JAI-ALAI: The fastest game in the world!!!

It is believed that the Mayan Indians invented Jai-Alai which was then imported into Spain by returning Spaniards, although other sources refer to Jai alai as a game from the Basque area of Spain. In fact, Marquina, a town hidden in the northeastern corner of Spain, is considered the birthplace of jai-alai. This designation is based upon the fact that the first indoor jai-alai court was built there in 1798. Jai Alai started to gain popularity wherever Basques lived including the Philippines, Mexico, Cuba, and South America. In the 1930s, Jai Alai started becoming popular in the Philippines when a Basque by the name of Teodoro JŠuregu set up a Jai Alai court in Manila. In the past, Jai-alai players were mostly from the Basque region of Spain. In fact Jai-Alai's greatest players come from the Basque region of Spain. However, in recent years there have been more Filipino players. During the last professional season in Manila in the year 2000, there were about 48 professional Jai Alai players including 38 Filipinos, 7 Spaniards/Basque, 1 Mexican, 2 Americans and 1 Frenchman.

The Philippines has two frontons or Jai-Alai buildings, although there are numerous canchas or amateur playing courts. A professional fronton where wagering took place in Manila (now closed since the new elections), and an amateur fronton on the island of Cebu in the Mambaling area of Cebu city.

Jai alai is played between pairs of players. The basic idea of the game is for the server, armed with a cesta (wicker basket) tied to the right hand, to hurl the hard-rubber ball against the granite wall.Jai-alai baskets are called cestas (Spanish for basket). They are each made by hand and are very expensive being made from special wood combination of Spanish Chestnut and reeds. To prevent brittleness the Cestas are stored in highly humidified rooms. The life of a typical cesta is about three weeks. Each player receives a cesta stipend to help cover some of the seasonal cost.

The jai-alai ball is called a pelota, which is the Spanish word for ball. It is mostly made of rubber and is hard as a rock. Each pelota is made by hand. The core of the ball -- pure virgin rubber -- weighs a little more than 100 grams. It takes about one month to make the core. The core is covered with 15 grams of nylon cord. Two layers of goatskin, each weighing five to six grams each, complete the outer cover. The stitches on the pelota are embedded so as not to damage the cesta (basket used to catch and throw the pelota). The ball must land back in what is known as fair territory. The opponent must then catch the ball in one motion and hurl it once more. When a player fails to return a service, either by missing the ball entirely or mistakenly hurling it into the wrong zone, points are scored.

It is the shattering speed at which the ball is hurled and returned that makes the game so exciting. Traveling at speeds of up to 240 kilometers per hour, the ball becomes almost a deadly missile. The professional game is fast and dangerous with more than 30 pelotorais (players) killed in this century before helmets were introduced in the 1960s. The pro Fronton is over 150 ft. in length, no two are the same, and 40 feet wide. The front wall is usually solid granite 12 inches thick. Pro players shots have been clocked at speeds in excess of 180 m.p.h. Games are played in rotation with 8 teams or individuals playing until they reach 7 or 9 points or until they lose. Competition can be fierce and the best player or team seldom wins on every outing. Jai-alai is the world's fastest ball game. According to the Guiness Book of World Records the fastest recorded speed of any thrown ball took place at Newport Jai-Alai in 1979 when a player was clocked by radar throwing the pelota 188 miles-per-hour! Here's how other sports compare (according to an article in USA TODAY): hockey slapshot [120 mph]; tennis serve [130 mph]; squash [120 mph]. Besides the helmet, players also don traditional colored shirts.

Jai Alai begins with 14 games for each session and a 20-minute break in between each game. Spectators at this game are usually very noisy. This is not an unusual sight because betting is involved and everyone will cry out in support for their team.The music heard during the jai-alai parade before the start of the game is a Bullfight song known as "Espana Cani."

The front wall of a jai-alai court (cancha) is made of thick granite blocks. Granite is able to withstand the tremendous and repetitive pounding of the pelota. Other than the front wall, a jai-alai court is virtually all concrete. The numbers painted on the side of the court are used as reference points by the players. Doubles partners communicate with each other by referring to positions on the court by their corresponding numbers. A jai-alai court, with the wall located on the left side, is built for right hand play, much the same way the shortstop position in baseball is suited for a right-hander. There are no rules that prohibit left-handed play in jai-alai but there are no professionals today who do so. In the past, however, there have been notable exceptions. Marco de Villabona had no right arm, so he had no choice, but was still a very competitive player. There was also a player in the 19th century named Chiquito de Eibar who was sometimes required to play with the basket on his left hand as a handicap because he was such a dominant player.

