Schumake's team in competition against Denmark at the 2019 Partille Cup in Gothanburg, Sweden.
It only takes one person to make a big difference in a community.
That idea couldn’t be more true for Thomas Schumake, a physical education instructor at Bret Harte Middle School in San Jose, California, who has positively impacted many students in the community after introducing handball into the PE curriculum a few years ago.
“I played handball myself in high school and remember it being really fun and enjoyable.That’s why I incorporated handball into our curriculum when I began teaching at Bret Harte,” Schumake said. “I've yet to have a kid try the sport and say that they hate it. Everyone's loved it so far.”
Not long after, Schumake received an email from local handball coach Martin Bilello, asking if he’d like to collaborate by organizing an exhibition game between middle schools and putting together a youth handball team.
Schumake left it up to his students to decide if they were interested in the sport enough to form a team. Not only did they agree, they also went undefeated that first year and won the California Cup.
“From that point on, we went all in,” Schumake said. “The group of kids I had are really coachable and athletic, and really enjoy competition. They took to handball like a fish took to water.”
Looking for more competitions and experience for his players, Schumake took his team to Gothanburg, Sweden to compete in the Partille Cup, the largest youth handball tournament in the world.
Over 24,000 athletes from 90 countries competed — and Schumake’s team from San Jose was the only one representing the United States.
“The Partille Cup was a wonderful experience and helped the kids fall even more in love with the game,” Schumake said. “Although we didn’t earn many wins, we did great for 12 kids from middle school, playing international teams that had been playing together for years. If the kids continue to show the same dedication, effort, camaraderie and respect, we definitely want to keep taking them to the Partille Cup in the future.”
Schumake's team representing the United States walking into the Parade of Nations at the 2019 Partille Cup in Gothanburg, Sweden.
Schumake has seen positive results from his students playing handball, both on and off the court. Not only is handball fast-paced and high-scoring; it also stresses teamwork and sportsmanship to its players. Arguing with a referee, for example, results in immediate penalty from the game.
“Sometimes in traditional American sports, you’ll see a player explode or argue with the referee if there's a call that they don't like. But I really stress respect to our handball team — that’s the key,” Schumake said.
“We talk a lot about being selfless, respecting the team above all else and respecting every process of the game. I've seen instances where my kids could potentially have gotten aggravated or boiled over, and now they reassess and don’t let their attitude or temper get the best of them.”
One of Schumake’s main challenges to growing the sport is the lack of handball facilities in the United States. He, along with Bilello, has advocated for years to get handball courts for the children to use.
This year, Schumake was finally successful in obtaining the first official outdoor handball court in California, perhaps in the entire country. It may only be a single court, but it's a start.
“With the success and respect that the boys have shown, the entire school and community has taken note of the success that they've had and there wasn't much pushback for us to create a court. Now when we have games, families are nearby for their kids playing tennis, soccer, or other sports, and they always stop and watch handball for a few minutes but end up watching the entire game,” Schumake said.
“The parents always say, ‘where was handball when I was a kid? How come we never played this?’ and other kids say they want to start playing handball too. Having this one court has resulted in a lot of exposure and it’s shown the potential of what handball could really be in the community. It could be something really big.”
A photo of the official outdoor handball court that Schumake was able to get established in San Jose, California earlier this year.