FLINT, Michigan -- Though handball has been a popular international sport for more than a century and an Olympic sport since 1972, its popularity in the United States has only recently started to expand.
A new handball team in the area, Flint City HC, is working to create new opportunities for local players -- and they’re doing it in one of the city of Flint’s iconic athletic facilities, Berston Fieldhouse.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better place than Berston Fieldhouse, it’s a perfect match,” said Shane Proulx, co-owner of Flint City HC, who moved to Flint 15 years ago. “When we start our season, we will be a U.S. Olympic feeder, so hopefully that will provide us with a way to give the youth of Flint a chance to grow into this game with an actual end purpose. Knowing that Flint has such a rich athletic history, it seemed like a natural fit to start a club here.”
Handball is a fast-paced game that combines elements of basketball, soccer, water polo, and even hockey. Those elements from more commonly played sports should make it easy to pickup for spectators and athletes interested in playing.
“You’re going to see similarities to sports you’re very familiar with, you’ll see the dribbling of basketball and the kind of passing you see in basketball too. You’ll see goal-keeping similar to what you see in a sport like water polo, but you’ll also see the formations and kind of strategy of a soccer game, a little of the bumping and pushing that you see in hockey,” Proulx said. “It’s a sport that America’s been waiting for. It’s a very fast-paced game, high scoring, and I think the biggest thing you’re going to see is the speed of the game -- sometimes the ball can be thrown at like 150 kilometers per hour.”
Those similar elements to other games are also what could create new opportunities for talented athletes. Because handball is still a relatively new game to many Americans, there are more opportunities for talented players to reach high levels in the sport.
“There are hundreds of thousands of basketball and soccer players and teams in this country, those pools to get into the higher levels of those sports is very deep,” Proulx said. “This game, because it is so new, a good athlete could come on here, learn the game, and reasonably impress their way onto the U.S. Olympic team or into a professional career, both are very attainable and that’s one of the big draws for this sport. A place like Berston is a great base for us to reach local athletes and provide those opportunities.”
Currently, Flint City HC has about eight or nine players on its men’s roster, with teams being able to have up to 12. Proulx said they’re still recruiting more people into those spots, and also hoping to launch a women’s team.
They’re also working with teams in the region to put together a season.
“Before 2020, there was no established league in our area for handball, there were a handful of teams -- one in Detroit, a few in Ohio, but they basically operated on a system of friendlies, so when they could agree to play they played,” Proulx said. “We’re trying to change that by setting up a formal league, with a regular schedule and facilities and make this more of a legitimate league experience for everyone.”
Proulx expects the league could include teams in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, and possibly Ontario when Canada’s border opens back up. The goal is to have a functional league by spring, with a season starting in June or July. Flint’s team would likely play six home games at Berston Fieldhouse, with 12 games total in the season unless more teams are added to the league they’re trying to establish.
Flint City HC is also working on setting up free youth camps with different youth facilities and organizations in the area. Those would start in March.
“Our goal is to build an interest in this game and let kids experience it without any kind of (financial) hindrance,” Proulx said.
Providing no-cost camps is a bigger part of the club’s greater mission -- to simply become a positive part of the community.
“We are not here to be a faceless franchise, we’re here to be a true community-based club,” Proulx said. “Our clinics will always be free, I couldn't dream of charging a kid. Our big work right now as we’re starting this club is just looking for community partnerships or ways we can become a real part of the community.”
To find out more about Flint City HC, find them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.