Jai-alai tradition dictates that the players use only one name. Soccer (outside the Unites States) is another sport in which players traditionally use only one playing name. Jai-alai players rely on a variety of sources for names. Many simply use their actual first or last name. Many of the Basques (and Americans) use shortened versions of their last name. Other players have been known to choose their mother's maiden name and some take the name of their hometown.

Jai Alai Dictionary:

Cesta (Ses-tah):

The long, curved basket a player uses to throw and catch the pelota (ball). Every cesta is handmade according to the player's specific requirements and no two are exactly alike. A cesta is contructed by interweaving thin reeds through a sturdy frame of Spanish chestnut. Brand new cestas cost between $300 and $325. The word cesta in Spanish means basket.

Pelota (Pay-LO-tah):

The ball used to play jai-alai. It is slightly smaller than a baseball and feels like a rock. It is made by hand at a cost of about $150. The pelota has been clocked at speeds of over 180 mph. The ball's liveliness comes from its core, which is made of pure virgin rubber. The outer layers of the pelota are made of goatskin. One layer of nylon covers the core. The word pelota in Spanish means ball.

Jai-Alai (Hi-li):

A Basque word which means "merry festival." The game we know as jai-alai in the United States is actually known as cesta punta in the Basque provinces of Spain and France. Since cesta punta is a traditional part of the Basque "merry festivals," the term jai-alai came to describe the game in the U.S.


The building in which jai-alai is played.


The actual playing court. The front wall is made of thick granite blocks. The floor and side walls are concrete. The cancha at Milford measures 178.8' long, 50' wide and 46' high. It is considered one of the finest jai-alai courts in the world.


The area of the court -- made of wood -- that lies between the cancha and the wire screen that protects the audience. Any ball that lands on the contra-cancha is out-of-bounds. The Milford contra-cancha measures 15 feet.


Long, thin piece of cloth the player uses to strap the cesta to his right wrist.


Bright red sash with yellow tassels that all players use as a belt. Pronounced fa-ha.


The front wall of the cancha. The frontis at Milford is made out of blocks of Chelmsford granite. Each block is 8-inches thick and measures 4 x 4 1/2 feet. The wall stands 34- feet high and 35-feet wide. Pronounced franhn-tis.


A game of jai-alai played between two teams to a designated number of points (traditionally 35). Partidos are considered the truest test of a jai-alai player's ability. It is virtually the only type of jai-alai played in Spain and France. Pronounced par-tee-doh.


The back wall of the jai-alai cancha. Also, any shot that is played off the back wall. One of the most difficult shots to master. Pronounced rah-boh-tay.


The Jai-alai player. Pronounced pay-loh-tahr-ay.


A shot that stays very close to the side wall, making it very difficult to catch. Pronounced ah-ree-mah-da.

Bote Corrido:

Term used to describe a shot caught shoulder level or higher following a bounce. Pronounced boh-tay coh-ree-doh.

Bote Pronto:

A shot caught off a quick bounce. Pronounced boh-tay pronto.


Shot thrown from the outside that first hits the front wall then sharply deflects into and off the side wall. The tremendous spin of the shot makes it hard to handle.


Precision shot in which the ball first hits the floor of the cancha next to where the floor meets the back wall. The ball then bounces up, hits the back wall and comes out with little or no bounce. Almost impossible to return.


A shot thrown from the backhand side that strikes the rear wall very low, causing the pelota to come out with little or no bounce. An effective shot that is difficult to master. Pronounced choo-la.


Shot thrown from the outside that strikes the front wall low and angles sharply toward the inside. An effective kill shot when thrown properly.


Any shot throw with the backhand from shoulder level or higher.


A lob shot tossed toward the front wall usually from a short distance. Most often thrown when an opponent is caught deep in the backcourt. Commonly referred to as a lay-up. Pronounced day-ha-da.

Dos Paredes:

The carom shot, thrown using the side wall first. The ball bounces off the side wall at an angle, strikes the front wall sharply and caroms to the outside. The most common kill shot. Dose pah-ray-dez.


Shot thrown from the right side that bounces off the front wall at a steep angle, causing a big bounce when it strikes the cancha. Pee- cah-da.


Term used to describe any kill shot. Ray-mah-tay.


A player yells this to his partner when he wants him to catch the ball in


Throw the carom! A backcourt player often yells this to a frontcourt partner when he sees the opponent out of position. Dose


Command that means "you're free to make the shot."


Complimentary phrase called out by a player when his partner makes a nice catch or shot. Moo-cho.


A warning issued to a player by his partner that an opponent's rebote shot is coming out a long way. Sah-lay.


A player yells this when he wants the ball, similar to a baseball player yelling "I've got it!" Oy!


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