Inducted as a Player in 2010
by Tom Bridges and Geoff Capell
We’ve all heard the stories. Tales about former inmates at Folsom State Prison coming into the Sacramento handball clubs when they are released from prison. They have played for years behind bars and want to test their skills against the outside world. Well, in a way this is another such story. The player is Cherylann Mendonca. But before the rumors start, let me assure you she’s not a former inmate. She is the Associate Warden for the Female Offenders at Folsom State Prison. After over 25 years with the California Department Of Corrections her climb to the top of the heap is not unlike her handball accomplishments. One word attributes for Cherylann would include:
The Sacramento native started playing handball at the former Sacramento Handball & Racquetball Club in 1979. Prior to that she was an accomplished tennis and volleyball player in high school and college. What attracted her to handball? The people who played the game and the challenge of the game. She would sit in the bleachers of the club and watch the players. She wanted to try handball and eventually did. She patiently worked to break into the “good ol’ boy”, network and eventually did, but it didn’t come easily.
Playing with the guys was sometimes hard, but she knew she just had to get used to it if she was to survive. It was hard to get their respect. If she left the challenge court for a second someone would cut in front of her and tell her to get in the back of the line. It reminds me of my old challenge days at the San Jose “Y”, a club I know and love. It was definitely dog eat dog days.
In the early 1980’s, Cherylann traveled to the Olympic Club for the first time. She went to attend a NCHA Board meeting. After entering she was quickly confronted by a staff member who questioned why she was there. After explaining her purpose a call was made upstairs to Dennis Berger who authorized her visit. But meanwhile she had to wait in the lobby, sitting in an old Victorian chair until a suitable escort would show up. The Club had a title for ladies who were sitting in the same situation, “Queen For A Day”. At one time the Olympic Club was an exclusive all male club. In 1982 the policy was changed with the addition of women to the membership.
Another great Bay Area story was in 1982 at the San Jose Labor Day Tournament. They combined the women’s bracket with the juniors. The young teenager Mike McDonald was in the junior division. A group led by Howie, Billy and David Wyrsch were teasing McDonald saying he was going to be beaten by a girl. Apparently Mike was so pumped up he was in high gear from start to finish! Eventually Cherylann got the men’s respect and they treated her like a handball player, one of the guys, the greatest compliment one can get. Her easy going friendly personality had a lot to do with that.
The women’s movement in Northern California has always been attributed to Cherylann, but she feels she really didn’t start it, it kind of started on its own. She entered her first tournament and was only one of five women. She then entered the Jerry Cooke Tournament weeks later and there were fourteen women. Where did they all come from? The women’s movement was on its way and for many years women’s competition in the Bay Area was fierce and competitive.
Cherylann loved to play in tournaments and played in a lot of them. Her favorite tournament was the Santa Cruz Open were she sheepishly admits to being especially motivated by the prizes, those Sea Horse trophies. She liked the laid back attitude of the tournament and the outstanding hospitality. She likes singles over doubles, but is an outstanding doubles player. She loves to travel especially to far off places like Australia, maybe her favorite place to play. Her favorite player to play with and against is Paul Delao, the handball pro at her home Capital Athletic Club in Sacramento. Her favorite players to watch are Rick Christian, and others like Kelly Russel, Davie Wyrsch, and Jerry Fagundes. Something that a lot of players take for granted is what Cherylann likes most about our game: handball is one of the few sports where you truly can use both sides of your body equally.
When asked about her strengths in handball she said she always thought she could analyze, break it down, copy good shots, and use the intellectual approach to the game. Example: Why are you hitting that same shot if he is killing that shot every time?
Cherylann first came on the scene winning the open singles at the San Jose YMCA Labor Day Tournament. That same year she won the Randy Newman Open in Merced and the list goes on. She has won the Santa Cruz Suntan Singles, the Fresno Open, the Capitol City Open, the Chabot Open, the Redding Open, the North Valley Athletic Club Summer Classic in Chico, the Superbowl Pleasanton Open, the Redding Open, the SOS Memorial Day Open Tournament, the Sacramento Open, the Northern Cal Regionals, and the Salinas YMCA Open, and probably a few more. According to Cherylann her greatest win was at the 1998 USHA Nationals when she won the Women’s B singles.
Ms. Mendonca’s handball skills have made the game better for all handballers, but particularly women’s handball has benefited. She is truly a pioneer and at the top of her field. Please welcome Cherylann Mendonca into the Northern California Handball Hall Of Fame. She is the first woman to achieve this induction honor as both a contributor and a player.