I was the kid who showed up all sweaty to class after finishing a couple handball games before school began. Handball became the sport that defined my childhood and challenged me mentally, physically, and socially. I owe the game for helping shape the person I am today.
I first started to play handball in 2006 when I attended MacArthur Fundamental Intermediate School. I picked up the sport quickly, winning my first tournament in the 6th grade at the after school program. I fell in love with the game and found every opportunity to play – I had nowhere else to go as a kid. My passion and drive for the sport allowed me to break out of my comfort zone; meet new friends, play competitively, and explore the city. I found a community in the game, and so did many other young people. The sport went from being just a game to an important part of my everyday life as a Santanero. On weekends, courts at Memorial, Jerome, and Chepa Park would be filled with handball players playing small tournaments, next to families barbecuing, while the music bounced off the court walls. Handball runs deep in Santa Ana, and remains a big part of the city’s culture.
Now this culture is under attack as the City has begun tearing down these courts. Last winter, city officials tore down the handball courts at Chepa Park, a decision that sparked backlash by community residents and handball players. And just last month, city staff proposed to remove the Santa Anita courts. Community members also opposed this move and voiced their concern to the city council.
The debate over handball courts continued this past council meeting, where council members discussed the rebuilding of the Chepa handball courts in the Logan neighborhood. The item resulted in further debate about the process to rebuild these courts through the city’s parks master plan process, and the concern over the use of them.
Handball courts have been the subject of an intense public debate for months now. City Officials’ argument to tear down the courts is due to the concern they attract gang activity, drug use, and homelessness. But these issues are far separated from the game of handball, and are symptoms of a larger systemic issue, one that continuously fails to invest in young people and its most vulnerable residents. Handball serves as an avenue for youth to be out of gangs, build community, and make safe decisions. Instead of city officials targeting these courts, they should focus on crime-prevention programs and investing in more resources for young people. A shift of investment in our city will go far more than demolishing a culture that’s saved many community members, including myself, from choosing the wrong path.
The community and handball players have consistently made it clear handball courts should not be torn down. They carry a huge significance to the residents and young people in Santa Ana.
The City needs to rebuild the handball courts in Chepa Park, and preserve ALL the handball courts in Santa Ana. It is time the city tackles real systemic problems, not scapegoating the sport of handball and the Santaneros who play it.
Bulmaro “Boomer” Vicente is a Latinx scholar, writer and organizer from Santa Ana. Boomer studied Political Science and Public Policy at UC Berkeley. He is a Soros Justice Fellow with Chispa, and a community organizer with Chicanos Unidos.
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