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Oct 2, 2017

Victorious ‘Pelota’ Champions Return to Belize

Belize won a regional sporting competition in Guatemala last week. But this sport doesn’t have as much of a national following as football or basketball, though it does have centuries of tradition behind it. The Maya sport of pok-ta-pok or Maya pelota is one of the last surviving traditions of a people who dominated northern Central America for centuries. And in our second try at the World Cup of pok-ta-pok, Belize came out on top of its Central American neighbors with a ruthless display. News Five’s Aaron Humes was on hand in Orange Walk for the celebration.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Think of elements of basketball, association football and any number of other modern sports…then combine them and you might have an idea of what it means to play pok-ta-pok or pelota. But you wouldn’t even come close to the kind of dedication these players have for a physically and mentally demanding discipline like this one.

 

Felicita Cantun

Felicita Cantun, Manager, Team Ek’ Balam

“This game has been played thousands of years ago, even here in Belize. If you visit the archaeological sites you can see evidence, because we have the courts. Now this version of this game was only played using the hip, because we have other versions – but this one, it was played using the hip only. So if the player touches the ball with the hand, we minus one point from the group and we add it to the other group. If the ball touches the player on the leg, on the foot, it’s two points that is taken away and added to the other group. If the player sits on the ball – that happens often – it’s three points. And long, long ago – if the ball goes through the hoop it’s automatically a win; but then we decided that because we have some very good players, who in less than one minute can pass that ball through that hoop and then what will happen to the audience? The game will be finished. So we decided that instead of doing that, if the player passes the ball through the hoop, you get ten points.”

 

Team Ek’ Balam, aka the Black Jaguars in Maya dialect, swept through its opponents from Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador and especially Guatemala. The six-member team, all residents of Yo Creek village in the Orange Walk District, defeated one Guatemalan side by one hundred and ten points to nothing. Member Eric Cal also won the individual competition. He describes the spiritual challenge of playing a game which can occasionally be deadly.

 

Eric Cal

Eric Cal, Team Ek’ Balam

“The importance about it is, it’s not just simply a sport, but pok-ta-pok is also a very spiritual event, whereby it entails a lot of culture, discipline. And it [requires] players to be mentally prepared, physically prepared, because it’s very strenuous. Just the hit of that ball could cause an accident and send you to hospital. We’ve had several incidents whereby players get hurt severely – they tend to break their hands and of course this can even break a rib for you, so you really have to be prepared physically and be in the .best condition possible.”

 

Nelson Blanco

Nelson Blanco introduced us to the ball used in the game, slightly larger than a regulation baseball and fairly heavier. The team is now used to playing with the six-to-seven pound ball but it still packs a punch.

 

Nelson Blanco, Member, Team Ek’ Balam

“We do some physical exercise, but it’s mostly hitting the ball. After some months of practicing it, the body tends to get adapted to receiving the hits. But even for us, we still need a little more training because most of us work and some of us are students, so we basically practice two to three times a week. And after the time that we’ve been practicing, your body tends to get accustomed to it. But even for us, this tournament, playing so many games, one after the other, it does cause a little damage to you, a few bruises. As I mentioned the ball weighs from six to seven pounds so it will do a little damage, especially at the force that the other teams are throwing it at you.”

 

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. But another team is being formed out of Xaibe, Corozal District, and with the success of these Black Jaguars, expect to see more of this game at a venue near you. Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

Belize was slated to host the 2019 championship but so far has not been able to pull together sponsorship, therefore it will be held in El Salvador. The team thanks NICH and Atlantic Bank among other sponsors for their support.

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