It’s a combination of hockey, lacrosse and soccer with a little basketball and football tossed in for good measure and it’s a sport picking up steam in Central Alberta.
“Team handball is an Olympic sport which a lot of people in Canada probably aren’t aware of,” said Dale Henderson, head coach of the newly-minted Notre Dame High School squad. “But in Europe and Asia it’s a huge game.”
Here in Central Alberta the sport has been played by teams from Lindsay Thurber, Hunting Hills and Bentley.
The Alberta Schools Athletic Association brought in team handball as a provincial sport a few years back and Henderson explained it’s played during many Phys. Ed. classes but not at the competitive level.
In fact, the Bentley coach has been around the game for many years and was the driving force behind a push to get the provincial backing of the ASSA, said Henderson who has been involved in team handball for about 20 years himself.
“A lot of kids were bugging me to give it a shot so I said fine.”
The season is very short for team handball with zone playoffs coming up in the third week of April, followed by provincials the next weekend.
“We don’t even have a league,” he said. “So we’re hopefully going to have an exhibition tournament with everybody and the zone tournament and the winner goes to provincials and that’s it basically.”
The sport is played in a school gym, using the entire area and players are allowed to take three steps, dribble the ball then take three more steps followed by more dribbling.
There is also plenty of short passing in order to move the ball up the floor in this very quick paced game.
“Like hockey you substitute on the fly,” he said. “The other side of it, defensively it’s a bit physical which some of the boys like because they get to push and shove within reason.”
The net resembles a cross between a hockey and an indoor soccer net with the crease area measuring about 6 m out from the goal line and is considered forbidden territory.
“Nobody is allowed in there except the goalie, not even the defenders so it gives the goalie the opportunity to defend his area without someone really close to him.”
Players can leave their feet before entering the crease to release a shot which adds to the enjoyment of the high scoring game, he said.
“It’s not a goalies’ game, it’s a scorers’ game,” said Henderson.
It has caught the attention of plenty of players for the first season at Notre Dame and Henderson says to this point the students are really enjoying the challenge of a new sport.
“One of the common comments I get from them is how hard it is. A few of them have been on twitter saying they can’t believe how hard it is, how complicated and difficult it’s been but it’s a great sport.”
Henderson hopes to see schools from surrounding areas like Innisfail, Sylvan Lake and Lacombe try to form teams to expand the local league and grow the sport.
As for his novice teams’ chances against the more experienced schools in the region Henderson says he isn’t setting the bar too high at this point for the Cougars.
“We’re going to give it a shot. It’s not about winning – it’s about introducing.”