The journey to college is different for everyone, but for some Valley high school students, it begins with a cement sport court and a small rubber ball. This unique starting point is made possible through an outreach program created by the ASU Handball Club called Homework and Handball.
Working with Access ASU, the Sun Devil handball team created this program in 2016 as a way to give back by mentoring students from the Phoenix Union High School District. The college-level players help the students build life skills through athletics and academics, organizing handball tournaments at their schools and at ASU that provide an opportunity to talk with the students about college and how to get there.
Derek Doyle, a senior studying sports business at the W. P. Carey School of Business, serves as president of the ASU Handball Club. He discovered the sport during Passport to ASU his freshman year, joined that first semester and by second semester was asked to lead the team.
Since that time, Doyle and his teammates have dedicated many hours to helping students build bridges to their future through higher education, while facilitating a sport that they love.
Jesus Castillo is a student at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix and a participant in the Homework and Handball program. He said that through handball and his coaches, he finds motivation to improve himself physically and academically.
“They support you to be a better player and to be a better student,” Castillo said.
In 2017, the ASU handball team was recognized as Organization of the Year by the United States Handball Association for their achievements as a team, including their work with Homework and Handball. The group has also received two Woodside Community Action grants through Changemaker Central, which awards funding to students pursuing service-focused projects in the local community.
Doyle shared some thoughts about the program, the students they work with and why handball is an ideal way to connect them to college.
Q. Where did the idea for Homework and Handball originate, and what are the goals of the program?
A: The idea came from seeing numerous outdoor handball courts at many of the high schools around the Valley. Students play on those courts every day during their lunch hour. The goal is to develop a sense of belonging with their teammates, leading to lower dropout rates and fewer disciplinary problems than the general student population. Homework and Handball is committed to enhancing the future of the children within our target school districts by building life skills through sport, academics and extracurricular activities.
Q: What kind of students typically participate and how do you go about connecting them to the program?
A: These students aren’t the ones in the major sports but are still very athletic. They have been playing a form of handball for most of their lives and have seen family members play. Most of these students are already playing every day at lunch. They love when the ASU club goes out to play with them during their lunch, which pulls them into the program because they love the sport and now they know that they can continue to play it at a higher level at the university.
Q: What activities — both athletic and academic — are included in the program? How often are they held?
A: Our volunteer that goes out to the high schools a couple times a week organizes tournaments for the current players. Two of the schools have also played against each other. The Sun Devil handball team has hosted a tournament at ASU for the three schools to come play each other along with the ASU team. Before the ASU tournament, we organized a tour of campus as well as a talk from Access ASU to talk about the important steps leading up to applying to college.
Q: Why do you feel handball is an ideal way to help high school students learn about college and ASU?
A: Students who participate in sports and other extracurricular activities are more likely to have higher grade point averages and better academic attendance records. Our youth learn they can use sports for leadership and social development as well as for the discipline that will be applied for academic success. They are student-athletes and the “student” part comes first.