Pacific University Leads Way For New Handball Eyewear Standards
FOREST GROVE, Ore. — For decades, the Pacific University club handball program has been known as one of the top college programs in not only the U.S. but also the world.
Now the influence of Boxer handball, combined with the expertise of Pacific’s College of Optometry, has resulted in the development of new safety standards for eye protection for sport.
ASTM International, which develops standards for recreational and industrial safety worldwide, published ASTM Standard F3603-23 in September 2023. The specification identifies protective products specifically designed to protect the eyes from impact by a high-speed ball during competition.
“The new ASTM standards for safe eye guards for court sports such as handball and racquetball are the result of long-overdue state-of-the-art testing and research,” said Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of English Mike Steele, who is also the past president of the U.S. Handball Association and a member of the USHA Hall of Fame.
“As a faculty member, I am proud of the fact that Pacific University’s College of Optometry fully supported this important project. I am confident that ongoing education efforts will help ensure that players will be safely protecting their vision with eye guards that have passed rigorous standards.”
The development of the standard was nine years in the making, stemming from an incident witnessed by Steele, Pacific’s former head handball coach, and assistant coach David Steinberg at a tournament in San Diego in 2014. A player was struck by an errant shot, which caused hyphema (blood in the eye) and critical eye damage.
“Upon our return to Oregon, Professor Steele began inquiring about eye safety for our sport,” Steinberg said. “The discussion that followed slowly created a plan for handball eyewear and associated testing procedures.”
Steele enlisted the help of the Pacific College of Optometry through Jenny Coyle, former dean and current president of the university, and Karl Citek, professor of optometry. Benjamin Schmid ’17, a handball player and physics major, adopted the study as his senior capstone project. Former handball player Jeff Kastner ’05 assisted in the study along with Dave Delaney, a handball player and a retired failure analysis physicist at Intel.
The two studies were funded by member donations to the USHA. The primary authors of the study were Schmid, Steinberg and Steele with input from USHA staff.
The team spent the 2014-15 academic year studying commonly used handball eye protection and its ability to protect the eyes from high-speed impact with handballs. Most of the protective wear tested failed. Over the next two years, further testing identified two models of eyewear that passed more rigorous testing, establishing the basis for the new standard.
With the new ASTM standard approved, Steinberg said that the next step is for the USHA to enlist manufacturers of protective eyewear to review the standard and re-test their products. The ones that pass would receive the “stamp of approval” for the new standard, making the products more marketable to handball players.
Pacific has long been an active part of the sport and has fielded a club college program since 1977. The men’s and women’s teams have combined to win eight national championships since 2013. Individual players have won multiple national championships and All-American honors. Pacific has hosted four U.S. Handball National Collegiate Championships, most recently in 2015, which were held at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland.
Pacific University is the only comprehensive university in Washington County, Oregon, serving more than 3,600 undergraduate, graduate and professional students in the arts and sciences, business, education, health professions and optometry.