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Catching Up with Matt Sabatino

Sept. 19, 2008, 12 a.m. (ET)

SALT LAKE CITY - USA Team Handball yesterday announced the appointment of Matt Sabatino in the new capacity of Armed Forces Liaison. Sabatino is a graduate of West Point, where he played as co-captain in 1997. He was also a member of the U.S. National Team from 1998-2000.

Sabatino coached team handball at West Point from 2005-08. Army is the current back-to-back collegiate champions (2007, 2008).

As the new Armed Forces Liaison, he works with the directors of the USA Team Handball to determine which of the current military men and women show enough potential as handball players to train with members of the U.S. National Team with hopes of representing our country in the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

The Army, Air Force, and Navy each have athlete programs for potential Olympians. This program is called the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP). Usually about two to three years prior to the Olympics, athletes in the armed forces are deemed "potential Olympians". They are then stationed to train in their respective Olympic sport as a full-time military job which includes all aspects of physical training: conditioning, nutrition, practice, etc.

The WCAP units for each of the service branches are showpiece units of the military. Being selected to participate in WCAP generally means the athlete has demonstrated superior potential in his/her sport, and the military is willing to sponsor his/her training for the upcoming Olympic games. Being in the WCAP program is normally a one-time opportunity, and the athlete returns to regular military service upon completion of the Olympics.

One of the more well-known participants of WCAP was General George S. Patton (pentathlon).

Coach Sabatino will also help USA Team Handball by developing handball clubs and clinics at military institutions and academies.

Additional Q&A w/ Matt Sabatino

Q: How did you get your start playing team handball?

A: "I started playing team handball as a cadet at West Point. During my sophomore year, I tried out for the team, and I learned to play the sport with the club during the following 3 years at Army."

Q: What made you want to coach team handball?

A: "The Army team was in need of a coach, I was living relatively close to West Point, and one of my best friends asked me to come help get the team handball program back to a competitive level. I enjoyed my experience learning the sport at Army, and I enjoyed my time competing on the U.S. National Team. I wanted to provide the cadets with the opportunity to compete at a high level by teaching them the sport."

Q: In your opinion, why don't more Americans play handball?

A: "I think it just comes down to a lack of exposure. In my case, I had never heard of the sport until I arrived at college. Most people I know who have played the sport or have watched a competitive match find handball to be extremely engaging."

Q: In your opinion, how can the U.S. grow handball's popularity?

A: "The new federation is taking the approach of dividing the nation into competitive regions. By spreading the talent and knowledge that exists with team handball veterans, USA Team Handball can grow handball's popularity throughout the country. Handball is popular with those who have seen and played it. Now it is a matter of providing structured support so those who want to play handball have the opportunity to do so in all regions of the country."

Q: As a coach, what attribute do you look for most in a prospective handball athlete?

A: "Because most Americans have little-to-no experience playing handball, I tend to look for athletes that have demonstrated talent in other sports, particularly basketball and baseball. Basketball players usually have a good court sense and an ability to handle the ball, and baseball players can generally throw and shoot a handball effectively."

Q: What are the key skills young players can develop to help them become future Olympic Handball athletes?

A: "If a young player is interested in handball, the best thing to do is get in touch with the federation. Once he/she sends in some information about his/her location, we can provide information about local clubs and events that are happening in the handball world. The best way to develop in handball is by playing with people who know the sport."

Matt Sabatino Profile

Army Team Handball: 1994-1997

-Co-captain of Army Team in 1996-97

-Collegiate MVP in 1997

U.S. National Team: 1998-2000

Knight Air (Club Team): 1998-2007

-1998 Elite Men's National Champions

Coach:

Army Team Handball: 2005-2008

-Collegiate Champions: 2007, 2008

-Div. 1 Open National Champions: 2006

-Elite Division, National Championships, Silver Medal: 2007

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