“The Bruce Lee of Handball”

This week we’re proud to introduce you to a man who’s roots run deep in the community and on the courts of NYC. He hails from Bushwick Brooklyn and grew up playing in a small yard behind Junior High School 111. Congratulations to our new Player of the Week – Eddie “Styles” Santiago aka “Lil Eddie.”

How did people come to recognize you as “the Bruce Lee of handball?”

There was a W4th street documentary that was shot years ago and in the interview I said when I play I evoke the spirit of Bruce Lee. When he hits something, the same as when I hit the ball there is absolute focus. Even when I’m furious I’m in total control and in charge. It takes a lot of discipline to maintain your emotions on the court or in life in general. I feel like my life parallels his. For example we both have one son and one daughter. When I teach wall ball (handball) to my students I use a lot of his philosophies and the same way he applied them to martial arts, I apply them to wall ball.

So you’ve taught people how to play? What inspired you to do that?

I’ve taught and mentored around 20 players over the years. I’m a good listener. In order to be a great teacher you have to listen first. I’ve been playing this game for over 30+ years and I’ve managed to maintain a great reputation. Also, being 47 years of age and still being able to compete at a high level is one of my greatest accomplishments in this sport. So naturally when people heard that I teach they sought me out. Longevity is key.

What else would you consider to be one of your great accomplishments in life?

Well my family of course. I have 2 beautiful children and I’ve been married for 17 years. I’m also a financial advisor of over 20 years and to give back to the community I’ve hosted some of the most successful amateur (“B”) tournaments in the city since 1990. People know I’m firm but I’m fair. These days I want to contribute to the sport by helping growing organizations. I think if we work together instead of everyone having their own thing we’ll go much farther. There are too many tournaments and too many different groups saturating the sport. There’s also no room in handball for this new “C” division. In my opinion you’re either a pro or an amateur. In my days of playing there was no amateur division. You either entered an open tournament or you didn’t play at all. That’s how you were forced to get better and always play at your best.

So, why wall ball (handball) and not any other sport?

Baseball was my favorite sport growing up but unfortunately it requires so much equipment and 18 other players to get a game going. New York City is the best playground in the world. My Brothers all played handball and it was cheaper than baseball so naturally I gravitated towards what was accessible to me. Back in the day they use to play a version of the sport called “pink ball.” The sport fascinated me because it was so fast paced which is how I developed my style of playing. It was pink ball that got me into wall ball (handball). That and the people who played. There was a guy named Carlos Lorenzo and Moe aka “Dr. Hook.” He was a big guy and a lefty. They were all very charismatic and had great personalities. It was hard not to watch them and be entertained. You know you’re good when spectators react to you on the court. Win or lose, when you walk off the court and still have the support of the spectator…well that to me means you’ve EARNED your respect.

Congratulations and THANK YOU for your years of service and contribution to our sport Mr. Santiago aka “Lil Eddie.”