillful—if aggressive—game that is important to the community. “You don’t see 400-pound people playing handball,” he said, referring to the sport’s health benefits.

ERNC Vice President Michael Nogueira urged handball players to “drink at home,” reminding them that imbibing alcohol in public is a violation. “You will get cited by the General Services Police,” he warned, adding that it's in the players' own best interests to regulate their activities.

ERNC President Michael Larsen, who also sits on the Yosemite Task Force, reminded the audience that no decision has been made about the fate of the handball court. Suggestions to reduce it to a single-wall court or replace it with a (second) venue for basketball are among a number of proposals “on the table,” he said.

Nimby pimp January 18, 2012 at 04:53 PM
1) You have been suggesting, relative the discussion about handball courts in Eagle Rock in 2012, that Latinos are being denied access to public parks. This is not the case. 2) Latinos spend more time in public parks than do whites or blacks. This is a cultural tendency, not primarily driven by conditions of urban density in which many, but not most Latinos reside.
Rob Schraff January 18, 2012 at 07:48 PM
You are conflating two issues. 1) I have claimed the attempts of the ERNC and it's "task-force" to shut down the handball court have smeared one group in an attempt to try an deny them access to Yosemite. 2) This approach fits well with LAs long-standing, and continuing, history of fewer parks in Black and Latino neighborhoods. This is every bit as racist, and effective, as physically denying entry. Indeed, I think your perceptions of Latino cultural tendencies - "parks in latino neighborhoods are more crowded because latinos use parks more" - is merely a way to slide this reality.
Nimby pimp January 18, 2012 at 08:25 PM
I see no evidence that the ERNC's position on handball courts constitute an ethnic or racial smear. If you have any such evidence, please produce it. As a Latino, I'm a little uncomfortable with your eagerness to exploit minority victimology rhetoric for the purposes of your argument with another white guy.
Rob Schraff January 18, 2012 at 10:21 PM
As a Latino, you really don't think white families like and go to parks as much as you? As an official white guy, this is news to me. I like parks a lot, and my family use the park in question, and LA city parks in general, extensively. (Maybe there's also an income issue? I wonder if it's race "victimology" related.) Anyway the ERNC, through the park "task force," decided to target the handball court users, ostensibly for swearing, drinking and blocking surveillance sight lines, as documented in several articles here on Patch. So go check out the court a few times, and let us know what you think. I'll bet you will hear some swearing (I have never seen drinking) and a see lot of young (and a few older) mostly Mexican guys (Should I say Latino? - in this case I don't think so, again, you tell me) with tattoos (gasp!) playing handball. I think you will have to work very hard to see a real park security problem, and that it will be very easy to see what Michael Larsen's problem is. Just my honest opinion. Finally, if two guys, white or otherwise, can't have open discourse about race and racial motivation in a thoroughly political context, we really are screwed as a society. Not that we aren't already, what with our own local, self appointed morality czars popping up on every street corner to proclaim acceptable behavior for "Greater Eagle Rock." Always appreciate your incisive comments, which do often make me more reflexive on these often complex issues. Thanks.
Susan R February 08, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Michael, I am on the board of the Greater Cypress Park NC. Here I am speaking only on my own behalf. If you would let me know when your meeting is I would try to attend. But often other NC meetings are on the same Tuesday night as our meeting. I have connections to lots of surrounding areas. I think the handball courts are important. I was surprised to find there was one up an Eagle Rock. To find a handball court you have to drive all the way to Venice Beach. There you find all races and nationalities. So, really race has nothing to do with this concern about handball courts. The real issue is safety which is something that everyone wants. And, I am sure LAPD is working on it. I get tired of some people saying because we are in poor areas we are park poor. This is not true. We have huge parks everywhere from Elysian Park to Griffith Park to Debs park, Highland Park, Lincoln Park and others. And, some people think we need more parks but I see these parks empty a lot of the time. Handball is a great sport. They should have put some handball courts in the new Rio de Los Angeles Park. But no, they put tennis courts and basketball courts and a soccer field. Handball courts could have been put in. The park does not even have places to sit down and have lunch and/or barbeque. It is not a family friendly park. Let's discuss the real issue and that is safety. Keep the handball courts.

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