Inside the downtown Sports Barn fitness club, four people stood in a box that's 20 feet wide, 40 feet long and 20 feet high.
Mike Kavkewitz bounced the ball once on the floor, then whacked it with his palm. The ball hit the front wall and bounced back over the service line.
Donna Coleman dived to return the serve, bumping into the side wall in the process.
"It feels like an actual workout," Coleman would say later in an interview. "I hate aerobics and anything that has loud music and asks me to step this way and that way."
Coleman, 48, is part of a small group of women in the country who play the game seriously. She started playing handball at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga 30 years ago.
"[The men who were in the handball club] kept begging us to try it," she said. "I tried and never looked back."
One of those original club members was Ed Ellett.
Ellett began playing handball at 1962 and is still playing at 81 years old. He is among several Chattanoogans who have won Southeastern championships in their age divisions.
"You don't need a team," he said. "You need yourself and one more person, and you've got a game."
The game requires a player to use both the left and right hands. Using both sides gives a more overall complete muscular workout.
"There's a symmetry in the game for your body," said Bret Moldenhauer, a handball player and sports medicine acupunturist.
In addition, he said, the fact that each game lasts at least 20 minutes and involves little stopping makes it an ideal aerobic activity to reach one's target heart rate. A good handball player, he said, engages the full body and core into the sport.
"It's the ultimate game," said Tom Benton, Kavkewitz's doubles partner, who has been sidelined lately with a shoulder injury. Like Coleman, Benton has been playing for 30 years.
The players gather at the downtown Sports Barn every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. The first court is named for former Chattem CEO, the late Alex Guerry, who was a handball and racquetball enthusiast.
"It's not a recreational sport," said Rob Pearse, 45. "You're pretty religious about it."
Pearse, a native of Burlington, Ontario, Canada, attended Memphis State University on a handball scholarship. He was on the team for four of the school's eight national championships. Pearse was ranked No. 15 on the U.S. Handball Association pro tour in the late '90s and early 2000s. He began playing in physical-education class in sixth grade, back in Canada.
"It was the first sport where I became accomplished fairly quickly," he said. "Your successes keep you motivated."
Handball players, Pearse said, are pretty competitive.
"We do not like to lose," Ellett said.
Chattanooga is a top location in the Southeast for handball players.
Chattanooga native Scott Kelley played on the pro handball tour, once ranking No. 7 in the 1990s. Kelley is the son of Bud Kelley, a Southeast regional champion in the 1970s and early 1980s.
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