Ben Gadsden tries to return a ball in a game of jai alai at the Magic City fronton in Miami, Florida. (AP/Rebecca Blackwell)

Ben Gadsden tries to return a ball in a game of jai alai at the Magic City fronton in Miami, Florida. (AP/Rebecca Blackwell)

Jean Gregory Melendo Ikeda jumps for a ball as players warm up. (AP/Rebecca Blackwell)

Jean Gregory Melendo Ikeda jumps for a ball as players warm up. (AP/Rebecca Blackwell)

Jai alai balls called pelotas wait to be repaired. (AP/J. Pat Carter)

Jai alai balls called pelotas wait to be repaired. (AP/J. Pat Carter)

Chris Bueno returns a ball in a jai alai match. (AP/Rebecca Blackwell)

Chris Bueno returns a ball in a jai alai match. (AP/Rebecca Blackwell)

Spectators watch a game of cesta punta, a variation of jai alai, in Saint Jean de Luz, southwestern France. (AP/Bob Edme)

Spectators watch a game of cesta punta, a variation of jai alai, in Saint Jean de Luz, southwestern France. (AP/Bob Edme)

Keep the Ball Moving

Posted: July 1, 2022

You’d think the fastest ball game in the world would be a hit. But fans of jai alai (hi-uh-lie) have to work hard to keep the sport alive.

Jai alai (which means “merry festival”) was first played in Spain during holidays over 400 years ago. Players use a rubber ball wrapped in goatskin.

Put your helmet on tight! Tie this odd-looking glove onto your wrist. It has a narrow, curved wicker basket attached. Sling the ball from the basket as hard as you can against a high wall. Players hurl it as fast as 180 miles per hour!

The other team tries to catch the speeding orb and throw it back at the wall. The ball must be caught in the air or after the first bounce. Miss a catch? Your opponent wins a point! If the ball bounces twice or goes out of bounds, lose another point. And don’t hold the ball too long!

As many as 10,000 people used to go to jai alai games. In America, most people played and watched the sport in Miami, Florida.

From 1988 to 1991, players held a strike. That means they stopped participating. They wanted better pay. Game managers asked other players with less training to play instead. Many jai alai fans lost interest then. They chose to watch baseball, basketball, and hockey matches instead.

There’s only one place left in the country where jai alai is played as a professional sport. It remains at Magic City in Miami. True fans want the game to please crowds again. A bouncier ball is now used. And Magic City made the court smaller. Now the game is even faster than ever!

Why? Athletic games allow us to learn a sport, make friends, and keep our bodies strong with exercise. Get outside and play this week!

Pray with the apostle John, “I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health.” (3 John 1:2)