Sal Coticelli By Dave Siegel
You all know him. He’s played in many tournaments, visited many paddleball parks (usually on his bike) and is forever posting on the Facebook paddleball groups. He is one of the best young players today, very talented and highly motivated to excel. He’s Staten Island’s Sal Coticelli or as he likes to be known, Punchball Legend.
The story of Sal’s paddleball career starts 27 years ago, when he was only 8. He grew up in Brooklyn and first took up the game at the courts of Marine Park where he fought to gain acceptance with the adult players. He managed to get into their games by age 10 and by his mid teens, he was highly competitive, eventually moving on to the courts at Coney Island. Simultaneously, he developed into a top young handball player, winning many tournaments and drawing numerous accolades, particularly in high school. It was through handball, when he developed a nasty bone bruise and could only punch the ball that the “Punchball” nickname developed. He continues to play competitive handball today. In recent years, he moved to Staten Island and is now a fixture at the Midland Beach paddleball games.
Sal works very hard honing his skills, playing or practicing often 5 days a week. He has all the tools: power, terrific low serve, foot speed, an amazing left hand (which he developed during two injuries to his right arm) and wonderful paddleball instincts. His favorite shots are the killer in the right corner and his behind-the-back left side serve, both of which I can tell you are devastating. His paddleball role model is Robert Sostre and Sal actually studies his videos to help him improve. He also displays a cool demeanor on the court, never engaging in arguments.
Sal has extreme confidence in his paddleball skills, and he surely doesn’t hide it. But there is another side to him. If you are his Facebook friend, and almost everyone in paddleball is, you saw last spring how distraught he was when his beloved golden retriever, Mariah, was ill and eventually had to be put to sleep. We all felt so bad. We learned from FB he now has a new adorable golden puppy, Mandy. Sal has also done some good work with kids, whom he recognizes represent the future of paddleball.
Sal’s persona is dominated by an incredible drive for excellence in paddleball. He pushes himself as hard as possible to achieve his goal and he has advanced his game to a very high level, but he feels there is not universal acknowledgement of this. He truly wants the paddleball world to recognize his ability and he will continue to push on until he gets there.