BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — For decades, George Miller dominated at three-wall handball.
“He was tall, had long arms and could play with either hand. He was totally ambidextrous,” said his friend, Jim Donaldson.
Yet as much as George was a competitor, it was his giving nature and passion for the sport that enabled Maumee to be the home to three-wall handball’s best facility in the country.
On September 2, players from around the country took a break from the National Three-Wall Champ-ionships – held at the Lucas County Recreation Center’s handball courts for 47 years – to watch as the courts were renamed after George, who died on May 20.
“George was the driving force of this facility. It was his baby, and his DNA was instilled in all of us,” said friend Jim Lowe, a member of the Toledo Handball Club. “George wanted this to be the best tournament in the country.”
Lowe held up a life-sized cardboard cutout of George as Lucas County administrator Megan Vahey Casiere read a proclamation.
“This is the best handball court anywhere. Now, it bears George’s name,” Vahey Casiere said.
With a tearful smile, George’s widow, Joyce, accepted the proclamation and a Carruth-designed commemorative frog.
“George is laughing his butt off somewhere,” she said to friends.
As the club members gathered on the court, many spoke about George’s legacy.
“He was our GOAT – the greatest of all time,” Donaldson said. “He was a wonderful guy.”
With 13 United States championship titles and even a Canadian championship, George was in an elite league of handball players. He was inducted into the National Handball Hall of Fame and introduced many to the sport. Joyce also holds national championship titles.
As a young adult, George played racquetball, then switched to handball, playing against his dad, George Williams Sr.
Before the courts were installed, handball players often utilized the downtown YMCA, but without air conditioning in the summer, playing inside would feel like a sauna, Donaldson remembers.
After a trip out of state, George brought back photos of a three-wall court and lobbied the Board of Lucas County Commissioners to build eight regulation-sized courts with lights.
“George is the reason the courts are here,” said Vern Roberts of Tucson, Ariz., a member of the United States Handball Association (USHA).
He remembers accompanying George to the complex in 1973, the winter before the walls were put up.
“George was so excited, he smiled like he did when he saw Joyce,” Roberts recalled.
As George was doing research on the type of courts needed, he saw many that were coated concrete block, but those surfaces often develop cracks.
“With cracks, the ball takes funny bounces,” Donaldson explained.
The county kicked in $60,000 in urban renewal funds and Rudolph Libbe donated materials because the project was a prototype for something new, he recalls. The slabs were poured on the ground in the winter and then erected in 1973. By 1975, the courts became the site of the national three-wall handball championships and have remained ever since.
“We come to the mecca every year,” said Bob Dyke of Virginia. “People come from all over – Alaska, Maryland, Virginia, New York – one year, even Australia and Japan.”
For decades, George did much of the organizing himself: finding sponsors, getting food and the beer truck, running the grills, even blowing and squeegeeing the court after it rained, said USHA executive director Matt Krueger.
“And kept the Gatorade filled!” shouted someone from the audience, generating a ripple of laughter.
“He gauged handball players on how much they gave back to the game, and George gave back a lot,” Krueger said. “He instilled a great passion on these grounds.”
The tournament is like a family reunion for many who see each other just once a year, said friend Rick Stevens. The players bring revenue to the area restaurants and hotels and often play a few rounds of golf.
As he began to see the effects of dementia, George began delegating many of his tournament tasks to the Toledo Handball Club members.
This year’s championship wrapped up on Labor Day, with Sunday play moved to Bowling Green State University’s indoor courts due to rain.