When a 14-year-old Gary Hines was first introduced to handball by one of the coaches at the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Atlanta, little did he know how far the sport would take him throughout his life.
Hines, a member of the U.S. men’s indoor national team and a professional handball athlete who has played in Spain and Germany, has competed across the world, lived abroad and learned new languages through his sport.
He is currently in his tenth season for the German team HSC Bad Neustadt, where he scored over 100 goals during each of his nine seasons. Hines has adjusted to life abroad, speaking fluent German, working part-time and living in the Bavarian town of Bad Neustadt where the team practices during the week and competes on Saturdays.
The Olympic Channel recently wrote a feature story about Hines, his many athletic accomplishments and his desire to see handball grow in the United States.
Hines has even made multiple appearances on the television show, Ninja Warrior Germany, the equivalent of American Ninja Warrior. He has made it to the semifinal and final rounds (only the top 27 participants advance to the final round out of a few hundred contenders who competed in the live show) on a number of occasions over the past few years. Hines said one of his goals is to eventually compete on American Ninja Warrior once he spends more time back home.
But all of the opportunities, experiences and memories only came after Hines first fell in love with handball as a young boy in the Atlanta area, going to the Boys & Girls Club every day after school.
“I attended the after-school and summer programs, so the Boys & Girls Club was a daily and yearly place for me. When I was just starting out with organized team sports, our coach introduced us to handball,” Hines said. “I stayed with it because I enjoyed it and connected with handball more than any sport. It combined all the elements of my favorite sports.”
With his athleticism and exceptional jumping ability, Hines grew into one of the nation’s top handball players. He made the junior national team, and later, the national team.
“When I first started traveling, it was because of handball. I had my first trip with the junior national team when I was 15, and that was the first time I really got to experience being out of the country,” Hines said. “Ever since then, I've been traveling to different countries that I never thought I would ever travel to.”
At 35 years old, Hines brings a wealth of experience as one of the more veteran players on the national team. He recently competed in his third Pan American Games for Team USA, where the American men finished sixth overall in Lima, Peru.
“Compared to the last Pan American Games in 2011, it was a big step up. As far as athletes, training, all-around play and experience,” Hines said. “The potential is a lot higher now than in previous years. Our individual skills are there, they're right with the other top teams. We just need more time to train together so we can play better as a team.”
As the national team steadily improves, Hines also hopes that more Americans will learn about handball and fall in love with the sport, just like he did.
One place where that growth could stem from?
The place where it all began for Hines: the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
“I think the Boys & Girls Club would be the best place to start introducing handball to people. You have a lot of good, talented athletes that don't get a chance to play regular, organized sports due to financial issues, living situation or whatever reason. The Boys & Girls Club coaches could teach handball using very little equipment, so the kids can begin playing organized team sports at a younger age,” Hines said.
“If I were telling young athletes about why handball is so great, I would say handball is a combination of their favorite sports. In my personal experience, it got me to see the world, meet new people and learn about different cultures. Compared to being a professional basketball or football player, handball gives you the opportunity to going overseas. You get much more variety.”
The next American handball star, the next Gary Hines, could be waiting in the wings. All they need is a handball.