Gomez says there hasn’t been a fight since the tournaments began; on this day, there isn’t a cross word or even an unsportsmanlike scowl.

“They know it’s a game and they’re not supposed to get mad,” he says. “They do get frustrated, but they don’t put it on other people.”

This peaceful history of the tournament is essential to its survival. “I told the principal that there are fights after football games and parents get into it, but if we had a fight after one of our games, that would be it. It would be over,” Gomez says.

Richard Gomez and the kids at the most recent handball tournament
John Gilhooley
Richard Gomez and the kids at the most recent handball tournament

The tournaments are part of several changes Gomez and fellow guard Albert Marron made to make the Costa Mesa High School and Middle School campuses safer since they came aboard about a decade ago. With the support of then-principal Fred Navarro, they used computers, Palm Pilots and video cameras to help prevent crime, recover stolen property and keep outsiders out. And they used handball.

Ten years ago, Gomez says, the 1,800-student school had more than 200 “habitually disruptive” students on campus. Today, he says, the number is about 20.

Navarro, now the assistant superintendent of the Anaheim Union High School District, is such a fan of the end result that he wants the entire security program implemented there, but they don’t have the money right now. Plus, he’d need to find the right people to run it. “Richard and Albert are few and far between,” he says.

Principal Ed Wong, who started at Costa Mesa High in 2007, wasn’t sure about the effectiveness of the tournaments and the security program at first. Now, he’s all for them.

As recently as two years ago, Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustee Judy Franco said the program was still too new to consider implementing it at other schools with significant numbers of at-risk students. Now, Franco says, the level of safety at the school is outstanding. But, Black says, right now, the district simply doesn’t have the funds to replicate the program elsewhere.

On Saturday, at the end of four hours of tournament play, neither David Rodriguez nor Charlie Vasquez is willing to give up first place without a battle. They chase the ball around the court, sliding and stretching to get it back to the wall. With a final slam, Vasquez outmaneuvers his opponent for his 21st point. Without a celebratory shout or even a fist to the air, he quietly walks to Gomez to tell him the results.

With a group of players gathered around, Gomez raises his voice to announce the winners of the A-division trophies. Vasquez and Rodriguez, both grinning, receive their hardware. The young men walk away with apparent nonchalance—but, as with all the boys who earned a trophy today, they walk around for the rest of the event holding their prizes in their hands.

To view a slideshow of the Nov. 14 tournament, click here

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