Call them the Jim Thorpes of public school handball

Call them the Jim Thorpes of public school handball
By Stefano Giovannini

Two of the city’s top high school handball players were slapped last week after a “rival coach” apparently tipped off education officials about the pair’s participation in a professional tournament.

The Public School Athletic League ruled that Josh and Raquel Garcia, both seniors at High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, are ineligible to play their final seasons because they competed for cash, a rule violation that results in the forfeiture of their amateur status.

But the Jim Thorpian pair — considered the top players in the city — is refusing to stand quietly on the sideline, instead blasting the league for selectively enforcing the rules and burying its head in the asphalt.

The 17-year-old twins from Sunset Park said high school players have been participating in so-called “money” tournaments for years, with nary a whisper from the PSAL.

“Yet we’re the ones who get penalized?” wondered Josh Garcia. “I don’t understand why they would do that.”

There is no dispute that he and his sister played in the Coney Island tournament last August, where he took home $250.

Garcia had no idea that joining a summer tournament would be a problem — after all, he’s done so since his freshman year, and so have plenty of players from other city schools.

“No one ever said anything to me about it,” he said.

The city denied any knowledge of any other players playing in the pro tournament this year. But Education Department spokeswoman Marge Feinberg refused to say whether the league was aware of players participating in previous years.

The PSAL, the governing body of high school sports, first notified the pair last month that they could no longer play for the Yellowjackets. The Garcias appealed, but the ruling was upheld last week.

“The rules are clear and students cannot be reinstated,” Feinberg said.

The duo’s dad cried foul.

“They shafted my kids,” said Mick Garcia. “They think they’re pro handball players — but there’s no such thing as pro handball players. If they were, they’d be playing on TV and making millions of dollars every year.”

His daughter was equally stung by the decision.

“It’s really disappointing that they’re singling us out,” said Raquel Garcia. “This is my last year of high school and I wanted to compete.”

And handball pros also lashed out at the city.

“It’s absurd,” said William Polanco, a handball legend who sits on the board of the United States Handball Association. “It’s strange that the rule is being applied now.”

Polanco, who played handball for Fort Hamilton HS in the early 1990s, said he also played in money tournaments at the time — and was never penalized by the league.

The Garcias said the ruling was even more galling because league officials told them the tip came from a rival team.

“They said it was someone from either Midwood, Fort Hamilton, or Queens HS of Science,” Josh Garcia said.

Coaches at Midwood and Queens both flatly denied ratting out the Garcia twins. That leaves only Fort Hamilton, where the coach did not return calls.

Telecommunications coach John Lamicella said other schools have had players in money tournaments, but the league took no enforcement action.

“This is a big hit for us,” he said.

Both Garcias are considered elite high school handballers. Last year, the pair claimed individual titles at the PSAL’s Indoor Invitational — making them the best singles players in the city and the first twins in league history to claim simultaneous titles.

Josh also plays for the Unites States national team, and his coach likened him to the “Michael Jordan of high school handball.”

But the pair is more like Jim Thorpe, the legendary Olympian who also played football, basketball and baseball. Thorpe was stripped of his pentathlon and decathlon gold medals in 1913 after it was discovered that he played semi-professional baseball when he was in college, a violation of the International Olympic Committee’s rules of amateur eligibility. The medals were restored in 1983.

American handball, also called street handball, can be played in singles or in doubles form, has a simple objective: hit a rubber ball against a wall so your opponent misses it.

Some form of the game dates back to 2000 BC, according to the Southern California Handball Association.

How good are they? Look at this.
By Stefano Giovannini