The Ball Was in Our Court: Olympic Handball at CSU Fullerton

By Conrad E. Negron, CSU Fullerton, M.A., History (2016).

Team Handball items from the 1984 Summer Olympics

Team Handball items from the 1984 Summer Olympics. Artifacts from the Pollak Library University Archives & Special Collections.

Introduction

Hello! My name is Conrad E. Negron and I recently graduated from California State University, Fullerton with my Master’s Degree in History (public history) emphasis. I have worked in the Digitization studio at Pollak Library for since Spring 2015, and devoted some of that time in the Archives and Special Collections re-shelving and acquainting myself with some of the historically intriguing items. Last summer, I came across an Olympic handball used in a match during the 1984 Games, which took place at the Titan Gym. It took this long to finally sit down with the ball, other pieces of memorabilia and newspaper clippings to construct a blogworthy post for the visitors, students, and staff of Pollak Library.

Enjoy.

Olympic Origins

Image of ancient Olympic games.

The Ancient Greeks used the Olympic Games as a method to honor the Gods. Image used under Fair Use, courtesy of Listverse.com.

As a method of challenging the physical abilities of man and honoring the great Zeus, the ancient Greeks created a tradition that pre-dates the miracles of Jesus. From 776 B.C., the ancient Greeks held their first Olympic Games in the city of Olympia, and every four years after that until 394 A.D. when Emperor Theodosius put a stop to them in an attempt to filter out pagan rituals from the Roman Empire. For nearly 1500 years, the Olympics Games ceased to exist in Greece. By the mid-19th century, the Wenlock Olympian Games, which took place in England, and the Zappas Olympic Games in Athens, stoked the Olympic flame for Pierre de Coubertin, the man known for reviving the Olympics as they are known as today. The Wenlock and Zappas Games were only played in their respective locales, but the modern Olympics that began in 1896 needed ties to Europe and America in order to promote competition and obtain the financial backing to ensure its continuance every four years.

Photo of 1896 opening ceremonies.

Opening Ceremonies at the first Modern Olympic Games, Greece 1896. Image used under Fair Use, courtesy of About.com.

Handball, really?

Once the modern Olympic Games got its start, European countries such as Germany, Czechoslovakia and Denmark began playing a game that resembled the team handball we know today. The game was invented in Germany following WWI because gymnasts did not find football (soccer) as engaging as a game in which the ball could be touched using only the hands. Germany singlehandedly dominated the 1936 Berlin Games, and six out of seven other world championships. Team handball, which it is known as professionally, underwent several changes regarding its rules, and even though team handball made an appearance at the 1936 Games, the International Handball Federation (IHF), was not founded until 1946. Thirteen years later in 1959, the United States Team Handball Federation (USTHF) was established to build the first modern U.S. handball team.

International Team Handball did not receive a permanent spot in the Olympics until the 1972 Munich Games, which as per official rules, housed each match on an indoor court. These handball matches solely consisted of male teams, but at the 1976 Montreal Games, woman’s teams received their permanent spot at the Olympics.

Photo of team handball at the 1936 Olympics.

1936 Team Handball (last time played on an open field). Image used under Fair Use, courtesy of Handball Goalkeeper Coaching.

1972 Handball at Munich Games.

1972 Team Handball Munich Games (Milan Lazarevic of Yugoslavia).Image used under Fair Use, courtesy of Handball Goalkeeper Coaching.

Team Handball: 1976 Summer Olympics: USSR victorious with coach after win vs Romania during Gold Medal Match at Claude Robillard Centre. Montreal, Canada 7/17/1976--8/1/1/1976 CREDIT: James Drake (Photo by James Drake /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X20680 )

Team Handball: 1976 Summer Olympics: USSR victorious with coach after win vs Romania during Gold Medal Match at Claude Robillard Centre. Montreal, Canada 7/17/1976–8/1/1/1976. CREDIT: James Drake (Photo by James Drake /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X20680 ). Image used under Fair Use.

Handball at CSUF

Photo of CSUF flag raising ceremony, with olympic buttons.

