On February 4, 2017 the most anticipated tournament of the year, The Florida Nationals took place in Hollywood Beach, aka. “Handball Heaven. Players from all around the country flew, drove and took a bus to Hollywood, Florida for the long anticipated weekend. Top players like Timothy “Timbo” Gonzalez, Sam Sanford, Gio Vazquez, Wally Amaro, Kadeem Bush, Fabrizio “Fish” Alvarez as well as myself were the top seeds of the event. A total of 32 teams participated, which is considered a full bracket, yet there were still several teams that were trying to enter the event.
This tournament brought beach goers on their way to the beautiful sand to a halt as the ferocious volleys and incredible athletic ability of the players were on full display for all to see. Most, if not all, were amazed at how a game which consists of a ball and a wall brings so many people together, and creates such an energetic and positive atmosphere . This event like most others held at this venue comes complete with photographers, and live streaming of the games which include commentary, not only of the games, but the entire scene that surrounds the event.
Once the host, Sflgotnxt completed the bracket on Thursday night with a live stream of the draw, the tournament was full steam ahead as everyone started to prepare for their first round opponents. The players were already doing their usual pregame talking on social media, but for me there was another story brewing beyond the games which brought powerful meaning. It was much more than just another tournament. Among the top players in this event, for the first time, brought together the number one team known world wide, Team Puerto Rico. Mr. Givonny Vasquez, aka “Lil Rook,” along side of Mr Wally Amaro, aka “Philadelphia Handball League,” and last but not least, me, Herman Mendez, aka “EL DURO.” Together we were victorious in The World Tournament, The Federation Cup, and The SkyBounce and NY Nationals among others. It was more of a family reunion than the usual win at all cost mentality of any other tournament I would play in. The 2017 Florida Nationals held a special sentimental value because the team hadn’t been together in full team uniform in quite some time. The bond shared among the magnificent trio is like no other on & off the courts.
Throughout the days activities there were upsets, but one specifically hit me harder than the rest. Lil Rook and Erik Crespo lost a heart breaker to a team considered major under dogs, Jonathan Rivera, aka Tuna & Jason from Tampa, Florida. I took that loss personally as my younger brother fought his hardest & came up just short of a win. Later on my brother Wally played with a Philadelphia native “B” level player Rick Cruz, ( a young & up & coming prospect ) took a tough a loss to Timothy Timbo Gonzalez & Sam Sanford, another Philadelphia native. I yet again took that loss to heart. Considering my teammates were being eliminated slowly I felt compelled to give it my best fight yet against two “A” players consisting of Kadeem Busch & Fabrizio Alvarez. My partner being a “B” level caliber player Eddie Perez, aka Modelo, I knew this was going to be an uphill battle. If you watched this high intensity game you would’ve thought you were watching THE FINALS. We started off slowly, but made a comeback to stiffen up the opposing team. With the game down to the wire, and the crowd going crazy, we took a tough loss at 21-20. This meant team Puerto Rico as individuals were eliminated from the event. The fans congratulated everyone for such a display of sportsmanship and for a show of the true meaning of, “LOVE FOR THE GAME.” The final four were set to play and eventually the number one ranked team of Timbo & Sam were victorious as they proved too strong for Kadeem and Fish winning by a score of 21-10.
Ironically enough the games were just part of the event. The other part which is sometimes overlooked, is the effort & hard work to ensure a smooth event by the hosts Solo Dolo, Broadway Anna & Esmeralda Barreto. My utmost respects & gratitude goes out to all of you on behalf of myself & Team Puerto Rico. Also, the bond among spectators and players with their picture taking, autograph exchanging, little children playing, while others danced to the music was truly uplifting.
Everyone had fun which is the point of the game. Isn’t it….
Congratulations to all in attendance cause without you the tournament would not have taken place.
Already looking forward to the 2018 Florida Nationals.
Herman “EL DURO” Mendez