SAN ANTONIO — The word bola (bullet) can be heard every weekend on San Antonio’s West Side. In this barrio, bola — Chicano slang for “handball” – is played at Escobar Park.
The ball is blue and is 2 and a quarter inches in diameter and whistles in the ears when hit against the wall – thwonk, thwonk, thwack, thwonk.
Roger Regalado has been playing handball at Escobar Park for over 20 years.
“At 60, I’m still here to do cardio and stay healthy. If I can do it, anyone can do it,” Regalado said.
This prison style of handball has definitely kept Regalado in shape and, more importantly, out of trouble.
“I’m a former heroin addict, man. I had four prison sentences and when I started to come [here] systematically, it all stopped,” Regalado said. “And all I do today is play handball.”
Regalado says 80% of handball players have already been incarcerated, and inside the caged fence that surrounds the handball court, those men are free.
But it can get tricky to play here, especially when the weather hits triple digits.
“Yesterday was 100, 101. Yeah, that was hot,” said one player, seated in the stands.
The temperature is so scorching that they place their soaked shirts on the stands to dry.
Players arrive as early as 9 a.m. to beat the sun, but they play there and also hold statewide tournaments where players from Dallas, Austin, Corpus Christi, New York and Houston travel to Escobar Park to play a friendly game of bola..
“The line ball is a good ball,” Regalado told the players.
Sony Estrada, which created a Facebook page called One-Wall Handball San Antonio Texaspushes for a solution.
“We have trees around the park, which give us the air and the oxygen we need to breathe, but this sun, this sun is brutal,” Estrada says. “It would be great if we had a tarp or a roof. We talked about it with the townspeople.
Corona, who has played here since 1998, led those conversations with San Antonio Parks and Recreation.
A project like this can cost upwards of $200,000, but he’s pretty optimistic about getting a roof after a recent bond election.
“They (the city parks) are helping us in any way they can and hopefully with this new Parks and Rec bond that just passed yesterday – hopefully we can get a roof over the roof very soon,” Corona says. .
Just over $2 million will be split among five parks in this neighborhood, including Escobar Park, which has been maintained for more than 40 years by the likes of Regalado, Estrada and Corona, who have had second chances.
“I’m staying as healthy as possible and enjoying what’s left of my life and am a productive citizen today. No more no no,” says Regalado.