This season marks the 20th anniversary of two major figures of our club. With our California Cup only a couple days away, we discussed the past, present and future of Calheat with them.
What’s your name, age, and role in the club?
[Bernward]: Bernward, 51, currently President of San Francisco CalHeat
[Jean-Marc]: Jean-marc, 51, Vice-President of San Francisco CalHeat
Tell us a bit about your team handball background? What do you love about the sport?
[Bernward]:I started playing handball in Germany when I was 9. I played in Muenster and Dortmund. I grew up with handball, and always enjoyed the fast and physical play. Wherever I played, there was a great team spirit. I’ve made great friendships through handball over the years.
[Jean-Marc]: I started playing handball at the age of 10. I was introduced to the sport by my school teacher who was a goalie playing in a local state league in France. I’ve played in two clubs essentially (HBVTT Tournon, and Vanves HB (Paris suburb)) at all league levels up to N3. I’ve always enjoyed participating in a common team project, train and compete, win and lose, as a team rather than as an individual player. I’ve enjoyed many years as a center back player, creating plays for my team, and putting players in the best condition to shine. I really loved that, more than just scoring myself.
San Francisco Calheat’s early days. When did you join? How did it look back then?
[Bernward]:I moved to Silicon Valley in 1997 and started playing for CalHeat in 1998. There was no official club or structure, just a small group of people enjoying to play handball together. For a few years, we had just enough players for one team and played one to two tournaments per season, in California and in the National Championships. There was no women team in 1998. They started to join in the early 2000’s. We’ve always been lucky to have access to the great handball facility at the Centerville Jr. High School in Fremont. Big thanks to Mr. Ray Gehrke there for making this happen and for his continued support.
[Jean-Marc]: I joined CalHeat (that was the name at that time) in August 2000 – so that’s my 20th season at the club and I’m really proud of that. When I joined, we were barely a dozen plus players practicing handball and soccer… we were not structured at all! We had different players acting as coaches, we practiced every week but played one to two tournaments a year (The California Golden Cup in Fresno) and the US Nationals as the final event of the season. That was it!
In 20 years, a lot has happened. Walk us through the club’s evolution from a little group of friends playing together to a 100+ NPO member…
[Bernward]:The 2000s had their ups and downs: more players one year, less the next one. We did have two men’s teams for a coupe of Nationals. Around 2010, a number of us looked into becoming more organized. We got the NPO established in 2011! At that time, the main objective was to attract some dontors to fund club activities. The real change and development came with the new players, coaches, board members who became active volunteers and contributors, putting in lots of time and effort to promote handball, youth development, and establishing competitive teams.
[Jean-Marc]: The number of players felt like a soft rollercoaster with numbers going up and down year after year. On a few occasions, we even had to find players from abroad to compete at the US Nationals. We started advertising our team and sport, more often to our local expats and colleges in the Bay Area, which allowed us to grow slowly but surely. At some point, we were able to start a women’s team, who became successful later on. During the 2010 Nationals, I and a few other players decided it was time to be more structured and organized, and ultimately be able to sustain our activities durably. I’ve to give credits to New York City THC as they inspired us with their level of organization and commitment, an example of success in the country. They had everything we were lacking. So we went all in: we spent weeks learning how to create a non-profit organization, working on by-laws, incorporating with the Secretary of State, etc… On Aug 12 2011, “San Francisco CalHeat” was born as an official 501(c)3 non-profit organization and club!
What is it like to lead one of the largest and most active team handball clubs in the country? How does the club function?
[Bernward]: It’s a team effort! We’ve got a great board of directors and many more volunteers who work together on a daily basis. That’s what got us where we’re today and keeps us moving as a club. We’ve occasional board meetings, lots of emails and WhatsApp chats, keeping the communication open within the club, with the schools and the US handball community.
[Jean-Marc]: I feel really proud to have brought this club to that level. It was a lot of sustained efforts for many, many years. When I see, today, that we’ve enough players to field multiple teams at many tournaments and US Nationals, have a pioneering and well-functioning youth program (including our own youth team), well lead practices by fully-dedicated and competent coaches, it makes me really happy and satisfied of our achievements and the future opportunities. We’ve board directors as well as officers leading the organization, plus several committees managing specific activities such as the youth, competition, refereeing, sponsors, etc. We’ve very committed volunteers, without whom we wouldn’t be able to achieve any of this, and I thank them for their passion and support!
What’s your greatest achievement as leading members of the SF Calheat board?
[Bernward]: Getting us from very few people involved in running a club to lots more people actively contributing and creating number of initiatives. Besides developing the sport of handball and being successful in tournaments, I very much enjoy how we enables players to make new friends, feel as part of a large family. We’ve got players of different ages, backgrounds, coming from all over the world. Initially, the only common point is handball, but practicing and playing together at CalHeat quickly evolves to lasting friendships.
[Jean-Marc]: I’m really happy to have helped, with few others, develop our sponsoring channel. We brought our first sponsors a few years ago, as well as registered our organization to many donation programs which are bringing significant financial resources on a yearly basis. That definitely helped us to achieve some of our ambitious goals.
The future can only be bright. How do you see the club developing in the future?
[Bernward]: We want to keep growing our youth activities and develop more partnerships with the schools in the Bay Area. Also, I would want to see other clubs in the area (or California) get started and grow. To truly develop the sport, we need competition and games on a more frequent basis.
[Jean-Marc]: We need to continue focusing on youth development and integrating / developing more local US players, these are the next obvious steps. We’ll also start thinking about creating a local rec league, which would allow everyone in the Bay Area to play games on a weekly basis.
Last, to Jean Marc. Besides your role as VP, you’re also playing for our second team. What keeps you going?
[Jean-Marc]: If it wasn’t obvious already, I’m really passionate about handball! I’ve been playing it for 40+ years and I’ll play as long as my body allows me to. I already see signs, but I’ve been extremely lucky with only few and recoverable injuries in my career. The thrill of competition, physical impact, comradery, long lasting friendships, and the fun I have when I’m playing or simply practicing, that’s something I’d really miss when I retire. I know it will happen soon, and next year might be the year where I’d probably need to slow down a bit (a long-time due surgery is awaiting). But I’ll be back at practice or play recreationally, as soon as I recover, you can count on that. Until then, Go Calheat!