Brooklyn handball players fight to repair crumbling McCarren courts

WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN — When the McCarren Park athletics reopened earlier this year after a $3 million renovation project, neighborhood handball players returned hoping perhaps their long-neglected courts had also been upgraded. up to date.

But the four handball courts, located on the same pitch just a meter from the brand new track, still had the same uneven lines, cracked floors and misplaced fences they had had for decades, the players said.

“We came back and down and behold, everything around us except the handball courts has been renovated,” said Jose Lugo, who has been playing handball for 43 years and started playing at McCarren a few years ago. “We feel slighted – they renovated the whole park and didn’t give it a second look.”

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Lugo said that since that first day in February, he and the 100 or so other handball players in the neighborhood have tried again and again to have the courts repaired by the Parks Department, with little success.

More recently, Lugo assembled a group of volunteers at the request of the Parks Department to repaint the courts with materials provided by the city. But after several weekends of asking to start with no response, he said the volunteers chose not to help.

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A Parks Department representative told Patch that plans to repaint the courts will take place in July.

The new paint, however, won’t do much for the larger safety issues that players say have made it difficult to use the courts.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the fences, moved when the courts were split into two areas around 15 years ago, are about 5.5ft too close to the boundary lines inside.

The half-dozen players Patch spoke to said they had at one time or another stuck their finger in the chain-link fence while going for a ball because the fences aren’t at the right distance.

“You can’t have a tournament here because of these fences,” said longtime Handball Hall of Fame coach and player Raul Fantauzzi. “High school (games) or the regular park, the complaint is the same – these doors cause injury.”

(José Lugo)

Fantauzzi said the courts have been “terrible” for almost all of his 30 years of training at McCarren, but the fence placement has been by far the biggest impediment to gameplay.

He added that he once collected hundreds of petition signatures to convince Council Member Stephen Levin to fix the fences, but nothing came of it. Levin’s office did not respond to a request for comment from Patch.

Players said they were also injured by countless divots, cracks and holes in the courts’ concrete floors.

Peter Sacramone, who has played handball at McCarren for 13 years, said he broke his left ankle and five bones in his left foot when he fell on the courts. Another friend sprained his ankle just weeks ago in a crack, he added.

(Anna Quinn/Patch)

The dilapidation is of particular concern, players said, given the number of children who use the courts for everything from tennis to lacrosse and even football matches. Aside from local high schools using them for handball teams, young children often use the courts when they want to play in an enclosed area.

“Any of those kids could fall or trip over the cracks,” said Barbara Wlazlo, who has played handball at McCarren for 15 years. “Yes, we play handball here, but there are other things happening here. Anyone, not just us, can get injured.”

(José Lugo)

The Parks Department told Patch that the handball courts were last updated in 2001, but did not respond to more specific questions about what that upgrade included. The department also failed to respond to specific questions about why the courts were not included in the athletics overhaul.

Currently, there are not enough funds to rebuild the handball courts, the department said.

“We are always open to improving our parks and encourage community members to stand up for their parks and amenities by reaching out to their local community councils and elected officials,” said press secretary Anessa Hodgson.

Local players said they hoped the repair of the courts could mean McCarren could become a favorite venue for the handball community. The park would be the perfect place for games given the lighted terrain, which unlike other areas makes nighttime games possible, but most players from other neighborhoods won’t come here due to the conditions.

High school teams that have used the courts in past years have not hosted their games there this season, likely due to poor conditions, the players said.

They added that their sense of contempt has only grown since the athletics overhaul, given that the parks department is expected to invest $6 million in rebuilding a ball diamond over the next year. .

“Maybe some of what’s planned there can help with that,” Lugo said. “We’re trying to see how quickly we can do that.”