By Greg Bach
Al “Hondo” Handy faced many challenges growing up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but he never allowed any of them to derail his dreams.
Or chase away his self-belief.
In his inspiring new memoir – DEFYING EXPECTATIONS: FAMILY, SPORTS & RECREATION – Handy shares his remarkable journey that was punctuated with a 39-year career as the recreation manager at the Ocean City Recreation and Parks Department in Maryland.
“The key message of the book is that when you have dreams and things you want to do, don’t let anyone stop you from trying to achieve those dreams, even when there are naysayers who say you won’t,” he says. “In my case, my mother endured Jim Crow laws and I didn’t have the greatest living conditions, and sometimes people equate living conditions and where you came from with success, and I wanted to defy their expectations of me.”
Did he ever.
He was one of the first Black students to attend the all-white Stephen Decatur High School.
He won a state championship in basketball, ignoring all the voices along the way who kept telling him he was too short for the sport.
“I loved the game,” he says. “I knew I was really short, but I wanted to play so I had to figure out a way where I could contribute without letting everybody be right who was telling me I was too short. I wanted to be right.”
He got a degree at Salisbury State College (now Salisbury University), the first in his family to earn a four-year degree.
“My mom taught me everything,” he says. “I just worked hard every day.”
LOVE OF THE GAME
Handy grew up playing basketball on dirt courts with no nets.
When he and a few friends walked through the doors as the first Black students at Stephen Decatur High School they saw a nice gym floor, backboards, and rims with nets.
And they weren’t allowed to play on the team for two years while integration was ongoing.
So Handy served as team manager.
And he’d race to the court to work on his game before the team showed up for practice.
“We watched for two years how these guys would go through their drills and training every day,” Handy says.
Once he was allowed to play he put his skills and relentless determination to use and was instrumental in helping lead the school to a state championship in 1970.
“Although I was short I was really fast and I used that energy and quickness to compete,” he says. “I couldn’t rebound much, but I could anticipate passes and make steals.”
He brought that same passion – and his infectious smile – to recreation in Ocean City every day.
Big-hearted and caring, he touched a lot of lives in the community through the power of sports.
“I loved working with all those kids and just being a part of the Ocean City community,” says Handy, who retired in 2019.
And now he hopes he can inspire others to chase their dreams, silence detractors, and pursue meaningful lives just like he has done.
“If anyone has a goal in mind I hope this book inspires them to strive toward those goals regardless of what stands in their way,” he says. “I hope my story inspires others to follow their dreams and never give up. Whatever those goals are don’t quit.”
Al "Hondo" Handy
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