Four centuries ago, a game which began simply by throwing a ball against a church wall, became known as jai alai. The game originated in the Basque region of Spain, nestled between the Pyrenees Mountains in North-Central Spain and Southern France. The game originated as an attraction for the annual festivities in the basque regions, that is how the name "Jai Alai" originated (meaning merry festival in basque). The area is known as the birthplace of the world's fastest sport and has produced some of the world's best players. The first indoor fronton was built in 1798 in Marquena.
Jai alai is a Basque word meaning "merry festival" and was first introduced in the United States in 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair. The first Fronton arena in the United States was built in Miami, Florida in 1926 and wagering on jai alai was later legalized in 1934. Florida, Connecticut and Rhode Island have become the home state's to host the sport in the United States. The first jai alai court to be opened in Mexico was Mexico City's in 1928. Tijuana followed in 1947 when it opened its doors for the first time. Acapulco opened its jai alai in 1994 and Cancun soon follewed in 1995.
Even though more than 400 years has past since the sport first originated, it has changed very little. The game is known for its fast pace and exciting tournaments. The ball, or pelota, has been clocked at speeds of over 180 mph. According to The Guinness Book of World Records, Jose Ramon Areitio threw the fastest ball ever. It was clocked at 188 mph on Friday, August 3, 1979 at Newport Jai Alai in Rhode Island.
Jai alai is a very distinctive sport which requires its own special equipment. The cesta, a Spanish word for basket, is the long, curved basket a player uses to catch and throw the pelota and is hand-woven specifically for each individual player. The wicker basket is made from reeds found exclusively in the Pyrenees Mountain and the frame is made of steam bent Chestnut.
The pelota is the hardest ball of any sport. It is roughly 3/4 the size of a baseball and is harder than a rock. The core consists of Brazilian virgin de pola rubber, is layered with nylon and hand-stitched with two goat skin covers. The pelota, on average, has a court life of about 20 minutes before the cover splits due to the high velocities at which it hits the wall during play.
Jai alai is played on a special court called a cancha. The cancha has three walls that are made out of granite because it is the only material that can withstand the impact of the pelota. Although there is no standard size cancha, most are 172 feet long(about half the length of a football field) 40 feet high and 40 feet wide. The cancha has three walls and a wire screen forms the fourth wall so spectators may safely view the games.
The rules of jai alai are similar to those followed in tennis and raquetball. All games start with a serve which must land in a certain lined area of the cancha (between the 4 and the 7 line). The receiving player must catch the pelota in the air or on the first bounce, then return it to the wall in one continuous motion. The player cannot stop the motion of or hold the pelota. The players continue to volley until the pelota is missed or goes out of bounds. There are three judges, or referees, on the cancha to enforce these rules (One on the 4 line, the senior judge on the 7 line and the other judge on the 11 line).
The quiniela matches have eight post positions where post one and two play against each other every time. The winner of the point stays on the court and the loser goes to the end of the line. After everyone plays their first point (End of the first round), The points are double (each point counts for 2). This round robin scoring format continues until points in the game reach seven. Jai alai has both double and single matches with the rules remaining the same regardless of the type of competition. The partido matches' rules remain the same with the only difference being that their are two teams instead of 8 and the point goal is 25, 30 or 35 instead of seven.
Jai alai is a very difficult sport to master. Training for this sport begins between the ages of eight and ten years old and continues for years before the individual can become a professional jai alai player.