Handball club driven by former player, now coach
MSU Club Handball head coach Carl Valentino has seen six national championships throughout his career — two of them having occurred in the previous eight years — a national handball coach of the year award in 2013 and five individuals who are national champions under his tutelage.
“I’ve won one more national championship than Tom Izzo, but I don’t make quite as much money,” Valentino said.
These are the accolades of Valentino, who has been playing handball at MSU since 1961, after the handball team became national champions that year.
“After that, no one much played on campus,” Valentino said. “They had an intramural championship every year which I won. There wasn’t that many good players.”
Handball, not to be confused with Team Handball, is played on a racquetball, but instead of using a racquet, players use their hands, Valentino said.
Valentino said he first learned to play handball in Detroit before he to MSU and took the handball course offered at MSU.
“My teacher, when I was a student, said, ‘Hey, if you can beat me in handball, you don’t have to come (to class) anymore,’” Valentino said. “I beat him 21-0.”
However, Club Handball was brought back eight years ago by Valentino after he retired from his job.
Valentino met with Larry Sierra, then-director of Intramural Sports and Recreative Services, to discuss bringing back handball, he said.
Valentino said he found some MSU students who joined and ended up taking three of them to the University of Minnesota for handball nationals, where one student became a national champion.
“I brought it (handball) back because I love the game so much,” Valentino said.
Valentino said Club Handball started to spread across campus.
“The kids started telling other kids and in four years, I had a full team of six guys and six girls,” Valentino said.
With no sustainable funding from MSU, Valentino has financed all of the trips for the clubs throughout the eight years the club has been active.
This year, however, Valentino is taking 14 players with him to Arizona State University for nationals, paying for their flight and rooms for four nights.
“They don't really pay anything,” Valentino said.
In addition to seeing his players succeed, Valentino said there are three other reasons why he loves handball.
“You get flexibility because you’re stretching your body to lean down to pick up balls, it gives you a cardiovascular workout and it gives you a muscular workout that balances the body,” Valentino said. “It’s a great game, it gets you in shape.”
Valentino said being able to hit the ball with the "off-hand" takes years for this skill to develop and that the biggest problem for players is the hardness of the ball.
“I had to take people’s hands … I put liners in and give them gloves and pads,” Valentino said. “If you’re not in really good shape and you’re playing somebody, it becomes very difficult.”
For business-preference freshman Emma Valley, who joined the handball club recently, the most difficult thing about handball is the hand-eye coordination, she said.
“I find myself swinging and missing every once in a while,” Valley said.
However, Valley said the coaching of Valentino has helped her improve her knowledge and skill of handball.
“Honestly, within the few weeks I have had (with Valentino), he’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” Valley said. “(He's) just watching you and teaching you from it and actually listening to what you have to say.”