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  • Freddy Ramirez

Handball Takes Me Back To My Roots

Jomar Santiago aka 'Philly Shooter"

I drove to Philadelphia at the end of May to meet up with a young, dynamic handball player named Jomar Santiago. Jomar, known as "Philly Shooter" with the NYC handball set, had made some waves playing in some of New York's biggest handball events. I had spoken to this kid over the phone to arrange some time for some video work and I found him to be a refreshingly respectful young man, who is driven by his passion for handball. The handball community in Philly is nowhere near as big as the community found in NYC, but in terms of attitude and vibrancy (I'm choosing my words carefully here,) it's almost as if you took a slice of NYC and transplanted it in Philadelphia.

I found myself with my camera in hand with Jomar in Philadelphia because like most people working in sports, this has been a truly transitional time. If you're familiar with my blog, you know I mostly have focused on racquetball over the years, see Decade Of Perspective. Yet, I've found myself reimagining my involvement with sports during these complicated times. Everyone involved with professional sporting events is having to adjust and opportunity is were you find it.

But Handball is a deep root for me, being from NYC. I grew up playing paddleball and handball is just something we did, like playing pick up stickball and touch football. Finding myself involved in handball, is an easy transition, as the outdoor circles have kept me in close proximity to the top handball players from NYC.

Handball in NYC is an access driven sport. Most of the big events are played in NYC parks and with the new social-distancing protocols, organized tournaments and events will not be allowed legally. Yet, there is some room to reimagine how high-level matches can be envisioned.

Hence the video of Jomar. To date, Jomar Santiago has played in our first arranged match. For the set up, I teamed up with Mike Dembin, notably known as MikeDTV to the outdoor racquetball set, who has deep ties to handball community through involvement with events here and in Mexico. He's extremely knowledgeable and also an expert in select niche sports. Building interest within the community with profile videos that address call-outs and individual drive, we are finding some success with interest and money for these match-ups, as they have been working to spark rivalry talk with fans and players across the city.

The events are held close to the chest, and in locations where we can control spectators. We are adhering to the social-distancing rules set in place for NYC public parks, finding that what we are doing fits in with the description set forth for sports in public spaces here in NYC. Promo videos released the day before the event and only select parties are invited to the actual matches with a word to keep the locales close to the chest. We stream them, and record them with possible post production and video content in mind. These are individual matches that draw the real interest, with some of the best singles players involved. For these highly elite players, it's about building opportunity to showcase with a profitable return for them. No fighting through draws. And at the very least, some good content for their sporting resumes. The hope is to open the door to a hyper engaged group. Marketers can already build their own reach. But having useable, quality content on tap could prove appealing to marketers who stand a good chance at returns within this group. So, controlling the environment is important.

Back to Jomar. He is proving himself as an elite player. The community is yelling for match-ups with him and other players who have signed on with us. He and a few others I find myself impressed by, remind me of the hyper intense players I grew up looking up to. They talk the same way, and impress physically on the court. Only this time, I'm the guy with the experience as I take in their vibe. He and a couple of others are shining some light in this tunnel we find ourselves in.

Other profiles in this series:


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