By Lola Sherman // San Diego Tribune
Next spring, Oceanside will host the first Pan American Beach Handball Championships to be held on American soil.
Leaders of the new sport and local hero and Olympian Willie Banks on Wednesday announced plans for the games, scheduled for March 6-11.
Dennis Berkholtz, president of USA Beach Handball, said he expects 11 men's teams and nine women's teams from countries including Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and the United States to participate.
The event will be shown on a new sports channel on national television and streamed on YouTube throughout the event, he said, giving Oceanside plenty of exposure.
A large contingent of city officials, including three council members – Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery, Jack Feller and Jerry Kern -- were on hand for the announcement.
Berkholtz said few people know the sport of team handball, parent of the beach variety, but it is very popular in Europe and Asia. People here think it is a game played with a small black ball thrown at a wall. Instead, it is played soccer-like, only the ball – larger than a softball -- is thrown rather than kicked into the goal on a surface a little larger than a basketball court. He called it fast-paced, high-scoring and spectator-friendly.
Team handball has been an Olympic sport since the 1930s, Berkholtz said. He was a player on the USA team in Munich in 1972 and a coach of the team in Montreal in 1976.
The beach version is new, but he expects it to be an Olympic sport in 2024 or 2028. Berkholtz said corporate sponsorships and other support are needed to help defray the costs of hosting the athletes.
Banks, an Olympic and world-class track-and-field athlete, said when he was a youth, he was inspired by a champion athlete at Oceanside High School and he thinks the beach handball games will do the same for other local youngsters.
“They're going to get excited,” he said. “That's the power of sport.”
He introduced his “boss”, Vincent Mudd, of San Diego Exploratory Foundation, which is co-sponsoring the beach handball games, along with Visit Oceanside, the city's marketing arm.
Mudd said Oceanside has “the authentic, iconic beach.” He said handball also will be included in the World Beach Games coming to San Diego in October 2019. They are sponsored by the foundation, whose purpose is to bring top sporting events to the “mega-region” of Tijuana and San Diego and Imperial counties.