Walls that Unite
Sometimes walls exist just to see who has the strength to knock them down – a metaphor meaning to overcome obstacles. In the case of Francisco “The Wolf” Aponte, he challenged the status quo by utilizing a wall, his love of competition and sports to prove he belonged. In his own words he describes his introduction to the sport of wallball (aka handball), how he managed to climb the ranks of NYC’s best athletes and what he wish he knew back then…
Congratulations to our new Player of the Week – Cisco “The Wolf” Aponte
I moved to “Little Italy” on 187th street and Arthur Ave in the Bronx from Arecibo Puerto Rico when I was 16. Although the handball courts were one block away from my house my Mom didn’t let me go alone until I was much older because there was a lot of racism at that time. My Dad got kicked out of the park when my Mom was pregnant with me. The Italians dominated the streets and didn’t want us there. They actually filmed the movie “The Bronx Tale” in my old neighborhood. It was no joke.
Ironically, when I got better at handball I started playing with the Italians. It broke a lot of race barriers. Back then even some African Americans would play ball with Italians and Albanians…it was really cool. I liked the physical part of it. You can control your own destiny and there’s no one to blame but yourself in a singles game. Plus it requires a lot of thinking to anticipating where your opponent is going hit the ball to and not everyone develops that skill. Thank God I was blessed with it and just like that I managed to “fit in.”
I became addicted to the sport and competition trying to beat Rookie, who is like our equivalent to Michael Jordan in basketball. That’s what dragged me into loving this sport. I got good really quick. Even though I started in 1994, I was considered a Pro or “A” player by 1999. You’re never too old to learn something new. I’m still trying to learn how to lob the ball.
These days officiating tournaments and local competition keeps me around the sport. As a young player I didn’t care much about teaching or taking anyone under my wing but now I have a son and that softened me up a lot. Today I share my wisdom with players and try to be a good example for the next generation. Being a good Dad means more to me than anything because I grew up without my Dad. He’s around now and I love him but I struggled without him there and I never want my son to feel that.
The best advice I give the youth today is that handball will always be there. Put school first. Get your education then focus on your hobbies. The sport isn’t going anywhere and that’s something I wish someone would’ve told me.