Eddie Montañez By Dave Siegel
I guarantee that you will not find another person in the world of paddleball like Eddie Montañez. Eddie is a very talented player with amazing skills who plays the game strictly to have fun and truly does not care if he wins or loses. He is a hard hitter, fast and accurate, with terrific kill shots. But his favorite shots are his ultra-sharp cuts, which he can curve left, right and straight up and down. He also has perfected behind-the-back and through-the-legs shots. He will use these “trick” shots at any time during a rally, earning him the well deserved nickname “Sideshow.”
He started playing the game 38 years ago when he spotted his future wife, Dixie, playing paddleball in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. He decided that the best way to meet her was to play in her game. It worked! He has been playing ever since, mostly twice a week, the past 13 years in Midland Beach, Staten Island.
The sports story of Eddie Montañez goes well beyond paddleball. He a great athlete and a renowned softball player. During the summer, he plays every week in the Bensonhurst Park Softball League, pitching and playing the infield. He has won multiple MVP’s, Cy Young awards, hit hundreds of homers and was inducted into the league’s Hall of Fame!
But the most outstanding part of Eddie’s life does not involve sports. He is a hero! Eddie and his family live along the beachfront in Staten Island, which was one of the hardest hit areas by Hurricane Sandy. During and after the storm, though his house was partially submerged, Eddie risked his life, along with his son Eddie, to save the lives of two trapped elderly neighbors along with their two dogs. He did this while bleeding because one of the pooches bit him! He also rescued two more people from their marooned van and lodged them in his house for several days. We are all proud of him for his bravery and caring!
But back to paddleball. I’m sure many of you were shuddering as you read about Eddie’s trick shot game, because you are competitive and want to play at 100% at all times. But who is to say that Eddie’s approach to the game is not the best one? His advice to all players: “Paddleball is a wonderful sport. Don’t take it so seriously. Have fun playing and you’ll love the game!”
Tony Cascella By Dave Siegel
By now, most of you know the miraculous, heroic story of Tony Cascella, the focus of the “Welcome Back Tony” tournament held last September at Staten Island. In January, 2016 he was stricken with sudden cardiac arrest while playing paddleball in Clifton, NJ. His life was over. But Keith Jackson, Mitch Goldberg and Mitch Resnick wouldn’t allow it to happen. They brought him back using their CPR skills, assisted by a defibrillator. Today Tony is in good health, once again playing the game he loves at a high level.
Tony’s real life and paddleball career may not be as well known. He is a native Staten Islander and a retired NYPD detective. Inspired by his brother Michael, he started playing back in 1981 at Staten Island’s Egbert I.S. playground. He has played many sports, but paddleball is his first love and he has become a lifer. Tony’s athletic ability and determination have enabled him to become one of the top players in Staten Island. He is a right handed player with a deadly left who is one of the best right side righties in the game, possessing terrific angle kill shots with either hand. When teamed with a lefty, Tony is an outstanding left side player as well. He is also an excellent paddleball referee, always willing to help in tournaments.
Tony’s advice to other players is to “Play Hard, Play Fair and remember, it’s only a game!” This is exactly what we would expect from Tony, because he has always been a tough and fair competitor, while respecting his partner and opponents. It has served him well, earning him widespread admiration. Tony is also a big proponent of the PFA and the work it has done to assimilate the paddleball community and encourage the resurgence of the youth in the game.
Tony would like to thank the whole paddleball community for the countless well-wishes and support during and after his illness, with a very special thank-you to Keith, Mitch and Mitch, the heroes who saved his life. The paddleball community thanks them too! Welcome Back Tony!
I Got Next!??
“I got next!”, the slogan of the PFA, has a different meaning in Midland Beach, Staten Island. A player can’t simply pick the court and partner he or she likes and wait it out until it’s time to get on (zzzzz….). Is this unfair? Maybe. But Staten Island has long had its unique system of playground paddleball that has spanned generations and it has remained intact, just like when it started in the ’70’s! And I think the advantages make it terrific. This is how it works:
The three pillars of the system are fast scoring, rotational courts and “you don’t pick your own partner”. Fast scoring means a point is scored by either team when it wins a rally, not just when serving. Rotational is more complicated. I’ll describe the rotational system as applied with 18 players and 4 available courts:
- Courts 1, 2, 3 and 4 are designated. Usually the “best” court (most often favorable sun conditions) is Court 1, and the others ranked accordingly.
- Games on each court start at the same time.
- After all four games are concluded, the winners of Court 1 stay on this court. The winners of the other games advance to the next court and the losers drop down to the lower court. In other words, the next game on Court 2 is played with the losers of Court 1 against the winners of Court 3. The losers of the last Court (4), drop out and have next and the 2 players who waited during the first game come on to Court 4 against the losers of Court 3.
- If a winning team decides to drop out, the losing team stays on (if on Court 1) or advances as though they won (other courts). All other teams advance one notch.
The number of courts played on obviously depends on the number of players available. Games are formed based on arrival times of players. With less than 18 players, the most amount of players waiting for next is 3.
How does “you don’t pick your own partner” work?
Partners are matched up in the order that they arrive at the courts. The first two play together, second two together, and so on. An odd person waits for the next person to arrive. If two people arrive together, and there is an odd person waiting, they flip a coin to determine who plays with the odd person. (This means that if you plan to arrive with your regular partner in order to play together, you have only a 50% chance of teaming up with your buddy.). Additionally: If you lose on the last court and only 1 person has next, you flip with your partner to see who goes back on the last court to play with him or her. If a player drops out, and the partner wants to continue playing, the remaining player must play with the next person waiting to play.
