It’s early morning and the weather is already starting to warm up, but that won’t stop these Lee Middle School students from working.
Since work began on May 16, teacher Louie Zendejas and a few Lee students have been busy every morning, noon and afternoon building a handball court.
They’ve already spent four straight hours working the first day, leaving with blisters on their hands, but students Marcus Magallanes, Rudy Palomapalo, Justin Zaragoza, Nic Rutledge and Sergeio Aragos don’t care.
They’re just trying to finish the short before leaving for Woodland High School. But even if they don’t, they will still visit and play here on the ground in which they worked so hard.
“We can come back here and say we built this,” said eighth-grader Nic Rutledge. “We will do everything we can to complete the court.”
The idea came about when Zendajas noticed that handball was becoming a popular game for local students, even primary school children.
Handball is a game where individual players or teams hit a ball against a wall with their hands and try to make their opponents miss. It’s become a big sport at Lee, who recently hosted a small tournament.
After it started picking up, Zendejas noticed the kids playing on a small wall next to the gym, and he didn’t think it was good.
“The pitch there was too small and the gate was still in the way,” Rutledge said.
After talking to a few children, he gave them an idea: to build their own handball court.
He started looking for a better place in the school and found it on the west side of the school near the locker rooms. But he wanted to make sure these students weren’t just asking for a handball court, he wanted them to get on it.
Each student had to research the equipment they needed and the size of the court. They even wrote a letter to send to local businesses and organizations asking for help with supplies.
“These kids, you can’t just give them, we want them to do the leg work,” he said.
Another thing Zendejas made sure to do was put to rest the rumor that the sport started in prisons, by asking students to research the history behind the sport.
He came from Europe, Rutledge said.
It’s not just the students playing either.
Eighth-grade student Marcus Magallanes competes in tournaments with his father. Last week they played in Sacramento, this week they are playing in a handball tournament at Ferns Park.
Zendejas knows that some people play handball there, but he thinks the students need their own space to play against people their own age.
Not only is handball a fun and inexpensive game, but everyone plays it, from at-risk kids to honor roll students, Zendejas said.
The kids can’t wait to finish it, but they still have a lot of work to do.
And while the students are happy to work for the handball court, they realize they need supplies and support from the community. They try to contact local residents who might have a bobcat to remove dirt and level the ground, someone who can frame the land, and most importantly, they donate for cement.
Then, once everything is assembled, anyone can come and play. They are thinking of having tournaments against different schools, Lee against Douglass, Pioneer High against Woodland High.
“Something to keep these guys busy,” Zendejas said.
Anyone looking to help can contact Paula Rios at the Lee Student Store at 406-7357 and Sara Muratalla at 406-7352.