What do you do when you like so many sports you can’t decide which one to play?
If you’re Shane Proulx, you pick one that has elements of a bunch of them.
For Proulx, that would be handball, a sport for which he has become somewhat of an evangelist.
“It’s been a lot of fun getting out and getting involved in the community and introducing players of different ages and experience levels to the game,” said Proulx, who launched the Flint City Handball Club in 2020. “We like to say it’s America’s favorite sport, they just don’t know it yet.”
A first step is clarifying that it’s not the same type of handball that most Americans are familiar with.
“It’s sort of a soccer-football thing,” where what most of the world calls football is known as soccer in the U.S., Proulx said.
In handball’s case, Proulx is talking about a team sport that is played seven-on-seven compared with one-on-one or maybe two-on-two in the traditional American version. And instead of hitting a small rubber ball against a wall until an opponent fails to do the same, the goal of team handball is to get a volleyball-sized sphere past a goalie and into a net.
The game is played on a surface that is slightly larger than a professional basketball court. Players pass and dribble to create opportunities to hurl the ball — at speeds of up to 60 mph — into the opposing team’s net.
It combines traits of various sports, including soccer, basketball, water polo and hockey, Proulx said — a mixture that suits him just fine.
“I love athletics,” Proulx said. “Growing up I played literally every sport I could get involved with — soccer, wrestling, football, softball, basketball, tennis — anything I could play I played.”
Then one day while watching the 2008 Olympics, he saw a sport that was new to him — handball.
“And I was like, ‘Wow, this is wild,’” said Proulx, a Michigan Dept. of Health & Human Services worker who grew in Oakland County and moved to Grand Blanc 15 years ago. “It was like basketball, it was like soccer, there was physical play, and I liked that because I liked hockey, so it was kind of cool to see a little pushing and shoving on the line. I decided I wanted to learn how to play this.”
Eventually, he reached out to Team USA to try to find a local team to play on and was told there weren’t any in the area — just one around Detroit. Team USA leaders encouraged him to start his own squad, and he raised money to do just that.
Last year, Flint City Handball Club began practicing and competing at the storied Berston Field House in Flint.
Given the lack of nearby teams, Proulx has had to get creative to find competition. He developed what he calls the Intersports Series, which is a challenge issued to any team in Michigan in any sport at any level.
“The way we phrase it is, whether you’re a junior varsity bowling team or the 11-time Stanley Cup champion, we’re throwing down the gauntlet — we want you to come up to Flint and play some handball with us,” Proulx said.
Mott Community College’s baseball team has taken him up on that, engaging in a matchup that drew the handball club’s biggest crowd so far of more than 50 spectators.
“I really believe if we ever had an opportunity to have a crowd even the size of a local high school basketball game, handball would be rocking in this city,” Proulx said. “No one who has come to a game has left saying this is really boring. Everybody seems to love it.”
Flint City Handball Club offers free admission to games, and it also provides no-cost youth clinics.
Although he has secured a few local sponsors, Proulx said his focus is mainly on raising the team’s profile, not monetizing it.
“It really is a passion project for us,” he said.
Proulx also is looking to add other passionate athletes to the team’s roster, which can total up to 15 players but usually stands at less than that.
The team holds open practices at Berston every Saturday. “I’d love for people to come out and play and join the roster,” Proulx said, adding that more information is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.