COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - USA Team Handball Chief Executive Officer Matt Van Houten announced today an agreement in principle between USA Team Handball and Auburn University to create a long-term residency program for both the Men's and Women's National Teams.
"This is truly a great day for team handball in the United States. Auburn University and the City of Auburn will be a wonderful home for our athletes and coaches," said Van Houten. "We now have a home and a world-class university to join with us to grow the sport regionally, throughout the State of Alabama, and nationwide. This will maximize our chances of qualifying for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, while establishing a true National Team Program that will place the USA on the path to becoming a Western Hemisphere power for years to come."
Van Houten indicated the idea for the Auburn Residency Program came as a result of a longstanding relationship between Men's National Team Head Coach Javier Garcia-Cuesta and one of his former players from the Women's National Team, Reita Clanton.
"This is a demonstration of how a great coach and great player built a trust and lifelong relationship. Here we had Javier making a social call to one of his former players, just catching up, and when Reita heard that we were looking to establish a residency program for our High Performance Program, she immediately brought the idea to the leadership at the School of Kinesiology. She asked Javier if Auburn could be considered as a possible site for the program and within a short time-frame, Javier and our Director of High Performance, Dave Gascon, were on a plane flying to Auburn to explore the possibility. "
Gascon, USA Team Handball Technical Director Mariusz Wartalowicz, Women's National Team Head Coach Christian Latulippe, Garcia-Cuesta, and Van Houten, had multiple discussions to identify the critical issues to make such a program viable. Gascon prepared a formal presentation and was joined by Garcia-Cuesta in meeting Auburn officials from July 11-13. The pair initially met with Dr. Mary Rudisill, Director of the School of Kinesiology, her assistant, Dr. Dave Pascoe, and Clanton. The meetings were highly successful, leading to a follow-up discussion regarding several items of importance. Auburn officials promptly addressed all concerns, paving the way for a follow-up visit.
On July 31, Gascon once again journeyed to Auburn where he met with the President of Auburn University, the Dean of the College of Education, the Athletic Director, Auburn City Officials, members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Travel and Tourism Bureau, and several other key campus officials. The meetings demonstrated total support for the Auburn Residency Program.
"Our entire High Performance Team discussed every aspect of this offer and we are convinced this is an amazing opportunity for our athletes. We are grateful for the professionalism and sincerity of those wonderful people from Auburn University. We look forward to a committed partnership through at least the 2020 Olympic Games," proclaimed Van Houten. "Look for the United States to become a formidable opponent in this sport over the next several years."
With the formal agreement soon to be completed, the High Performance Team is not waiting. Garcia-Cuesta held a Men's tryout on July 13. Twenty-nine athletes hit the court with at least nine being superior and worthy of additional consideration for the Men's National Team Pool.
"I wasn't surprised at all and I expect we will see a significant number of blue chip athletes try out for our National Teams," said an elated Gascon. "We will be attracting Southeastern Conference players from various sports. The SEC is one of the most powerful conferences in the NCAA. Give Javier and Christian 18 months with some of these athletes and our returning players and both the USA Men's and Women's National Teams will be very difficult to handle!"
Photo courtesy of John Ryan, Team Handball News