PFA Paddleball Hall of Fame Players
Howard Hammer was inducted into the PFA Paddleball Hall of Fame on January 14, 2017.
Howard Hammer is the first inductee into the PFA Hall of Fame, and rightfully so. He was not only one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, but he also contributed more to the game than anyone I know. No one else is more associated with paddleball than Howie. Therefore, the title ” Mr. Paddleball ” is really appropriate.
I met Howie in the 1960’s when we both participated in Chris Lecakus’s U S Paddleball Tournaments. Howie was outstanding, winning championships in both singles and doubles. He was a great offensive player, making killers from almost any angle. We teamed-up in 1969 and went on to win the American Paddleball Association championships from 1969 to 1972. We retired shortly thereafter in order to play in the touring exhibitions.
However, more importantly for the sport was Howie’s contributions off the court. He wrote the first book on paddleball strategy called “Paddleball: How to play the game.” He designed a good looking paddle called “The Hammer”, which was very popular and had record sales. He promoted and sold single Paddleball wood walls to many clubs and parks. He eventually became president of the American Paddleball Association (APA) and for many years ran some of the best tournaments the game had seen. He helped popularize the sport with his tireless efforts to promote the game wherever he went, on and off the court.
But, it would be fair to say that the greatest accomplishment Howie made was to bring the sport to the people of the greater N Y region by promoting the touring exhibitions. From Pennsylvania to Connecticut, from Long Island to Staten Island, from the Catskills to the Jersey shore and a lot of places in between, people were able to see some of the finest players of the era, such as, Tom Terrific, Howard Solomon, Whitey Faber and Marvin Rosenberg. Of course, Howie was key to the group’s success. A fabulous entertainer and public speaker, he engaged and delighted the audiences wherever he went.
For me, it has been a tremendous experience and honor to be associated with Howie, a true professional, and I am happy to say that our friendship continues to this day.
By John Bruschi
John Bruschi was the 2nd player to be inducted into the PFA Paddleball Hall of Fame on February 25, 2018
The consummate professional and the ultimate team player. Those are the words that come to mind when describing John Bruschi. In the 1960s and 1970s, I had the pleasure and great fortune of having John as my doubles partner, and I could not have asked for a better partner on the court. The success we were fortunate enough to enjoy was due to how well we worked together, and that success would never have been possible without John. Our partnership continued into the 1980s, as we and Marv Rosenberg and Howie Solomon put on exhibitions throughout the tri-state area and beyond, spreading our love of the game.
John was always recognizable on the court, with his familiar eye protection and helmet. Although not the fastest player or the hardest hitter, his amazing success came from the neck up: John was one of the smartest and best defensive players in the game. He was often a step or two ahead of his opponents, setting up shots and never giving in. His trademark lob shot would leave our harder hitting opponents bewildered. Perhaps the best thing that one partner can say about another is that “he made me look good.” John always made me look good. I can still remember like yesterday his defensive play. John was never out of position, and he never “hung me out to dry.” Victory after victory, and championship after championship was his paddleball legacy.
People that remembered John playing can recall the greatness and effortlessness with which he played. I was lucky enough to be witness to it day after day, and tournament after tournament. John also never rested on his laurels. I can recall John calling me in the middle of winter to practice, and I’d tell him I’m not sure we should because it’s 30 degrees out! But that was John, whose dedication to the craft, and always striving to get better, is another one of his qualities.
So too was his class, and the always respectful way he conducted himself on the court. As our competitive days were winding down, the next great doubles team of Andy Krosnick and Bobby Schwartz had the good fortune to compete against John and witness his play, and they continued to uphold the mantle of John’s skill and class.
I’ve known John for a half century, and I am honored to have played with him and learned from him. Most importantly, I’m proud to call him a friend. I’m glad he is remembered as one of the greatest paddleball players of all time.
Written By Howard Hammer
Anita Maldonado was the 3rd player, and first female, to be inducted into the PFA Paddleball Hall of Fame on January 12, 2019
The magnificent award-winning profile photo says it all. We see the acrobatic athletic ability, her skill, and most importantly, the never-give-up determination. And yes, Anita Maldonado made the shot! And it was a killer!
The 1980s was the golden age of paddleball, with an estimated 440,000 men, women and children of all ages playing this urban New York City game. There were many excellent players, but far and away, the most accomplished woman player was Anita Maldonado and she might very well go down in history as the best woman paddleball player ever. Anita won an incredible eight out of nine Budweiser women’s singles titles from 1981-89. In 1992 she played in her last singles tournament, again winning the Bud Classic and it was in the finals that Anita made the fantastic, historic, diving shot.
Like many paddleball players, Anita started out playing handball. For her it was at the local courts at 108th St. and Park Ave. in Spanish Harlem, where she grew up. She says that the instant she first picked up a paddle, she was attracted to the sport and soon was playing every day. Eventually Anita moved to Central Park, followed by the Yankee Stadium courts and finally she settled in at Carmine Street, where she played for many years as her home park.
Anita did not become great by just playing the game and having fun. She put in long hard hours practicing, training, and working on her endurance. With her intelligence and mental toughness, combined with hard work, she knew that she could rise to the top in paddleball, and indeed she did. One person who played a very significant role in Anita’s paddleball career was Aubrey Nelson. Aubrey, who Anita described as a “paddleball intellectual,” and “like a father to me,” was her coach and mentor throughout her tournament days. He imparted great wisdom and helped transform her into a complete player, featuring stamina, quickness and power. Another person who had a tremendous inspirational effect on her life was her late mother, who was her number one fan and attended all of her tournaments.
Anita’s game was highlighted by power, combined with smarts. She could spike it and could jam her opponent as very few women were capable of. Why did Anita gravitate to singles? She now says that striving to excel in singles truly drives a player to become dedicated to working out, staying in shape, learning the game and playing it correctly. Anita says this commitment made her feel grounded. She feels doubles is a much easier game, not requiring the same level of preparation or physical fitness. She would like to see the present paddleball revival movement add singles to the tournament schedule, and indeed, the PFA is on the mark by hosting a successful tournament last September and planning to do others in 2018.
With Anita, it was not all about her. As she became more accomplished, she gave back to paddleball, becoming an inspiration and mentor to many players. During her championship years, Anita and Mike Melendez teamed up with Budweiser and the NYC Parks Department, conducting numerous, very successful clinics across the tri-state area that helped get even more people involved in the flourishing game of paddleball.
In the late 80s Anita sought to conquer a new sport, taking up racquetball. But this extraordinary athlete did not just dabble in the sport. As with paddleball, she gave it her all, and rose to the highest echelon. Anita competed in the Pan American Games and won medals in the Central American Games, including the gold in 1998, for which she is honored in a museum in Puerto Rico. She became a racquetball professional and was ranked in the women’s division as high as the number four player in the world!
Presently, Anita plays (and excels in) racquetball in all its forms: four, three and one wall. In the past year she has resumed playing paddleball and returned to tournament competition. She plans to continue in 2018. She notes a big shift to the big ball game, especially over the past year or two. Her mindset now is that she sees all these racquet/paddle sports melding together, and she will train for, and compete in any of them.
When Anita is not playing sports, she loves to watch tennis and basketball. Nadal and LeBron are her favorite players. She also cooks a mean yuca and eggplant with cod fish!