Jake Plummer and his dedication to make handball better known. Click on the Sports Illustrated link to read the Jake Plummer story.
Paul Haber tombstone
Mission to honor little-remembered handball legend
By John Wilkens
Paul Haber's final resting place is at Home of Peace Cemetery in San Diego. The grave had no marker for almost eight years; now it has two.
Paul Haber often spent the night before a big handball tournament drinking in bars, chain-smoking, playing cards for money, and chasing women.
He'd stagger onto the court the next day - his Gatorade sometimes spiked with vodka - and not just win, but dominate. He was a nine-time national champion who knew all the angles.
But being a big man in a small sport has its limitations, and when Haber died almost eight years ago in Santee, he was broke and largely forgotten. His final resting place was an unmarked grave near a grafitti-splashed pine tree in San Diego's Home of Peace Cemetery. Sports Illustrated magazine, which had once chronicled Haber's athleticism and antics in revealing feature articles that read like short stories in The New Yorker, marked his passing with a one-paragraph obituary. Its final line: "A collection had to be taken to pay for his funeral - his cat, some cat food, and the $42 in his wallet were all he had to his name."
At home in Texas, Andy Hollan read that and seethed. Hollan was a teen, just learning handball, when he first met Haber, already a legend, back in the 1970s. They became friends. Imagine a budding baseball player meeting an in-his-prime Mickey Mantle. To Hollan, Haber was a hero, and always will be.
"That final magazine story was a bitter pill to swallow," Hollan said, so he decided to chase it down with something more flavorful. For several years he has been collecting stories, photos and video of Haber, using them first for a journal he wrote, then an audio tape ("Hot Hands, Hot Nights") and now a documentary film. He estimates he's spent about $25,000 out of his own pocket on the project. He also collected donations from around the country - $10 here, $20 there - to put a marker on Haberís grave. It cost $600 and went in about a month ago. "All I can tell you is if you were 15 or 16 and playing a certain sport, and the best in the world at that sport got with you, and a couple of years later you were playing the sport with him, and he began to teach you not only about handball, but about life, well, youíd want to make sure he wasnít forgotten either," Hollan said.
Handball is an ancient sport, and a rough one - "a game that might have been devised by the Marquis de Sade as something fun to do while his whips were at the cleaners," in the words of one sports writer. It is players wearing leather gloves pounding a hard rubber ball at speeds up to 100 mph against a wall - one wall, in the game that Alexander the Great and Abraham Lincoln supposedly played, and nowadays more commonly four walls and a ceiling.
Haber was born in Brooklyn and learned the game from his father, Sam Haber, himself a legend. (Both are in the United States Handball Association Hall of Fame.) The family moved to Chicago and Paul Haber left home at around 16 to make his way. When he won his first national singles title in 1966, he ushered in an era that relied more on finesse and precision than power. He mastered a soft shot off the ceiling, "really invented that portion of the game," said Gordy Pfeifer, a retired pro player who lives in Fircrest, Wa.
An intense competitor, Haber was big on intimidation, once leaving two doughnuts outside the court before a final as a prediction of his opponent's game scores that day - two doughnuts as in two zeros. He screamed at referees, threw tantrums, generally made the handball establishment wish he'd gone into tennis. Except that he was a valuable magnet to other players, the media and fans. Unlike most other competitors, who had day jobs and played handball on the side, Haber made his living from the sport, traveling city to city for tournaments, exhibitions and clinics. He wrote a book, "Inside Handball," and made instructional videos. There was a Paul Haber action doll. When he wasnít playing he was carousing. He would sometimes bet other bar patrons whether a flame held up to his thickly calloused hands would make him flinch. He was arrested outside one match for failing to pay child support. (Married four times, he had at least three children.) He bragged out loud about being "the greatest Jewish athlete in the world."
In 1972, his flair for the dramatic took him to Memphis, Tenn., for a match against the country's top racquetball player, a San Diego dentist named E.F. "Bud" Muehleisen. Haber played with his hands, Muehleisen with his racquet, but what most intriqued reporters was the difference in personalities. The dentist was a straight arrow whose biggest vice was ice cream. Haber was, well, Haber. "Mr. Clean meets the Devil," Sports Illustrated called it. The Devil won.
In a rematch eight months later in Long Beach, Muehleisen prevailed, but that did little to diminish Haberís stature. Hard-living and age finally caught up with him, and by the late 1970s he was done as a competitive handball player. He settled in San Diego and did a little of this, a little of that. At the end he was peddling cleaning products and living in an apartment at the factory. He died sleeping in a desk chair, from emphysema. He was 66. Hollan remembers talking to Haber a couple weeks before he died. They'd stayed in touch over the years, as Hollan grew up, went to the University of Texas (where he played handball and majored in history), and later became a businessman. Now in his 50s, he works security at a small college in Texas.
"Paul Haber was one of a kind, and his life is a real laugh-cry story," Hollan said. "It's unfortunate how he was forgotten at the end." He's proud of the grave marker he helped arrange. The wording on it says Haber "will be remembered by those who really knew him and what he meant to them." The grave is along a chain-link fence under a pine tree. In keeping with the handball legend's supersized life, there are actually two markers - the one Hollan got, and another apparently done around the same time by Haber's relatives. The birth date on the markers is different. It wouldn't be Haber if there wasn't some conflict, even at the end.
