This past weekend on Saturday, August 12th, the American Autism Association held a handball tournament at Memorial Field in Flushing, New York. The fundraising event invited people from all over New York City to play or donate, with all proceeds going toward therapeutic programs offered by our organization. The first, second, and third place winners took home cash prizes in addition to American Autism Association merchandise. Although we hoped to create a fun, exciting atmosphere for everyone involved, our main goal was to promote autism awareness through this event. By bringing members of the community together, we aimed to spread knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorder and from there, hope that the participants would promote acceptance wherever they went next.
The process of trying to get people to attend this event was difficult because less and less people in the younger generations play handball. After advertising on social media and word of mouth, there were few registrations online and I expected a low turn-out. However, the number of attendants greatly exceeded my expectations. There were ten teams total with one last-minute signup on location. The last-minute signup team was actually a pair of nationally ranked B players, where A is the highest ranking. There was some backlash from the participants, asking me not to allow them to play, but since the tournament was for charity, I was more interested in having as many people involved and participating than appeasing the fears of the other players.
With the B players beating every team they versed by a large margin, they were highly favored to win. However, in an unexpected turn of events, the final game was a close one. The other team was a pair of boys from Brooklyn, New York that decided to sign up just for fun, not expecting to win. The Brooklyn boys actually had a 14-7 lead in the middle of the game. The intense and invigorating game was to 25 points and ultimately, the B players won 25-21, with a 4-point lead. Although the outcome of the game was not a surprise, the game itself was amazingly unpredictable with long rallies and beautiful shots from both sides.
However, the most pleasant surprise was actually the Brooklyn boys deciding to donate their cash prize to our organization. Their love for the sport and willingness to play just for the pure joy of it and not just the prize was something I really respected. Their take on the tournament was what I hoped to bring out with this event and the fact that I was able to witness such fascinating games in the park where I grew up playing was a great honor and I am grateful for the American Autism Association for allowing me to organize this event. The generosity I observed from donors and participants was a great indicator of how people are willing to show support for autism, so I hope everyone involved learned from this event to show kindness to others.