More than a dozen Lodi teenagers played a few fierce rounds of handball on Saturday morning at the first citywide handball tournament at Tokay High School in Lodi.
There was no shortage of adults willing to help out, supervise and offer a tip. Some wanted to play in the tournament, but decided to just play casually when they learned the competition was for teenagers.
Jerry Garcia, of Stockton, learned to play handball at Stribley Park while growing up on Stockton’s eastside.
“Any time of the day you find someone out there playing,” said Garcia, who prefers the Tokay High School courts for highball games and has brought some friends out to try different parks.
Lodi Parks and Recreation, the Lodi Mexican American Lions Club, and Lodi Crime Stoppers sponsored the event.
Members of the Lodi Parks and Recreation Department and the Lodi Police Department were present, along with some parents of the players.
The day began with a brief tutorial of the game with Gary Cruz, a representative of the U.S. Handball Association. But the 15 kids who came out to compete are the same ones who play every day at school and at the park. They needed no instruction.
Cruz works with a program called First Ace, a non-profit that raises money to train people to teach handball, provide equipment, and spread the official rules.
Every park where the game is played tends to have different rules. Those differences can cause conflict when one player disagrees with another.
“If you have the same rules, you have fewer arguments,” said Cruz. “This is all time these kids are spending more productively than they otherwise might.”
But the tournament was hassle-free for the players.
“There have been no conflicts. Nobody looking at anybody crazy. Hopefully, this is the start of an annual thing ,” said gang specialist Ruben Y. Guardiola. He works with Point Break Adolescent Center, a Stockton-based nonprofit that focuses on at risk teens.
“It brings out kids from opposite sides and different neighborhoods. They don’t have to be best friends but they do have to learn how to get along and respect each other,” said Gino Avila, who works with Point Break at Tracy high schools.
A singles tournament took up the morning hours. Alex Ibarra, 19, took the top spot.
It took him a little while to wake up and warm up to the game in the beginning, but Ibarra put his daily practices to work.
“Everyday. That’s my thing, right there,” he said. “It’s for fun, it’s for exercise.”
The doubles tournament was a little more heated. Players were paired up randomly, and teams traded partners three or four times. Eddie Lopez, 16, of Tokay High School, won by points earned.
“You just have to keep your eye on the ball,” he said. “Once you get into it, you get used to it.”
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.