On Christmas Eve, four pairs of handball players met in the alley on San Quentin Prison’s Lower Yard to compete in a holiday tournament for granola bar prizes.
“The prize doesn’t so much matter; it’s coming out here for the fellowship and being part of a community to get through these holidays together,” said Jeff Williams, who took first place with his partner, B. McClelland.
The first-place winner received 30 granola bars, second place 20, and third place 10. With four teams in the competition, only one would leave empty-handed.
“This is the smallest tournament we have ever had,” said David Mageo. “We usually have eight to nine teams.”
In the first round, Kevin Thomas, 43, and Thomas Scott, 61, matched up against Mageo, 43, and Sedric Shaffer, 52.
Thomas and Scott slapped the blue handball against the wall better than their opponents, edging out a 15-12 victory to advance.
“I play handball because it keeps you in shape,” said Scott. “I’m 61 and I’m still taking people down.”
In the next round, the youngest and the oldest men in the tournament teamed up. Jamar Smith, 36, and Bozzie Burton, 64, played Williams and McClelland.
“I’m 61 and I’m still taking people down”
Williams played with more passion. He dived on the ground to hit the ball with his left hand twice. Backed by McClelland, they easily won, 15-5, advancing to the finals.
“Jeff is active; He’s a good partner to have,” said McClelland.
Williams said he learned how to play handball in prison 26 years ago. Once he realized it was something at which he was good, he continued to play, earning the nickname “Spiderman.”
“It’s full dedication, like a dog after a bone,” said Williams about why he dives on concrete to make plays.
“In order to be successful here, you have to know how to play with both hands,” said Eric Post, who ran the tournament on behalf of the prison.
Williams and McClelland faced off with Thomas and Scott for first place. Williams and McClelland jumped out to a 5-0 lead. That increased to 14-7 when Thomas and Scott rallied hard to come back. They fell short at 15-9.
McClelland said he loves handball because, “It’s a high cardio exercise and you have to carry your own weight.”
Burton and Smith battled Mageo and Shaffer for third place.
“Everybody had the potential to win,” said Burton.
Burton and Smith took third, winning 15-7.
“It’s all about change,” said Williams. “We aren’t who we were when we committed our crimes. Part of that change is finding our humanity and that comes from coming together to play by the rules and having fun.”