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Fullerton’s ‘Gumbys’ Come of Age : Titans Are Among Favorites at Team Handball Nationals

Times Staff Writer

Two former standout college basketball players, five Danish nannies and a former prep cross-country runner are the unlikely members of the Cal State Fullerton women’s team handball squad that will participate in the U.S. Nationals, which begin today at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

The team, informally known as “The Gumbys”, is one of the favorites to win the national title despite the fact they’ve played together for only two years. Such is the nature of this obscure Olympic sport that has gradually gained in popularity in the United States since the 1984 Games.

Team handball combines many of the aspects of basketball, soccer and water polo. The game is played in 30-minute halves on a surface one-third larger than a basketball court.

Each seven-man team has a goalie who protects a 10-by-6 1/2-foot net goal. The six field players play offense and defense.

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The object of the game is to throw a leather-covered handball, which is about the size of a cantaloupe, into the opposing goal for a point. Final scores in the fast-paced game are usually high.

Meg Gallagher and Rhonda Weyer, who started for Fullerton’s basketball team, have been training with the national team in Colorado Springs, Colo., for the past month. Both will join the Titan team in Ohio.

Gallagher is considered the brightest new women’s prospect in the sport. The 6-foot left-hander is an adept scorer.

“With Rhonda and Meg in the lineup, I predict we’ll finish in the top three,” said Lucinda Sekal, the team’s player-coach. “Last year, we were the joke team.

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“We went to the nationals basically to learn the game. Since then, we’ve really improved. We beat the California Heat, which is the best team in the state, recently. We’re getting better with experience.”

There was no need for an introduction to team handball for five players on the team. Helle Svendsen, Jane Larsen, Jane Sorensen, Nanna Broderson and Lone Dahl Hanses started playing team handball in grade school in Denmark, their native country.

The women are working in Orange County as nannies for American families and joined Fullerton’s team this season with the help of an official at the U.S. Team Handball Federal headquarters in New Jersey.

“The game comes naturally to them,” Sekal said. “They’ve taught us a lot about the sport and made us a better team at the same time.”

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Sekal is the only other experienced player on the team. She served as a floor monitor and locker room attendant during the Olympic competition, which was held at Fullerton. She played team handball in two National Sports Festivals and helped form the club team at Fullerton.

One of Sekal’s recruits was Nancy Curl, a junior studying international marketing at Fullerton. Curl, a former track and cross-country performer at California High in Whittier, is making the slow adjustment to the new sport.

“I saw the game on television once and then watched a game when the Olympics were here in 1984,” she said. “When I saw a flier posted at Titan Gym, I decided to give it a try.

“The game has been difficult to learn. It’s so different from conventional American sports like softball and basketball that women play. The throw is overhand, which is a contrast to softball. You’re allowed to take three steps instead of two in basketball.”

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Despite the awkward transition period, Sekal said the sport offers new opportunities for athletes.

“The great thing about team handball is it gives players in other sports a new start,” she said. “So many athletes burn out in the conventional sports because they’ve been playing them most of their lives.

“Most of the women on this team didn’t start playing until they were in their 20s. Look at Rhonda and Meg. They’ve found a new sport. I think you’ll see two Cal State Fullerton alums playing in the ’88 Olympics in South Korea.”


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