Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Shady Side graduate among handball elite

- By Joe Bendel

Tri-State Sports & News Service

David Fink defied the odds, and the numbers, on his way to the top of the profession­al handball circuit.

At 39, this 1996 graduate of Shady Side Academy is easily among the elder statesmen of The World Players of Handball Race 4 Eight tour Powered by ESPN.

Equally impressive, Fink has reached these heights despite a gruesome injury to his finger in 1997. The top of his right pinky was severed, and later reattached, after a freak racquetbal­l accident during winter break of his sophomore year at the University of Arizona.

The raw data alone — 39 years and the reattached finger — would spell doom for most. But Fink swats the negativity away like one of his mighty fly-kill shots.

“To lose part of a finger when you compete in a sport called “hand .. ball,’ that’s bad luck, right?,” said Fink, a native of Fox Chapel. “It would be like a soccer player getting his toe cut off.”

The age discrepanc­y isn’t great, either. The average age of those on the seven-city, $200,000 tour is 29 years old.

That is a decade younger than Fink, who, according to the WPH’s website, is the oldest athlete to earn a No. 1 ranking for the first time in any profession­al sport.

“Of the top-8 players, I’m the oldest by five years,” he said. “Some of the guys are 15 and 16 years younger than me. It’s unique, for sure. But I don’t see it as a disadvanta­ge.”

If things go well today through Sunday at the tour’s final event in Salt Lake City, Fink will finish as the top-ranked player for the 2016-17 season.

He is currently tied with defending champion Killian Carroll, 24, of Ireland and Luis Moreno, 28, of Tucson.

Seizing the coveted crown would mean everything to Fink, who began playing the sport at age 3 under the watchful eye of his father Rodney, a handball legend in these parts.

“To be No. 1, it gives me an amazing sense of pride and satisfacti­on because it didn’t happen overnight,” said Fink, who took a 10year hiatus from the sport after injuring the finger. “It’s been a long road for me, a road that my dad and I have traveled together for 36 years. I’ve been ranked inside the top 8 for the last eight years — I was even No. 2 in 2014 — but I’ve always missed out on the top spot. And frankly, I never anticipate­d being here this season. It used to be that I would come out on the wrong end in close matches, but that’s changed this season. I’m winning the close ones. And now, I’m expecting to win them.”

What makes Fink unique is that when he’s not playing, he’s calling every match as the lead color analyst for ESPN3. It is quite the juggling act for this handball star, but one he handles with aplomb.

“Some say it’s a disadvanta­ge because I have so much going on and I can’t just focus or rest for my matches,” said Fink, a former walk-on on the Arizona tennis team who later attempted a career in profession­al golf. “But I see it as an advantage because it takes my mind off of things. It eases the pressure.”

In 2013, Fink moved his wife and 5-year-old son from Squirrel Hill to the WPH’s headquarte­rs in Tucson to become the organizati­on’s developmen­t director. He is charged with everything from broadcasti­ng to writing to coordinati­ng events to institutin­g rules. He also organizes more than 800 junior handball clinics per year while serving as a Master WPH instructor.

Yes, his hands are full ... and he wouldn’t want it any other way.

“It’s a passion,” Fink said. “The winning? That’s a bonus.”

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