Triqui-Style Basketball and Breast Cancer

 

Triqui Minibasketball Players

Triqui Minibasketball Players

Triqui Team in Argentina

Triqui Team in Argentina

 

In David and Goliath, released in October, Malcolm Gladwell relates the story of a Silicon Valley dad who coached his daughter’s underdog basketball team and turned them into winners by teaching them to play up-tempo, a fast style of ball that can compensate for lack of size and athletic ability. Gladwell’s example is a good one, but Coach Sergio Zúñiga and his shoeless up-tempo warriors of Río Venado, Oaxaca in southern Mexico have gotten even more impressive results.  

Monte Albán

Monte Albán

Oaxaca is a state full of beauty, history and tradition. Monte Albán, just outside the city of Oaxaca, shows an architecturally advanced civilization that thrived for a thousand years beginning in about 500 B.C. Even today, many residents wear colorful indigenous clothing and serve large, banana leaf-wrapped tamales or dishes with a variety of the local mole sauces. In many homes the primary language is Zapotec, Mixtec, Triqui or another local language.

But Oaxaca is also a poster child for many of Mexico’s most challenging problems: widespread poverty, low levels of education, a shortage of jobs and an excess of narco violence. In 2009, Zúñiga, a Mexico City native, moved with his Oaxacan wife to the small town of Río Venado. He came with an idea, a big one. He wanted to keep kids out of trouble and give the hope by getting them into basketball.  

There was already some tradition of the game among indigenous groups in the neighboring state of Chiapas, thanks to the administration of Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994). Building basketball courts was a relatively inexpensive way to help quell political unrest. When needed, the courts also provided helicopter landing pads in remote areas.  

Starting the Academia de Baloncesto Indígena de México (ABIM), Zúñiga faced plenty of obstacles. He had to gain the trust of locals. The courts were simple, the uniforms and equipment donated. When heavy rains flooded the outdoor courts, the young players were responsible for cleaning up the mud and the muck. Soon he had 500 Triqui kids playing. As with many American high school athletic programs, he instituted academic eligibility requirements: school is first and kids must maintain an overall grade of 85%. At home they must speak Triqui and help their families. There are classes on leadership and risoterapia, roughly “laughter therapy.”   

Zúñiga’s ideas are working. Today the academy has 2500 participants and his all-star team of 25 players is winning all over the place. They made plenty of news last week for their style at the fourth Festival Internacional de Minibásquetbol in Córdoba, Argentina.  They and 8000 other boys from eight countries brought their dreams and talent to Córdoba. When the last whistle blew, the scrappy bare-foot boys from Mexico walked away as the 6-0 champs. Their narrowest win was 22-6, their largest, a whopping 86-3.

Many of the boys—and girls—at the Mexican Indigenous Basketball Academy have spent most of their young lives barefoot and actually prefer to play without shoes. Their unusual style and their growing victories are netting the all-star team lots of attention. In March, they took first place at a Monterrey, Mexico tournament and second place at an Orlando competition in July. October 30-November 5, they’ll take their game to the Dominican Republic. They hope to make it to Barcelona in 2014.

Nationally, in the last few weeks, the boys and their coach have been featured in reports by the likes of Notimex news service, Proceso magazine and Televisa, Mexico’s largest TV network. In the U.S., there have been reports by Univisión, CNN and the Washington Post. In an interview from Argentina, Zúñiga said, “It’s beautiful to see that all the negatives the kids had going against them have become their arms. Hunger and poverty motivate them to show their mettle. It’s something we need more of in Mexico: character, toughness, inner strength. They’re setting the example for all of us, myself included, that yes we can.”

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Breast Cancer Awareness in Chihuahua

Breast Cancer Awareness in Chihuahua

On an additional note, I arrived in Monterrey on Friday. Walking from the plane into the airport, I spotted the first official, a young male, sporting a pink ribbon on his coat lapel. By the time I got out of the airport, I’d seen plenty of ribbons. In Mexico, Saturday, October 19, was billed as World Day in the Fight Against Breast Cancer. Billboards, news media and volunteers are targeting women and their men relatives with messages to overcome fear and that early detection counts. Yesterday in downtown Chihuahua, 15 women in the photo here pinned ribbons on passersby. As a breast cancer survivor, I salute their efforts!  Read more in La Opción.

 

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