Yuber Castro, better known in handball circles as “Pee Wee,” has taken his game from the streets of city parks to an international level, much like the sport itself.
Castro, a 33-year-old resident of Far Rockaway, started playing handball and, more specifically, one-wall handball, about 15 years ago at Bayswater Park. After experiencing success in Far Rockaway, he moved his game to the106th and Atlantic Avenue Park. His dominance led him to Coney Island, “the handball capital of the world.” He quickly began to realize how skilled he was, especially after being recognized as an “A Division” player by the United States Handball Association (USHA).
“I have an incredible serve. That serve took me to the top, it is really good. I started winning ‘B’ singles and I got so good that they kicked me out of the ‘B’ division [and upgraded him to the higher A Division],” said Castro.
Castro was “so good” in 2010 that USHA honored him as Male Player of the Year at their awards dinner at the Elks Lodge on Queens Boulevard, February 19.
“He has definitely become one of the elite players in the game,” said USHA Northeast Regional Director William Polanco. “When he goes for a shot it seems like he digs down into the ground and uses his leverage from the floor and his legs to make a shot. He really nails that ball from anywhere on the court and once that happens you are pretty much done.”
Castro has also helped expand the sport of handball across the nation and even in Europe.
“He is such a great person. He has traveled internationally to support various handball tournaments; he’s been to France and Italy,” said Polanco.
Polanco and the rest of the USHA committee, along with other organizations, have worked to increase the popularity of handball across the globe, especially in recent years. Their successful promotional trips have encouraged the idea that they can hopefully help make handball an official sport in the Olympics.
The fact that existing walls and courts can be used helps make picking up the game of handball very easy, according to Polanco.
Polanco has traveled to Ecuador, Italy, France and Belgium to teach and promote the game.
“I have been around the game for about 20 years and over the last five to six years I have seen some real growth and interest both nationally and in Europe. All of them are picking up one-wall and they are becoming very efficient at it. We have to push it a little bit more in schools and get it to an organized league level outside of schools,” Polanco said.
As a Player of the Year recipient at a time when handball is expanding more than ever, Castro has no intention of basking in his glory.
“I’m shooting to at least win one of the big tournaments like the Small Ball National Singles in August. It is a tournament I won in 2002,” said Castro.
In addition to the awards ceremony that night, USHA President Mike Steele announced that Sky Bounce, LLC, a handball making company, will be sponsoring the 50-year-old organization’s one-wall tournament, in an effort to increase participation even further.