By Pamela Dozois

Contributing Writer

Valley residents Bob Scarpati and Don Civeralo have returned from the World Championship & USHA Four-Wall Nationals Handball Competition in Minneapolis, where they competed in the 75- and 80-year-old age groups.

More than 750 handballers from the United States, Mexico, Japan, Ireland, Germany, Equador, Australia and Canada, ranging in age from 9 to 90, vied for world championships in their age and gender brackets from Aug. 9-19. The next tournament will be three years from now in Ireland.

Scarpati brought home a medal by finishing second in the 80s doubles division.


Bob Scarpati and Don Civeralo play handball with friends at the Marriott two to three times a week.

“This tournament was the 30th anniversary of my first win at the Worlds in 1988 in Melbourne, Australia,” Scarpati said. “This is only the second time I have been to the Worlds — the first time was 30 years ago. Everybody likes to play and win, but if you play well it’s very satisfying.”

Scarpati finished second in the 80s doubles match and lost in the quarter finals in singles in the 80s division. Civeralo missed a medal when he lost in the semifinals in the 75s division, but he says he had a great time anyway.

“It felt good to win,” said Scarpati. “I had to take off eight years because of my knees, so I’m trying to make a comeback. So far, so good.”

Handball has been around for centuries. It is known as the oldest game played with a ball, though it has never had a formal world championship until relatively recently. The sport is thought to have been brought to the United States by Irishman Phil Casey in 1872.

Scarpati and Civeralo have been playing each other for nearly 50 years. They play two to three times a week at the Marriott in Buellton.

Scarpati started playing handball when he was a kid in Brooklyn.

“Handball is a life sport. The thing that makes it so nice at the Worlds is that there are age divisions, so you can keep competing throughout your life,” Scarpati said. “My body is a wreck. I’ve had two new knees and lots of shoulder injuries, but I just love this game. You make friends all over the world. I’ve played in Canada, Ireland, Australia, and numerous states in the U.S. over the years. It’s an addictive game.”

Civeralo started playing in college in 1962. A college friend introduced the game to him and, he said, “it just stuck with me.”

“This is my first Worlds Tournament,” said Civeralo. “I’ve played in the Nationals and state tournaments in California, Arizona and Minnesota, among others.

“Handball is a very symmetrical sport. You have to be ambidextrous in moves and swings to be good at this game. I know no other sport that requires that skill and dexterity. Maybe gymnastics. There are lots of angle shots.

“Like Bob, I’ve had two knee replacements and a pin in my shoulder. It’s just from swinging at the ball with force – more times than you should have. But after healing, you just go back to the game. It’s a real addictive sport and not one that I plan on giving up any time soon,” said the 76-year-old Civeralo.

“Unfortunately, there is only a small pool of players in this area,” Scarpati added. “When you play with many people you get to see different styles and different shots. You learn by watching others and by getting beaten.”

“The Marriott Hotel has the only handball court in the Santa Ynez Valley. There is one in Santa Maria and one in Santa Barbara but there are no players. There used to be over 60 players in Santa Barbara. Now there are only six guys,” Civeralo said.

“It’s a very long learning curve to learn to play handball, and people don’t want to spend the time,” said Scarpati. “You won’t excel for a year or two and then you are just a mediocre player. If there are any people interested in taking up the sport, call us. I would love to start a youth handball program – something positive in my old age.”

Eager to get back on the court, the two hurried in to meet two friends who were waiting to play them.

“I thought the World Handball Tournament was a blast, replete with talented, determined and committed handball competitors from many countries,” said Rebecca Christenson, Civeralo’s partner who attended the tournament. “My sister even encouraged her single friends to take in a match to meet some ‘good guys’ because she was so impressed by their friendliness and athleticism. My sister, alas, thinks handball players are the cat’s meow. Hence, Don is much revered.”

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