MANAGING YOUR ANXIETIES IN HANDBALL
By: Stanley Popovich
At times, our worries and anxieties can overwhelm us. In addition, our worries can distort our perception of what is reality and what is not. As a result, this may interfere with how you play handball. Here is a brief list of techniques that a handball player can use to help gain a better perspective on things during their anxious moments.
Sometimes we get stressed out when everything happens all at once. When this happens, a person should take a deep breath and try to find something to do for a few minutes to get their mind off of the problem. A person could read the newspaper, listen to some music or do an activity that will give them a fresh perspective on things. This is a great technique to use right before your next event.
Remember that our fearful thoughts are exaggerated and can make the problem worse. A good way to manage your worry is to challenge your negative thinking with positive statements and realistic thinking. When encountering thoughts that make you fearful or anxious, challenge those thoughts by asking yourself questions that will maintain objectivity and common sense.
Remember that all the worrying in the world will not change anything. Most of what we worry about never comes true. Instead of worrying about something that probably won't happen, concentrate on what you are able to do.
Another technique that is very helpful is to have a small notebook of positive statements that you can carry around with you. Whenever you come across an affirmation that makes you feel good, write it down in a small notebook that you can carry around with you. Whenever you feel stressed before your event, open up your small notebook and read those statements. This will help to manage your negative thinking.
In every anxiety-related situation you experience, begin to learn what works, what doesnít work, and what you need to improve on in managing your fears and anxieties. For instance, you have a lot of anxiety before your event and you decide to take a walk to help you feel better. The next time you feel anxious you can remind yourself that you got through it the last time by taking a walk. This will give you the confidence to manage your anxiety the next time around.
Take advantage of the help that is available around you. If possible, talk to a professional who can help you manage your fears and anxieties. They will be able to provide you with additional advice and insights on how to deal with your current problem. By talking to a professional, a person will be helping themselves in the long run because they will become better able to deal with their problems in the future. Remember that it never hurts to ask for help.
It is not easy to deal with all of our fears and worries. When your fears and anxieties have the best of you, try to calm down and then get the facts of the situation. The key is to take it slow. All you can do is to do your best each day, hope for the best, and when something does happen, take it in stride. Take it one step at a time and things will work out.
Do Not Stress Over Your Competition
By: Stan Popovich
Many handball athletes sometimes get anxious when they play against a tough opponent. They get nervous on who they are competing with and they get so worked up that they lose focus on playing their sport. In the end, they make mistakes and end up beating themselves up if they do not win. As a result, here is a list of techniques that a handball player can use to help manage the stress of playing against the competition.
The first step is to learn as much as you can on your opponent. Although this may seem obvious, some athletes may think they already know what they need to know. Remember there is always something to learn about your competition. Read the reports about your opponent and watch him or her performance. Try to figure out an angle on how you can beat your competition. The more you know about your competition the better your chances are you will win. This will also help to reduce your worries in the future.
Do not assume anything about your competition whether they are stronger or weaker than you. Every athlete has his good and bad times and just because you may be facing a stronger opponent does not mean that you will lose. Remember that you and your opponent both have an equal chance of winning. You are both starting from scratch. This should help you to give you confidence going into your next event.
Focus on how you can best strive for perfection in your own event instead of worrying about your opponent. For instance, you are going against the number one athlete in the tournament and you are nervous. Instead of focusing on how good your competition is, focus on your performance. Concentrate on how you can perform your event and how you can best improve on your problem areas.
Realize that you can't win all of the time and that also includes your competition. You may be the best athlete in the world, however you will still sometimes lose. No one can win all of the time. When facing a tough competitor, use this fact to your advantage. Even the best athletes will make some mistakes. It is not uncommon to get nervous when you go against a better opponent. All you can do is to focus on your skill sets and do the best you can. This will help you in the long run.
Stan Popovich is the author of "A Layman's Guide to Managing Fear Using Psychology, Christianity and Non Resistant Methods" - an easy to read book that presents a general overview of techniques that are effective in managing persistent fears and anxieties. For additional information go to:
Death of Dick Swope:
The Mid Atlantic region lost a fellow player in Dick Swope, almost two months ago. Dick was a very active guy, not just handball, he had a love for flying and motorbikes and adventures. He supported many of the tourneys (contributed $ also) in the three state region and was very present last December saying goodbye to all at the doubles event. Little did we know he really was saying just that. That was maybe a shocking coincidence for he was moving to Montana to be closer to the great American outdoor life of skiing and the mountains and his new home there. Dick was a mans man.... a professional with great integrity. he commanded attention and respect whatever he did. He looked easily ten years younger then his age of 68. Not many people rise to the second highest rank in the USAF and still be humble. In the words of Karl Lady his doubles partner of the last ten years.... "I wanted to insure that all of you who knew Dick Swope know that his wishes for a celebration of life event and not a funeral will take place at a future date. Time and place have not yet been arranged. Jane is now in Las Vegas with their daughters, and extended family. Your continued thoughts and prayers for Dick, Jane and family are a source of strength and love. I spoke with Jane Swope and of course she continues to have a very difficult time with Dick's passing. Her daughters are a big help as is the rest of the family. Dick had expressed his desire to have a "Celebration of life" as opposed to a traditional funeral in remembrance of his life and Jane is planning on that. His death was very sudden and quick... caused by a massive electrical failure of the heart. The doctors explained to her that his attack is very rare and can strike otherwise healthy individuals of any age without warning. He had in fact received an "excellent" health report after a very comprehensive physical (over a 3 day period) at Walter Reed in December."