FLANDERS, N.J. – The 61st annual Sportsfest took place during the first weekend of August at the Swim & Sport Club in Flanders, New Jersey. Despite not being a sanctioned event by USA Team Handball, Sportsfest has a uniquely rich history as the longest running team handball tournament in the Western Hemisphere.
Started in 1960, Sportsfest has been featured team handball every year at the Swim & Sport Club. The club is considered one of the birth places of USA Team Handball, given the number of national team athletes and Olympians it has produced.
The event has long been run by two-time Olympian, Jim Buehning, who competed for Team USA at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics.
"Handball happens on one field and soccer is on the other. That's why it's not a handball fest, it's a 'Sportsfest'," said Gretchen Braunschweiger, who has helped Buehning organize the event for the past five years.
“This sport really has a long history with our club. Soccer only started playing at Sportsfest around 20 to 25 years ago. Which is a long time, of course, but it's not 60 years."
The Swim & Sport Club's facilities span over 26 acres, with sports fields for soccer, team handball and fistball. It also offers its members a pool/lake, kitchen, pavilions, play areas, and much more.
With the coronavirus pandemic, attendance was much more limited this year in comparison to previous tournaments, in order to keep numbers within the state's COVID-19 gathering limits.
"Normally, we have teams that come from Ohio, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Illinois to name a few. There's always been a Canadian team at Sportsfest, from Ontario or Toronto, so they were definitely missed this year," Braunschweiger said.
"But because of all the Covid problems this year, not only do a lot of clubs have trouble fielding a team, not everybody wants to play, but the Canadians were concerned that they might not be able to get back home. We usually open the tournament with flying the American and Canadian flags and playing both national anthems. We've had teams from other countries too, if they're in the U.S. at that time. It's been pretty interesting and quite international over the years. But this year, it's a mid-Atlantic edition of Sportsfest."
The 2020 tournament featured five men's teams and two women's teams from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
"In the past, Sportsfest has oftentimes hosted over 1,000 people. Outdoor gatherings have a cap at 500 people in New Jersey," Braunschweiger said. "It unfortunately was extremely limited, as we had to put a cap on the number of teams, and even the guests, friends and family coming in to watch the teams. Even though Sportsfest always been a really nice family weekend, but this was not the year to do that."
Despite the inability to have some traditions this year, including having the winning women's and men's teams drink beer out of a giant boot-shaped pitcher, players and guests were still able to camp on the grounds.
A number of longtime members of the handball community were also present, including 1984 Olympian Craig Gilbert, 1984 and 1988 Olympian Steve Kirk, Steve Baumbusch, a longtime player, coach and referee, Mark Stanton, a former national team goalkeeper who has continued playing in his 50s, and Peter Buehning Jr., a 1976 handball Olympian who went on to serve as a referee at the 1984 Olympic Games and the 1986 Men’s World Championships.
"New York City and The New York Athletic Club are faithful attendees, every year," Braunschweiger said. "We can always count on those two teams, thanks to Shkumbin Mustafa from NYC Team Handball Club and Bill Harrison, Tom Fitzgerald and Laszlo Jurak from The New York Athletic Club, so it's great to be able to depend on them being here."
Sportsfest 2020 Final Results: