AF 2017 Pro Series Tournament of Champions ….A Look Back

As the last of the incredible participants from out of town pack their bags and head back to the comfort of their own home, we take a look back on some of the memorable highlights of the AF PRO SERIES 2017.

Paddleball IS BACK!! Lighter paddles coupled with a live ball that rarely breaks has literally brought paddleball back from the abyss. The speed of the game is no longer an issue. Power was on display all weekend long as players like Brian Romero, Carlito Espinal, Nelson Deida and Richie Miller ripped into the ball like it was 1999. The legends of the game have jumped back in with renewed energy. Players like Frank Savino, Eddie Acevedo, and Artie Rondon on the men’s side, and Anita Maldonado, Maira Rosario Ramos, and Susan Stephen on the ladies side are back and looking to stand in the winners circle once again. Exciting volleys and incredibly close games created some breathtaking moments for all those that watched both the ladies and men’s semi-final matches.  The finals proved to be just as thrilling as the ladies match went to a tie-breaker, and the men’s final was dominated by the G.O.A.T and his partner Iggy Espinal. Paddleball is again the main event.

THE LADIES RACQUETBALL FINAL!! HolySmokes!! Anyone who was there will tell you it was like watching a great movie.  It was suspenseful, intense, exciting, heartbreaking, breathtaking, nerve racking, and most of all had an incredible ending. Two young ladies, Regina Franco and Maritza Gonzalez, playing in their first one wall event took on two extremely talented and experienced players , Susan Stephen and Ivonne Torres Irizarry, in a final match that had the crowd on the edge of their seat for an hour. Back and forth they battled in the tie-breaker. Both teams looked like victory was in their grasp only to see it slip away several times. Clutch shots in dire situations along with nerves of steel in key moments made this an instant classic. Regina and Maritza not only battling their opponents, but also trying to navigate the rules of a game they have never played. In the end it was neither the rules nor the one wall, but miscommunication between partners that lead to their defeat. The score was championship point serving 9. Serving for the match Regina slams a low power serve to Ivonne who hits a very short and soft return. The crowd gasped as they anticipated the talented 4- waller to blast a killer and take the title. As the ball came off the wall both partners had the same intentions, each one excited to end the match. It was like slow motion as both players cocked their racket back, and proceeded to defer to the other as the ball slowly bounced between them. The crowd erupted in disbelief and that sealed the match for Susan and Ivonne. WOW!

KENNY ARMWOOD and JUN HYUNG JEON’S INCREDIBLE TENNIS BALL CHAMPIONSHIP RUN!! Where did they come from, and how in the world did they do it? That’s what everyone wanted to know after they completed their incredible run to the title. They defeated players like Michael Dembin, Bobby Fiorentino, Johnny Wai, Keith, Iggy Espinal, and Robert Sostre. Basically a who’s who of finalists in tennis ball tournaments. Not bad for a team playing in their first tournament together. They came from behind in every single match as the more experienced Kenny Armwood played the father figure in calming the younger Jun’s nerves while navigating a strategy for victory. Jun coming up huge in clutch situations time and time again helped his veteran partner seal the deal. Upset after upset, they took out the number one seed, and then went on to defeat Robert Sostre and Iggy Espinal in a very exciting and surprising final. This was probably the biggest surprise victory of the tournament.

RACQUETBALL MIXED DOUBLES FINAL!! The ladies in this match played so well you could barely tell it was a mixed doubles match. Delia and Elizabeth took center stage in this emotional final as the men, David Blatt and Robert Sostre, relentlessly blasted the women to no avail as they deftly returned the ball with intensity and purpose. Sostre made some uncharacteristic unforced errors and it seemed that the team of Blatt and Colon were destined to win the title. The volleys were long, the gets were glorious, and the games were legendary as David and Elizabeth went on to defeat Robert Sostre and Delia Silva two straight. The game ended emotionally as both David and Elizabeth dropped to their knees in appreciation and disbelief of such a monumental victory. After shaking hands with their gracious opponents and hugging their spouses, the victors celebrated their big win. Liz proceeded to get carried around the court on the shoulders of her friends like Bill Parcells after defeating the Buffalo Bills in the SuperBowl, and David going into his patented Hulkamaniac impersonation. Both celebrations were well deserved, and the crowd loved it.

THE CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY CROWD!! Paddleball, racquetball, handball, and tennis ball players fill up the court to watch the Championship matches. The cheering, singing, chanting, and emotional gasps of the crowd make Championship Sunday feel like the World Cup of Soccer in Brazil. The crowd is what makes this tournament so special. Without it, it would be just another tournament. The cheering for friends, but also the respect for opponents and new players to the game is what will keep this tournament alive for years to come. The bonds of friendship that is created crosses all sports and is genuinely memorialized by the expressions on the faces in all the pictures that are taken. Next time you look through the pictures on Championship Sunday take a look at the joy on everyone’s face as they celebrate old and new friendships. That’s what this tournament is truly about.

Thank you Liz for letting assist you in this incredible event.  We do know how hard you worked and how gracious you are.

If you would like to share your highlights let us know and we’ll publish it!

Until next year……

Mike D

It’s Just The Fly’s Opinion

John Bruschi, Hall of Famer!!

The words that will follow, is meant to be MY Opinion!! My somewhat, educated Opinion!

On the subject of the Paddleball Hall of Fame, I am very ecstatic that the Paddleball Family Alliance has taken on the enormous task of resurrecting the PHOF, after more then a 40 year draught! With that being said, one should always start from the beginning. And when one talks about paddleball, one should mention one name, and one name only, Howard Hammer!!

He has the distinction of being known as “Mr. Paddleball “!! And rightfully so!

2017…The Year of the Women and Big Blue

Happy New Year!

2016 brought us many great things, and when it comes to one wall sports, one of those things is the resurgence of big ball paddleball. At one time only the courts at Bay 8th Street in Brooklyn had big ball games (I remember having to travel 2 hours on the train to get there). These days players can find games in nearly every borough. Marathon Park in Queens, Orchard Beach and Colucci Park in the Bronx, and the indoor courts as well such as Zerega in the Bronx, One Wall Sports, and A-1 in Long Island to name a few.

This has also re-energized the participation in female tournaments. There was a time when, sadly, you could only get 8 teams in women’s doubles events. Now we see events with over 20 female teams. A 150% increase in the past three years. Big blue paddleball is such a great equalizer, allowing strategy and skill to take precedence over power and strength. Personally, I am not a big fan of out of the hat events, but they are very necessary to the continued growth of the game. It has allowed less experienced players to feel that they have an equal chance against more experienced ladies. In my opinion this is one of the factors that has propelled the tremendous growth in the ladies game.

Although I do not care much for popularity contests and being accepted by others, I, along with a few others, have become the unofficial leaders of the female game. I have tried to do my best to speak about my travels and my experience playing one wall to inspire others to play especially females. It’s important that our events and games be equally respected as the men’s events. It also important that we stop the cattiness among each other and concentrate on the wonderful athleticism, heart, and talent of so many wonderful ladies. We need to support the women’s game so that the future generations have the chance to experience the thrill of playing this great game.

Next Sunday is  Kim Avena’s 2nd Annual WEPA Ladies Out of the Hat Big Ball Paddleball Doubles Tournament, and this time it is here in the Mecca of One Wall Sports, New York City. I look forward to seeing all the talented ladies giving their heart and soul on the courts. Remember, 2017 is all about the ladies supporting one another and this great and wonderful game. Hope to see everyone soon on the court!