The first time my husband and I went to the jai alai games was in the 1970’s when we visited my grandmother in Miami, Florida. The stadium was full and the fans yelled encouragement to the players in English and Spanish. The game was exciting but the pageantry and the atmosphere surrounding the games was half the fun. At the beginning of each match, the teams would come to the front of the court accompanied by Spanish music. As they waved their cestas (baskets), the crowd would cheer. A night at the jai alai games was an event to look forward to.
As my family moved further north, we went to the frontons in Palm Beach and then in Dania near Fort Lauderdale. The atmosphere was still exciting.
The game of jai alai originated in the Basque region of Spain and many of the players still have Basque origins. Jai alai is played on what looks like an elongated handball court. About eight singles or doubles compete to see who can score the points first. They have to throw the pelota (ball) against the back and their opponent has to catch it on one bounce or on the fly. There is betting on which single or double will win. Each match lasts about 20 minutes. There are usually about 15 matches in an evening but one can come or go any time during the evening.
After years away from Florida, I was excited to go back to the jai alai games. We went to Dania, the closest fronton to where we were staying. The game is the same, but the pageantry and atmosphere are gone. Instead of being in a whole stadium, jai alai is now relegated to a small back room of a casino. Instead of a whole crowd being there to cheer, now there are only a few rows of people craning their necks to watch the matches. To add insult to injury, we had to plod through the casino to get to the jai alai room. What a disappointment!
|jai alai fronton in Dania, Florida|
|parade at the beginning of the match|
Apparently, jai alai has also been moved to a casino in Miami. I guess most people prefer the slot machines with their quick results. Maybe that’s collateral damage from all the time people spend playing video games. Click. Click. Click. I hope jai alai doesn’t go the way print newspapers seem to be going.
My new goal is to go to the Basque country- the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain and France- and see the jai alai games there. I think it will be really exciting.
playing jai alai in the Basque country