Personal Best: Making a difference on the handball court 

Tony Ragusin lived his first 15 years in the Sunnydale housing projects of San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley with his single mom and three older brothers. He has never met his father.

Despite declaring the day that he moved out of Sunnydale “the happiest day of my life,” Ragusin has never strayed far from his childhood home.

Now 56, Ragusin feels the impact that Sunnydale has had on his handball game.

“Playing handball is like being a gladiator,” Ragusin said. “It reminds me of doing battle in the projects.”

Ragusin first picked up the game in Golden Gate Park in 1974 and joined the South End Rowing Club later that year. His first tournament win came in 1979, the California “C” Doubles championships. He continues to play three days a week and provides free instruction to handball beginners every Sunday morning.

The high-energy father of two recently started his second stint as the club’s handball commissioner. Two of the club’s annual tournaments that Ragusin established in his first term in the 1980s are still going strong, the Cinco de Mayo and his personal favorite, the Father-Son. 

Serving as tourney organizer, Ragusin selflessly sits out the major club events including this month’s St. Patrick’s Day Tournament.

“We’ll have 96 competitors, 48 doubles teams including about 10 national champions and a few world champions,” Ragusin said enthusiastically. “The bleachers get involved; it’s like a Greek chorus with the players.”

Ragusin is seeking sponsorships for a number of projects: to help re-establish handball in San Quentin Prison, invigorate Bay Area junior handball programs and support the Maravilla handball program in East Los Angeles.

In addition to his ambitious commissioner’s agenda, the Daly City water department maintenance worker will play in six tournaments this year. At 5-foot-6, he’s a good front-court and back-wall player, but Ragusin feels that the strength of his game is in selecting partners.

“I play with anybody that can carry me,” he laughs. “I have no left hand, a lack of concentration and I can’t return serve.”
Ragusin and his mixed-doubles partner, 1989 U.S. Nationals runner-up Mary Connolly, were wed at the club 21 years ago. They live on the Daly City side of the Cow Palace, near Sunnydale.

Ragusin hopes to one day convince son Connor, a junior at Riordan High School, that “handball is a real sport” and to compete with his old man in the Father-Son Tournament.

South End Rowing Club

Where: Aquatic Park, corner of Hyde and Jefferson streets in San Francisco

What: Oldest athletic club west of the Mississippi

Club: Swimming and rowing on the Bay, plus two handball courts

Info:; (415) 776-7372

Handball: St. Patrick’s Day Tournament, Friday-Sunday

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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