More than 40 years ago, a young man serving in the Navy began noticing men congregating in a cement room – the men were playing handball.
And the rest is history for Jim Carlson, who’s loved the sport ever since.
On Wednesday, Carlson, who instructs handball at the University, will be inducted into the Minnesota State Handball Association Hall of Fame as a coach and teacher. Only one other player has been inducted for his coaching and teaching abilities alone.
“To be able to retire and teach young adults is amazing,” Carlson said. “Even the ones who can’t throw the ball in the beginning can volley and are smiling at the end.”
Carlson has taught about 500 University students since he began teaching handball at the University Recreation Center in 2003. Carlson began teaching the sport at the Midway YMCA in St. Paul in the early 1970s.
Kinesiology senior Steve Grossman has taken two semesters of handball under Carlson’s instruction and claimed the Novice category in this year’s state handball competition.
Grossman said he feels fortunate to have been introduced to the lifelong sport.
“(Carlson) is one of the only 66-year-olds that can beat you,” he said. “Hopefully I can be that good when I’m in my 70s.”
Carlson said while players can quickly develop talent in some sports, handball requires years of practice to master the fundamental skills.
“It takes everything you got to play handball,” Carlson said. “You can’t think about anything else. It consumes all your thoughts and energy.”
Carlson said the sport, which dates back to 1840s Ireland, is perfect for former high school and college athletes because it keeps them in shape.
Professional sports teams like the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Vikings require their players to play handball during the off-season to keep up their hand-eye coordination, strength, quickness and endurance.
Carlson recruited the help of two volunteers, Ted Bergstrom and Ron Causton, to help him instruct the students.
Causton said he’s impressed with how well Carlson has taught the fundamentals of handball.
“(Carlson) is patient with any ability level,” Causton said. “If anyone wants to learn handball, he’ll come.”
Like Carlson, both Causton, 70, and Bergstrom, 78, have been playing the sport for four decades.
Bergstrom said he lettered in four different sports in college – boxing, track, football and wrestling – none of which could he perform in his later years.
“You can play handball anywhere at any age,” Bergstrom said.
And all three men consistently conquer college students on the court.
“Old age and trickery will win over youth every time,” Causton said, laughing.