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Handball legend builds UA program

MALLORY LORING/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Handball Hall of Fame member Fred Lewis (center) has led the UA's club program from a fledgling team to one that he believes can compete with the nation's best.
By Christopher Wuensch
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
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Whether it's on the court or in the community, Fred Lewis has been lending a hand all his life.

Half a century of legendary handball has landed Lewis in Tucson as head coach of the UA's club handball team.

Can you remember what you were doing when you were eight years old? Fred Lewis, now 56, was winning handball tournaments against competition two years his elder. Born in the heart of The Bronx, New York City in 1947, Lewis took to the game, created in Ireland during the 16th century, at the impressionable age of five. Three years later, he was playing in his first tourney.

Fast-forward 38 years to 1993. Lewis finds himself as the 25th member selected into the Handball Hall of Fame, which is conveniently located in the nomadic legend's newly adopted hometown - Tucson.

When the UA was looking for a new head coach, the six-time National 4-Walls Singles champion more than fit the bill. The former UA student took the volunteer job and has been developing Arizona's program ever since.

Under Lewis' tutelage, the Wildcats are on the rise - so much so that the coach believes his squad can compete against the top programs in the nation, including reigning National Intercollegiate Champion Southwest Mississippi State.

"I want to bring Arizona up to the same echelon in the country (as Southwest Mississippi State)," Lewis said.

Lewis has a rising star in Courtney Peixoto. Just a sophomore at the UA, Peixoto has a lifetime of handball already under her belt. This summer, the former 19-and-under national champ found herself ranked as high as No. 16 in the USHA Women's pr -tour player rankings.

Lewis' dedication to developing young handball prodigies may be unparalleled by anyone in the sport.

That is evident in his role in the Yes-2-Kids program, better known as Y2K. In 1998, Lewis teamed up with another handball legend, John Henning, to create the program that introduces the sport to disadvantaged children throughout Tucson.

"Little by little, we're making a difference by offering kids a chance to play for free," Lewis said.

To date, the program has between 20 and 30 kids of all ages, and has had anywhere from 50 to 100 youngsters participating in handball.

Lewis, the president of Y2K, has a simple goal: "Raise enough money to put handball in all neighborhoods."

"We think we have one of the best games," Lewis added.

In the past, Lewis' kids have competed in tournaments throughout the West in such cities as Flagstaff, Las Vegas and Venice Beach, Calif. Two of the Hall of Famer's protˇgˇs have even become national champions, and three have gone on to become junior national champions.

Lewis sees a lot of himself in some of the kids who frequent the program.

"Some kids come in at 10 a.m. and don't leave until 5 at night, maybe stopping for lunch," Lewis said.

The coach fell in love with the game of handball when he was growing up and playing at the local beach clubs in New York City - and he still loves it.

In 2002, Y2K generated over $55,000 in funds. Lewis and Henning are looking to push that annual revenue to at least $150,000 in order to accomplish many of Y2K's goals.

The money Y2K receives through donations and online sales goes toward allowing kids to practice and play on a local and national level, retaining a quality staff and funding a new 15-passenger van. The program aims to construct at least one set of handball courts every two or three years in surrounding neighborhoods that lack them.

Lewis and Y2K don't stop at simply introducing underprivileged kids to the game of handball.

"One day, we want to be able to offer a scholarship fund for deserving kids who want to play handball," Lewis said.

Arizona handball will continue to grow, thanks in part to Lewis. And one day, one or more of Y2K's lucky recipients could very well join the coach on the UA courts in the Student Recreation Center. If and when he or she does, it will not be as an underprivileged youth, but as a well-rounded young adult, thanks to Lewis.

Fred Lewis' hands made him great, but in the eyes of the kids who need them the most, they may just have made him a legend.

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