Handball History: The Alley-oop – from a practice element to a main goal-scoring technique

The Alley-oop, also known as Fly, Kung-fu or Kempa trick, is one of the most spectacular shots in Team Handball and one of the most important scoring techniques in Beach Handball. In this move, the player catches the ball while jumping in-air and shoots for the goal, before touching the ground again. An amazing and highly technical shot, that is a sure crowd pleaser – especially when it results in a goal!

But who came up with this infamous in-flight trick shot?
The answer depends on which country you ask! Team Handball is said to have originated in either Germany or Denmark, so in order to avoid sparking this discussion yet again, let’s just say Europe.

Throughout the years, the face of handball has changed and every generation has had outstanding players who each contributed to shaping their specific era. One of these players was Bernhard Kempa, who played for Frisch Auf Göppingen, one of the first German clubs. Bernhard is the inventor of the Kempa trick.
‘We always tried a lot of things in practice. The practice was designed to have fun. While experimenting with these fun exercises I invented the trick’, said Bernhard. ‘Because the entire move is executed in-flight the trick is also known as Fly, but in Germany it is the Kempa’.

Bernhard and his team used the Kempa trick the first time in an unofficial international match between Germany and Sweden on March 24th in 1954. ‘It did not work in the first try, as I misjudged the height of the Swedish players’, Bernhard wrote in his book ‘Monsieur Handball’ (published in 2007). Fortunately, the initial failure did not stop this spectacular shot from becoming part of the handball sport.

Today the Kempa trick is well known around the world and has found its own sport in beach handball. Beach handball, which can be traced back to a small island, Ponza, in South Italy, was created by Gianni Buttarelli and Franco Schiano, presidents of Italian handball teams, in 1992. In beach handball, players who score with a “spectacular shot” are awarded with two goals instead of one; rendering the game more interesting for spectators and fun for the players. In the past years, the Kempa trick has become one of the two most established ways of completing a spectacular shot – the other one being the 360-shot, where the player completes a full 360 spin in the air before shooting (and before touching on the ground).

Basketball, American football, handball… which sport scored first with the Kempa trick?
To be honest, it is hard to say. The earliest mentions of the Kempa trick, or alley-oop (derived from French ‘Allez hop’), are from 1950s in all three sports.
In American football the alley-oop is described as a play in which the quarterback throws the ball high into the air like a jump ball, and another player jumps up and catches it (Wikipedia). A little San Francisco anecdote; “The Catch”, actually refers to an alley-oop pass by Dwight Clarkin to Joe Montana in 1982, which resulted in the San Francisco 49’ers scoring the winning touchdown, qualifying them for the clubs very first Super Bowl entry.

In Basketball, alley-oops began with players utilizing jumping abilities by grabbing the ball in mid-air and then dunking. Back in the 1950s, players such as Bill Russell (University of San Francisco), Wilt Chamberlain (Kansas University), and ‘Jumping’ Johnny Green (Michigan State University) would frequently grab errant shots by teammates and dunk them.

In summary, every sport came up with the concept of catching and throwing the ball while hanging in the air around the same time. The important thing is not who invented it. What matters now is that the Kempa trick, the Alley-oop, or whatever else it has been named, now delivers some of the most spectacular and entertaining actions in sports all around the world.

This article is honoring the Bernhard Kempa, who passed away today at the age of 96. Thank you for your creativity and passion for handball.

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