When the system is up and running, new players who arrive can say “I got next!”, but they can have next only on the last court and they must go to the end of the line behind any players waiting. As teams lose on the last court, they go to the end of the line as well. If no one is waiting, the losers of the last court go back on to this court. If there are more than approximately 3 players waiting for next, “The List” is created. Players sign in and play in the proper order. Again, since you don’t pick your own partner, teams are configured based on the order of the players waiting.
That’s it in a nutshell. Does it always work exactly like this? Of course not! I’ll go over some of the variations afterward, but first let’s discuss why this system has served Staten Island well over the decades.
The advantage of fast scoring in conjunction with rotational lies in the fact that when the games all start together they all end within minutes of each other. With regular scoring, a game can last anywhere between 10 and 45 minutes. With such a variation, the rotational system would not work with regular scoring because the dead time between games is compounded among all the players. But the rotational system combined with fast scoring makes for clean, crisp action with minimal dead time.
“You don’t pick your own partner” also greatly reduces dead time. In almost every park outside of Staten Island, you come down to the courts and check out the games and decide where you want to play based on who is playing, the wait time and the level of competition. You say “I got next!” and it’s “I”, not “we”. You are not obligated to play with the other waiting players. You can play with your regular partner who arrives at the last minute or came off another court while you were waiting. You can even pick a loser from the game you are waiting for! If there are 5 people waiting, you may wait 5 games. This means more and more dead time and it can create some animosity for people not chosen.
Yes, the better players often want to have their “elite” game, but with fast scoring, rotational and “you don’t pick your own partner”, Court 1 in short order becomes an elite court and it’s quite an achievement to have a winning streak there as “King of the Court”. Plus, you put in lots more playing time and play many more games against different players in the course of a day.
What are some of the variations and sources of discontent?
Three waiting. When 3 people have next we usually will declare “3 on”, meaning the losers from the next to last court flip to determine who must sit, thus allowing 3 players come on to play on the last court. This is often not popular with the player who lost the flip.
Incompatible partners. Accommodations will occasionally be made in situations where two players would rather not play together, such as 2 lefties.
Must play together. This could happen if a player brings a friend or relative to the courts who is inexperienced or unfamiliar with the other players. He or she may be allowed to play with this person. Or perhaps two players who are getting ready to play together in a tournament will be accommodated.
Finagling for partners. In order to circumvent the “you don’t pick your own partner” rule, all sorts of finagling sometimes takes place. Other players don’t always take it with a smile.
The elitists. The theme of this system is that everyone at the park plays together. There is no “A” “B” or “C” game. Some players are not entirely happy with this and have “broken away” at times.
The arguers. Some players are notorious for prolonging games by engaging in repeated disputes during play (no names mentioned here!). This prolongs the game and the problem is compounded by upsetting the rhythm of the rotational system, which affects everyone.
Change to regular scoring. While fast scoring is fine and trust me, you get used to it, the paddleball purists sometimes prefer regular scoring. Years ago, when the games started early in the morning, 12 noon marked the switch to regular scoring. At that point many of the players had departed and this usually worked well because all agreed to play “long”. However present day, the games start later and once in awhile, two teams about to play will “play long” without telling anyone. This is not good! Obviously dead time is increased. Proper etiquette at Midland Beach dictates that the decision to play long should be mutually agreeable to all.
When did you get here? Here’s a good one: Is time of arrival determined when you park your car or when you emerge through the gate on to the court proper? Also, there are 3 entrances to the Midland Beach courts, and without the benefit of instant slo-mo replays it is sometimes difficult to know who arrived first. Sometimes we need to ask for an outside call on these.
Well that’s it. Maybe this system isn’t for everyone. However it has proven to be successful and survived literally for generations. If you come to the courts to hang out and socialize, the Staten Island system may not be for you. But if you come for continuous action, I think you’ll like it! Despite its drawbacks, I believe the advantages outweigh them. Other paddleball groups should consider adopting our system.
I got next!??
Jay reminds me more of a power forward basketball player instead of a paddleball player. He is a hard hitting right handed paddleball player from the Bronx with a ton of potential to become one of the sport’s elite player. He started playing the game back in the 80s but really has been playing consistently the past 2 years. He started playing the game at the courts on P.S 86 on Riverside Drive in Manhattan and Central Park at the age of about 15 years old. He then took his game in search of tougher competition to St. James park in the Bronx.
His Mom & Dad are his favorite players, “Just watching the enjoyment of the competitiveness between them two” inspired him to compete at a high level in sports. He loves the game of paddleball, likes the hustle , the atmosphere, the different type of style of people’s games. He said the competition of the game is what attracted him to the sport, “Competition just love it..”. He has won a few tournaments the past two years including the PFA 1st Winter Open Restricted Doubles with Joey Vega. He also qualified to the PFA 1st Summer Doubles Invitational Classic at Orchard Beach.
He said “Sportsmanship goes a long way with me..” and feels is one of the things that will help grow the sport and make it more enjoyable to play. His advice to his paddleball peers? “they probably already know this “HAVE FUN”!!” He thinks the game is in good shape but reminds everyone to ” Just be fare”.
He concluded the interview with..
“WHO GOT NEXT?.. that’s all..I’m coming!!!”
You are definitely coming Jay, stay focused and keep working hard. You Got Next!