Joe Kaiser, Sports Editor
While racquetball is played throughout the world, most people are unaware of a variation of racquetball played in northern Spain. The name of the game is “Basque pelota.” Pelota is usually played in a walled court, similar to a racquetball court. In pelota, two-player teams are pitted against each other with the objective of bouncing the ball from the front wall so that it rebounds between the “low off-area” and the “high off-area.” A team scores when the opposing team does not play the ball before it has hit the floor twice, and additionally if the team plays the ball but it rebounds in either the “low off-area” or the “high off-area.” Also, a team can score if the opposing team is unable to reach the front wall.
This game is sort of a niche, as only a handful of countries even have it. It made only a brief show at the Olympics in Paris in 1900. Currently, the two best countries for Basque pelota are France and Spain. In a medal count of the World Championships, France and Spain are the first and second respectively, followed by Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay.
Within the discipline of Basque pelota, the International Federation of Basque Pelota has standardized the game into four modalities. These mainly depend on the weight of the ball and whether the players use their bare hands or a racket. Before brushing off this sport as something “European” and most decidedly reminiscent of country clubs, it is important to realize that in certain versions of the game, especially one modality called “jai alai,” the speed of the ball has been maxed out at 302 kilometers per hour – that’s 188 miles per hour!
Even though this sport is relegated to a few countries, it can be enjoyed by anyone. It would be hard to find a place to play Basque pelota in Dallas, but one could always introduce himself to the sport by beginning to play squash, a similar game.