While basketball, wrestling, skiing, track and swimming may be over for many local youngsters and baseball, softball and tennis have yet to begin, all school sports in the Midcoast have not hit a brick wall.

Well, one has. Even though the wall is not brick.

While many children would be sitting at the dining room table eating breakfast or getting ready for school, a group of 9- to 11-year-olds gather at 7:45 a.m. at South School in Rockland about four days a week.

They meet in a bright, lofty room with painted lines and linoleum floors to play what may be considered an obscure sport to some: handball.

Despite the program’s smaller stature in both attendance and players, the South School handball team currently is alive and “in full swing,” said coach Joel Dempsey, a longtime local handball enthusiast and teacher of the game.

Ian Goff is a fourth grader on the team and has been playing since last year, when students are first allowed to join. Goff likes the sport because he thinks it is relaxed, even though he admits that others may see it differently.

“It’s not really a competitive sport and that’s why I really like about it because you get to know more people, more about them and it’s just fun,” he said.

Currently the program is hosting a singles tournament that started Jan. 24. The tournament includes 13 players from the South School ages 9-10 although Dempsey said there have been as many as 20 students playing handball in the program this year.

The tournament includes Dylan McClure, David Kurr, David Young, Nick Keene, Tyler Masonoff, Peter Graffam, Seth Young, Nathan Hersom, Michael Norton, Vaughn Faller, Christian Gill, Reagan Billingsley and Goff.

The tournament is about midway through and this month the top eight players will begin a bracketed finals that begins around college basketball tournament time and ends sometime in the middle of the month. Prizes include kites and United States Handball Association hats.

This is not the first tournament Dempsey has been a part of. Tournaments have been going on for more than a year, including the Turkey Shootout Doubles tournament in November of 2009 and the annual Rockland Open.

Handball may seem an unusual sport, but that might be its charm. Goff got into the sport as an alternative to his other activities.

“I have a lot of sports that use some sort of ball, like baseball, basketball, that sort of thing,” he said. “So, when I heard of handball, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll try it out’ because it just sounded interesting to me.”

The 11-year-old did not take to the sport immediately, but it grew on him. “So when I started it at first I thought ‘Oh, this is boring. I don’t want to do it anymore.’ But then, as I played more and more, I got used to playing it and I kept on doing it,” he said.

Dempsey said handball is a good sport for the children to play and that it gives a lot to those who play.

“It’s a very simple game and it’s an old game,” he said. “It’s just hand-and-eye coordination that they are learning and they are also learning body positions, which lend themselves to other sports like basketball and soccer and football.”

He added that athletes like Mike Ditka, Bronco quarterback Jake Plummer and boxer Jack Dempsey all play or played handball.

The game also teaches the youngsters not only the physical attributes of an athlete but the mental ones as well.

“They are learning good sportsmanship,” coach Demspey said. “They shake hands before and after the game. There isn’t any fighting. They have to call it if the ball is out of bounds; they agree on these kinds of things.”

Coach Dempsey hopes the local school board, parents and teachers will see handball the way he does in the near future as he petitions to send some of his players to the Junior I Wall Nationals in New York in June.

He wants to send his best two or three athletes to New York, but first needs permission from the board and the children’s parents.

According to coach Dempsey, Rockland players have gone to the nationals twice before, most recently about five years ago.

One of the snags for such a trip would be funding. However, Dempsey said that the United States Handball Association might be able to help out.

For around 10 years, the Rockland community and school district have received funding from the association to further handball in the community, including the South School program and the Rockland Open in June.

In February, the organization agreed to give an $800 grant to the community and for 10 years they “have continued to support the program with funding even in these economically hard times,” coach Dempsey said.

The coach said that if the trip to New York is approved locally he would be able to apply for further funding from the handball association to help attend the tournament.

Click for more photos from Rockland handball.

Village NetMedia Sports Reporter Frederick Freudenberger can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at fritz@villagesoup.com.