by Cooper Creagan '13
Last weekend, athletes from Michigan, West Virginia and California made their way to the Alumni Gym for the National Korfball Tournament. The tournament not only attracted some of the nation's best korfball athletes, but National Public Radio as well. So why all the attention?
"Hamilton is one of the only active collegiate korfball teams in the country," explained player Jamie Kamihachi '12. "So a lot of people came to support us." In fact, had it not been for two recently started clubs in Chicago, Hamilton would have the nation's only active team. Due to korfball's small presence in the U.S., one of the primary goals of the tournament was to generate interest in other schools. "We're working on Cornell, Colgate and Skidmore," Kamihachi said. They aim to get enough local interest to become an official club sport "by the end of next year." USKF (US Korfball Federation) President David Warren shared the club's enthusiasm for spreading the sport. "We're hoping events like this will be incentives to forms teams," he said.
After playing on the national team in 2007, opportunities to play have been scarce. Since then, they have been travelling “to whatever’s there” in order to play games. Despite attempts to generate interest near their home in California, they were unable to get a national team together for this year’s world championships in China.
British Korfball Federation board member Steven Barker explained why korfball has seemed to thrive abroad, but not in America: “It does take some sort of social assistance to get it started,” he said. “It’s hard to start something from nothing.” Countries like the Netherlands and China, for example, have provided government funding for their korfball teams.
Barker believes that colleges are korfball’s best chance in America: “korfball was designed for schools,” he said. He believes that the coed, cooperative nature of the sport lends itself to the 21st century college student, making it “much more relevant.” The trick is getting other college students to feel that way; korfball has not yet infected other campuses across the country.
The organizers of Hamilkorf were extremely pleased that NPR decided to cover them in their weekly show, “Only a Game”. In junior Jack Dunn’s opinion, “This attention by mainstream media helps to show the public, international organizations and interested sponsors that korfball is a growing phenomena in the United States.” Heinz Ketchup has agreed to help sponsor HamilKorf’s trip to Barcelona next spring.
Despite a lack of enthusiasm nationally, the players are doing everything they can to spread the word. After spending only a few moments with them, their passion for the sport was immediately apparent. They gave me handouts on korfball, taught me how to shoot, and the Guijarro sisters even showed me a photo album of their trip to the 2007 world championships. The players’ love for the sport was matched only by their desire to see it develop in America like it has in Europe, and they were all too ready to use the tournament as a means to that end.
Beyond advertising the sport, Louis Boguchwal ’12 – the man who brought korfball to Hamilton – added that the tournament served as an “educational” opportunity for the club’s members. Because so many board members of the USKF came to the event, many Hamilton players took the opportunity to learn the finer points of the game and become official korfball referees. “The problem is that these teams come back from the world championships and they don’t have anywhere to play,” he explained. “We’re building that foundation.”
If Boguchwal and the others can continue to raise interest both at Hamilton and at local schools, their dream may just become a reality.