U.S. Men’s National Team athletes Patrick and Ian Hueter grew up in Neuss, Germany, where they were exposed to a rich handball culture and well-established, historic handball clubs.
It was a stark contrast with what they saw in America, when they would visit their family and friends in San Francisco — and the brothers now hope to elevate the sport in the United States.
“I think handball in the U.S. could be huge. I see progress in our sport right now and I see progress out of the people playing handball in America,” Patrick said. “I really hope that can be one of our accomplishments, to bring this game up to a certain level. We could really give Americans another sport to enjoy.”
The brothers have been playing for Team USA since 2018. They’ve played for German club TSV Bayer Dormagen since 2008, joining the club when they were just in their teens.
TSV Bayer Dormagen’s handball department was founded over 70 years ago, and is one of 20 teams in the 2. Handball-Bundesliga, the second tier of professional handball in Germany. The club also runs youth teams across all age groups, providing a talent pipeline that the brothers advanced through until they reached the senior men's team.
“On the American team, the experience range is more diverse,” Ian said. “Some of us have played handball since we were little and some just started playing handball a few years ago. But that’s what makes this project so interesting, being a part of building up a team, competing internationally and being able to pass on my handball experiences to my teammates.”
Patrick, 24, first tried handball with a youth team when he was 13. He soon met Pascal Mahé, a two-time Olympian and former French handball player, who was coaching at the time for Dormagen and invited the Heuters to come try out.
“Personally, I'm really happy to have had the opportunity to continue my studies and play professional handball,” Patrick said, who earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration this past January. “We feel so attached to the Dormagen team and I'm very grateful for that. It's been a great journey over the past 10 years.”
Ian, 22, initially played soccer and handball as a child, but chose to focus on handball after winning a tournament at age 10. The brothers joined Dormagen a year later, and after steadily moving up the club's teams, Patrick and Ian signed their first professional contracts in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
“We're really happy at Dormagen, it's our home,” Ian said, who is in his second semester at Fontys International Business School in Venlo, Netherlands. “We're treated really well there and it's been such a fun experience.”
In 2018, the brothers were presented with a unique opportunity that would bring them closer to the American side of their background.
One of their teammates connected them to USA Team Handball assistant coach, Mark Ortega, a few weeks before the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team traveled to Dormagen for a training camp.
“We started practicing with them and had a lot of fun,” Patrick said. “We decided to work hard this year and try to get the team prepared for the Pan American Games. That was the start of it.”
With Patrick unable to leave due to exams, Ian traveled to Auburn University to compete against Canada for the Pan American Qualifying Series. He was soon named captain of the team by coach Robert Hedin, and helped the team secure its spot in the 2019 Pan American Games.
“Meeting all the guys on the team and being part of the qualifiers was definitely a big highlight for me,” Ian said. “It really marked my starting point with Team USA. It was also a huge honor for me to be named captain; both me and Patrick are very glad to be part of the U.S. program.”
Both brothers represented Team USA last summer, when they traveled to Peru for the Pan American Games. Their extended family flew from Germany, Switzerland and the U.S. to support them — and found Ian and Patrick walking into the stadium with 641 other members of the Team USA athlete delegation during the Opening Ceremony.
“I had goosebumps during the entire ceremony. We looked to our left and saw our family waving. ” Patrick said. “We wouldn’t have gotten to that point without their support over the years. Entering the stadium and representing the United States was just an amazing experience that we will never forget. “
The men finished sixth in Lima with losses to Argentina, Chile and Cuba, but Ian and Patrick are optimistic about the future of American handball. With Team USA guaranteed to play handball at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the brothers are prepared to work over the next eight years to get the team ready.
“For me, the ultimate goal is the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. If I just mention that, I get goosebumps already because I'm so excited at the possibility of playing team handball in Los Angeles in 2028,” Ian said.
“We're a young team, which is good because we're going to get a lot better over the years. I know we still have to a lot of work to do, both as a team and as a sport in this country. The young American girls and boys playing handball in schools and on playgrounds, they’re our future. We need to get them excited about team handball, then anything is possible.”