The Shrouded Mystery of Jai Alai
Highlighted Area is The Basque Region
Jai-alai’s history is argued upon by experts. Some experts believe the sport was first played in Ancient Egypt and Greece while others believe a theory that Jai-alai originated in Central America, and brought back to Spain by the Conquistadores. Others believe the sport began in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. However the sport began, experts agree the game was designed as a festival attraction. In the Spanish region of Basque, where the game was thought to have been created, Jai-alai means ‘Merry Festival’ and is parent to other ball-and-wall games, such as hand ball and squash. Many forms of Jai-alai are played. Games can be played with one, two, or three walls. Players can play with a bare hand, gloved hand, or players can wield a hand held basket called a cesta. The first time Jai-Alai was played was on the back of a church just using the one church wall. Spectators formed the boundaries around the players as the game was played (Weissman). When played in a league or for money, most games are played with three walls and the players have a cesta attached to a hand. In 1857, the wicker cesta was invented by a Basque, Juan Dithurbide. Dithurbide designed the cesta to be held during the game. A Basque priest, Alberto Alcorta Tellechea, redesigned the basket to be worn instead of held. If the game is played with one wall, players will often carry a flat bat, similar to a cricket bat, to hit the ball with. The ball, pelota (Spanish for ‘ball’), is the hardest ball of any sport. Just smaller than a baseball, the pelota has a rubber core, nylon middle, and two hand-stitched goat coverings. During the late 1890’s, Jai-alai was spread throughout the world. It became especially popular in Cuba, and quickly spread to Florida very shortly after.