It is Official! Outdoor handball has returned to the Twin Cities, and it is here to stay.
The August 28-30 First Annual Minnesota Wallball Invitational resulted in Minnesota’s most widely attended handball tournament since the 2018 World Championships. Located in Clayland Park in the Midway area of St. Paul, the new One Wall courts that were constructed just one year ago have had an immediate influence on handball overall in Minnesota. Ironically, the new one wall courts are just a few blocks from the old Midway YMCA where national champions like Bill Yambrick, Terry Muck, and Danny O Connor learned the game. It has been many years since playable outdoor courts have existed in the Twin Cities area, and in a time when many local clubs remain closed for four-wall play, outdoor courts could not have come at a better time. Local players ranging from newcomers to veteran four-wallers have gathered together in St. Paul for the past two summers to learn the game of One Wall, “Big Ball” handball, and thanks to a bit of organization as well as enthusiastic support from a brewery just up the road, an annual event has been born.
Over the course of the weekend, 4 main event draws unfolded with 40+ players registering for competition. The Doubles and Singles draws for both Open and B brackets offered consolation play, and the final rounds on Saturday evening and Sunday morning were attended by many spectators and passersby. The headliners in the draw included Tracy Davis from California, David Velez from New York, and Sean Lenning from Washington; others still traveled from far reaches of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, and North Dakota to try their hands on the new courts.
The final rounds were filled with highlight reels of dives, re-kills, and incredible saves, and champions were crowned in both Open Doubles and Singles play. The semi-finals featured Sean Lenning vs. David Velez in one half, and Quinn Foley vs. David Schiller in the other half; Velez and Lenning were the first match played, and Velez came out victorious to advance to the final on Sunday morning. The second match between Foley and Schiller was a battle on Saturday evening – in the end, the One Wall veteran Schiller ousted Foley just as the sun was preparing to set and advanced to the final against Velez. Schiller and Foley are local friends and sparring partners, and the pair co-hosted the event all weekend long; although it was all business when the ball was in the air, they went right back to light-hearted humor and camaraderie after the last point was scored.
The following morning, a crowd of 40+ returned to the courts to take in the open singles final. Schiller fought hard and kept things tight, but with a few trick shots and celebratory cartwheels for the audience to boot, Velez came out on top as the First Annual Minnesota Wallball Open Singles Champion. It was Velez’s first time to Minnesota, and he was glad to talk about his experience with his local players back home in New York who were following along online; “I didn’t know there were One-Wallers in Minnesota – I will definitely be back for this event, and I will be bringing more New York One-Wallers with me,” he said. “It is a great atmosphere here – I am grateful to have been invited to play. Mad respect, Minnesota!”
The doubles draw was equally as exciting, as the duo of Omar Jimenez and Carlos Cordero took home a hard-fought win in one semi-final against Erling Holdahl and Donovan Foley. The other semi-final between David Schiller/Tracy Davis and David Velez/Henry Arneson was a game of momentum shifts, but Velez/Arneson prevailed as the finals stage was set for Sunday. The consistent, powerful game by Jimenez and Cordero proved a difficult strategy for opponents to overcome all weekend, but in the end, it was all Velez and Arneson, and Velez claimed his second title of the tournament.
Foley and Schiller, on behalf of the emerging One Wall community here in Minnesota, would like to thank BlackStack Brewing Co -- along with numerous individual donors from the Minnesota Handball community -- for their sponsorship to kickstart the inaugural summertime wallball event at Clayland Park. The “heartbeat of handball” is alive and well in the Midwest, and the call is now out to all One-Wallers to inquire for next year’s calendar dates for the second annual Minnesota Wallball Invitational.
Open Singles Semi-Finals:
Open Singles Final: D. Velez def. D. Schiller
Open Singles 3rd Place: Q. Foley def. S. Lenning
Open Doubles Semi-Finals:
Open Doubles Final: D. Velez / H. Arneson def. O. Jimenez / C. Cordero
No 3rd place was played
B Singles Semi-Finals:
B Singles Final: Dan Swanson def. Jay Spooner
B Doubles Semi-Finals:
B Doubles Final: Chris Hansen / Jay Spooner def. Curt Schlenner / Alberto Cordero