CSUF President Jewel Plummer Cobb, VP for Sports Wayne C. Collett (far left), and team handball commissioner of the LAOOC Tom Megonigal (middle) join Sam the Olympic Eagle for the ceremonial flag raising, with Olympic buttons overlaid. Image courtesy of Titan News, Winter 1983 edition Vol. 1 No. 2. From the Pollak Library University Archives & Special Collections.

Prior to the 1984 Games, CSUF hosted the Team Handball National Championships sponsored by Isuzu in April of that year. Students and the public became aware of how Team Handball is played. The presence of the sport on campus prepared everyone for a summer filled with Olympic spirit.

Handball event pamphlet from 1984 games.

1984 Handball National Championships Pamphlet at Cal State Fullerton April 6,7, & 8. From the Pollak Library University Archives & Special Collections.

On March 26, 1981, California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) and the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC) signed an agreement, which stated that the Titan Gymnasium would host the Olympic handball competition for the 1984 Games. Between March 1981 and June 1984, CSUF’s Titan Gym saw a significant change on the basketball court in order to align itself with team handball standards. In addition to new rows of seating, the gym installed 350 tons of temporary air conditioning units for players, attendees, and volunteers.

Cover of Daily Titan 1984 Olympic Edition.

CSUF Daily Titan Special 1984 Olympic Edition, Fullerton, CA. (July 31- August 10) (Dated May 22-25). From the Pollak Library University Archives & Special Collections.

Inside the Daily Titan special olympic edition.

Inside the Daily Titan Special 1984 Olympic Edition: “Titan Gym site of Team Handball,” by Andy Sheridan (pages 16-17). From the Pollak Library University Archives & Special Collections.

The night before the games began, an opening ceremony featuring CSUF’s president at the time (name), and at one point, six guests fell over a wooden railing in order to catch a bouquet. Regardless of this unfortunate event, the games went on without incident. Every Team Handball match occurred here at CSUF except for the final round, which took place at the Forum in Inglewood, California. Overall, Olympic Handball at CSUF proved to be a rousing success with all matches selling out very quickly. Would you like to see Olympic Handball back at CSUF?

Covers of three newspapers that wrote about the gym injuries.

a) Palmer, Sylvia. “6 Injured as Rail Collapses at Gym.” Daily News Tribune [Fullerton] 10 Aug. 1984.
b) “Olympic Spectators Hurt.” Record-Searchlight [Redding] 10 Aug. 1984: n. pag. Record Searchlight.
c) Hicks, Jerry, and Diana Griego. “Handball Site Bounces Back on Day After.” Los Angeles Times 114 Aug. 1984.
d) “Railing Accident.” San Diego Evening Tribune 10 Aug. 1984.
From the Pollak Library University Archives & Special Collections.

Fact or Fiction? Test Your Knowledge

Check your knolwedge against the quiz answers displayed underneath the author’s biography.

Q1) The ancient Games were held all over Europe and the Mediterranean?

Q2) Women were actually better athletes than men?

Q3) Ancient Competitors did not wear clothes?

Q4) Team Handball scored a permanent spot in the Olympics in 1936?

Q5) The CSUF Titan Gym underwent many changes in order to house Olympic Team Handball?


About the Author

Conrad Negron graduated from California State University, San Bernardino, in spring 2014 with a BA in History. His primary research focuses on public and oral history as well as the Vietnam War. Negron plans to graduate with his MA in Fall 2016 from California State University, Fullerton. Mostly recently he served as President of the Cultural and Public History Association (CPHA), and has worked as an editor for the 2015 edition of the Welebaethan journal. Negron is also a member of Phi Alpha Theta, Theta Pi chapter and the History Student Association (HSA). Currently, he is designing a museum exhibit, which deals with the United States soldier perspective of the Vietnam War through photography.


Quiz Answers

A1) False. The Ancient Games were strictly Panhellenic

A2) False. Women did not compete in the ancient Olympic Games, they had their own competitions.

A3) True. The reasons are unknown, but there is room for speculation.

A4) False. Although it was played that year, Team Handball did not receive a permanent seat until 1972.

A5) True. Air conditioning units, bleachers, and other temporary offices were installed for the summer games.

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