By Jason Cohen
Alexx Berdej thought fistball was a silly game kids played in school, but she recently found out it is much more than that.
Berdej, 17, a senior at Roxbury High School, played volleyball from the fourth grade until she was cut from the junior varsity team two years ago. She explained it was weird not staying after school for practice or games, but eventually she enjoyed the free time.
In January, U.S. Fistball Association President Bob Feid posted an ad in the Roxbury Alternative Press looking for seven to 10 girls 18 and under with volleyball experience to form a fistball team. This caught the eye of Berdej’s mother Tara, and she quickly told her daughter.
“I thought it was one of those stupid games gym teachers came up with,” Berdej remarked. “I didn’t think it was a real sport.”
She added, “My parents were very supportive and more excited at first than I was. At first I was a little wishy washy about it.”
She knew it was a bit similar to volleyball, did some research and tried out for the team in March. However, unlike volleyball, the ball is much harder, there are only five players on the court, a ball can bounce and most importantly, players can only use one hand to strike the ball. In fact, if a player uses both hands it counts as two hits.
The sport, which originated in Europe in 1894, has actually been played at the Swim and Sport Club in Flanders since 1927, but went unnoticed until last year, when the club was chosen as the site for the first Pan-American Fistball Games Tournament.
Berdej told the Roxbury News that many of her friends were confused about the game.
“Most of my friends have no idea what fistball is,” she said. She quickly showed them videos on YouTube and they understood.
According to Berdej, learning the techniques and nuances of fistball was a bit of an adjustment. Not only did she have to acclimate herself with new rules, but had to get used to her teammates.
While she never envisioned herself playing fistball, she feels it is more challenging than volleyball and may have made her a better volleyball player.
“It was really hard to wrap your head around the idea that the ball can bounce before you hit it,” she explained.
The girls, who hail from all parts of North Jersey, have been practicing together since March and have grown close, Bredej noted. She acknowledged they were all facing the same challenge; none of them had ever played fistball.
So for the past five months they worked hard and are ready to compete in the sixth girls 18 and Under Fistball Tournament in Nuremberg, Germany from July 20 to July 24.
While she hopes the team does well, she is looking forward to seeing the European players who have played fistball most of their lives.
“Germany is going to be a lot of fun,” she said. “I’m really excited to be able to meet people from a lot of countries and get their views on fistball.”