SANDPOINT — Sandpoint’s Chris Tico, 52, is a national handball champion.
Tico captured the 2021 men’s United States Handball Association Four-Wall Singles National Championship in the 50-and-over division. The national championships were held in Nashville, Tennessee, on Dec. 9-12.
Tico grew up in San Francisco and moved to Sandpoint about a year and a half ago.
Tico is no stranger to handball national titles. He’s won six or seven in different age divisions at the masters level over the years and this one is just the latest.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to win some of those,” he said.
In 2019, Tico claimed the masters singles 50-plus national title in Tucson, Arizona, and he was thrilled to add another piece of hardware to his collection last month.
“Honestly, it felt like a big relief,” he said. “I was seeded No. 1 going into the tournament, so I felt a lot of pressure like I was supposed to do well.”
Tico went a perfect 3-0 to grab the championship and beat Joe Tierney from San Francisco 21-5, 21-7 in the final.
Tico, who was once No. 10 in the USHA rankings, got introduced to the sport at roughly 5 years old when a neighbor took him and his brother to some handball courts. He got more involved with the sport as a teenager and started playing pretty regularly. At 17, Tico competed in his first junior national tournament.
After that, he got an opportunity to join one of the most prestigious college handball teams in the country at Lake Forest College in Illinois. Under the stewardship of legendary coach Mike Dau, the Foresters have won 51 United States Handball Association national championships.
As a freshman at Lake Forest, Tico was a part of a team that won the combined national title. The experience he gained on the handball court there is something he will never forget, Tico said. Dau, a member of the USHA Hall of Fame, helped foster an environment that made playing handball for hours on end extremely rewarding, he added.
“He has a super successful way of teaching the sport and building players’ skills,” Tico said.
Handball draws comparisons to racquetball, tennis and squash, but with one key difference — players use gloves instead of racquets.
Clearly, handball can be quite the demanding sport physically, and Tico loves the way it keeps him in shape. He also enjoys the competition that comes along with it.
“It’s a lot of fun for sure, and the people might be the biggest part of it,” he said. “… Handball players are such good people. A lot of my best friends now and over the course of my life I’ve met through handball.”
When Tico was younger he used to play handball nearly every day, but he still gets in roughly three matches a week at the Litehouse YMCA in Sandpoint. He even does the occasional training session to be his shots.
Tico, who took part in the world championships in Dublin, Ireland once, has enjoyed getting to know the handball community in Sandpoint and he said there is an extremely strong following here that he plays with regularly.
He also added that the staff at the YMCA has done an excellent job aiding his efforts to play the sport.
“The support here in Sandpoint overall has just been unbelievable,” he said. “I’m perfectly happy here just playing with the guys in Sandpoint.”
And Tico isnt planning on giving up the sport anytime soon. There are national tournaments available for those 80 and older and with his passion for handball it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see him competing in one in the future.