When graduate international student Deborah Seipp decided to create a team handball club at SUNY Cortland, her goal was to introduce the university community to a new sport that she’d loved since she was a small child in Germany.
Seipp, whose efforts resulted in team handball being offered as a club sport this spring, didn’t realize she was building on a little-known chapter of SUNY Cortland’s history.
From 2003 to 2007, SUNY Cortland was the training center for U.S. Team Handball’s Women’s National Team, recruiting and developing athletes to represent the United States in the sport. It was also offered as a club sport at SUNY Cortland during that time, lasting until about 2009.
It’s unclear why the program moved from Cortland, but by the time Seipp came to campus for her first semester last fall, there wasn’t much evidence that the popular European sport had ever had a foothold in Central New York.
“When I came to SUNY Cortland, it was clear for me that I would not be playing club handball,” said Seipp, president and coach of the new club. “In the U.S., the nearest team handball clubs are probably more than three to four hours away. So I was fine with not playing team handball."
Unlike American handball, team handball does not involve slapping a little black ball against a wall. Think, instead, of water polo without the water, or basketball with goals instead of baskets. The game is played between two teams, each with six court players and a goalie, on a wooden or PVC surface a little larger than a basketball court. The object of the game is to throw a honeydew melon-sized ball into your opponent’s goal and prevent the others from scoring a goal by regaining possession of the ball.
“Team handball is more like lacrosse but you’re doing more passes,” said Seipp, who, like many European children, has been playing team handball since first grade.
In Germany, she is a certified team handball coach and plays center back in a team handball league. At Cortland, Seipp is studying exercise science, working toward a master’s degree in performance, training and coaching at the German Sport University in Cologne.
Seipp was inspired to bring the sport to Cortland after taking Physical Education Lecturer Diana Niland’s team sport methods class, which let her sample a range of popular American team sports.
In the class, Niland taught a couple of invasion games, including basketball and soccer, Seipp said. These are games where you need to invade an opponent’s territory to score a goal.
“I asked myself, ‘What’s the main goal of playing a sport?’ It’s having people engaged in a sport where you are active and exercise” ... “I realized that team handball could be valuable for schoolchildren. They do have the skills to play it because nearly every kid learns how to throw a ball.”
Seipp approached Niland about making her idea a reality.
“We had some professional conversations, and she asked about whether team handball was in the curriculum anywhere,” said Niland, who became the Team Handball club’s advisor.
“She showed tremendous initiative. The students were interested in her expertise and asked for her. She had that clout. She even worked with me to help me design a lesson plan.”
During winter break in and near San Francisco, California and elsewhere around the U.S., Seipp practiced and networked to set up league competition with Cortland’s club. She took the initiative to obtain the sport’s unique balls from U.S.A. Team Handball, the national, governing body for the Olympic discipline for team handball.
And she decided to remain at SUNY Cortland an additional semester to get the club up and running.
Seipp will teach a 0.5 credit course in team handball later this spring. Students may enroll in the fourth quarter registration period, Monday, March 6, to Tuesday, March 21, for PED 129 640, ST: Team Handball. The class will be taught Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:20 to 11:10 a.m. in Park Center, Room 2210.
At the start of the semester, a core group of students with Cortland’s Team Handball Club began practicing Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. at the Student Life Center’s largest basketball court.
In Niland’s opinion, the Team Handball Club has a good shot at success.
Last semester, about 15 students showed up at the interest meeting Seipp organized. She continues to recruit, and made sure to install underclassmen as officers to help ensure continuity. They are: Vice President Liam Park, a junior physical education major; Treasurer Nick Valentin, a junior sport management major; Secretary Ryan Kurtz, a first-year childhood education major.
Seipp hopes that non-students — especially international faculty, staff, alumni and boosters from the local community — will support the club activity.
Illona Szotyori Ryon ’08, M ’10, a physical education teacher in the Cortland Enlarged City School District, was a member of SUNY Cortland’s Women’s National Team Handball team that took international competition to just short of the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing.
“I know I am forever grateful for my team handball experiences,” said Ryon, a former Cortland soccer standout who was named to the All-SUNYAC second team and was an ESPN the Magazine College Division District I All-Academic first team selection.
“After my freshman soccer season ended in the fall of 2004, I went to check out the Women’s National Team Handball team training at Lusk Field House,” Ryon recalled. Lindsay Coons Steenland ’08, M ’11 was key in starting that original club team.
“I immediately felt that I had to try and play the sport,” Ryon said. “It combined fast paced passing, hard shooting, high scoring, and very physical defense. I was in disbelief when I found out that the national team was training right here in Cortland and was having open tryouts.”
Ryon made the national team.
“In 2005, I was beyond ecstatic to represent team USA in the Pan American Championships in Brazil,” Ryon recalled. “The roar and size of the crowd was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It made me realize that in many countries team handball is extremely popular.”
C-Club Hall of Fame inductee and women’s lacrosse and soccer standout Sue Behme ’93 capped her career as assistant captain for the USA National Handball team as a starting wing in the Pan American championships in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2004-05. Amanda Gillette ’03, then 23, who had been an all-conference cross country and track runner at Cortland, also played that year on the national team.
The team also placed second in 2006 and 2007 at college nationals, according to Ryon. In 2008, the women’s team became national champions after beating Army (West Point) in a close game.
Students interested in participating in the Cortland Team Handball Club practice sessions must first register beforehand on DoSportsEasy by selecting the link and then choosing “Team Handball.” Once the form is filled out and required documents uploaded, select the “Print Your Emergency Card” button and, due to liability, be sure to bring the printed emergency card to the training. Individuals may try three practices before they must pay the $25 membershipfee. Sport clothing with indoor shoes or track shoes are advised. For more information, contact Seipp.