Jai alai is a sport which began over 400 years ago in the Basque region of Spain. The first players just threw balls against walls of buildings. Jai alai is a Basque word meaning “merry festival. ” Jai alai is still played the same way it was played when the game was invented. Jai Alai is played on a special court called a cancha. The cancha has three walls that are made out of granite. In jai alai a ball about ? the size of a baseball is thrown against a wall. The ball is the hardest ball of any sport.
It is made of rubber and layered with nylon and goatskin covers. A pelota can usually only last about 20 minutes of use because the cover splits when it is thrown at such high speeds. The pelota is caught and thrown using a cesta, a special long curved basket. Professional jai alai players have their cestas woven especially for them. The game is played on a special court called a cancha. The cancha has three walls made of granite. The walls must be very strong because the pelota is thrown very hard and fast and will break most other materials.
The cancha is about ? the length of a football field and 40 feet high and 40 feet wide. The game follows rules similar to tennis and racquetball. The server must land the ball in a designated area and the others must catch the pelota in the air or on the first bounce and then return it against a wall without stopping. The Pelotas travel at speeds up to 188 mph. Jai alai is a very difficult sport to master. Training often starts when a child is between eight and ten years old and it may take many years to become a professional player.
The first jai alai fronton in the United States was built for the 1904 World’s Fair held in St. Louis, Missouri. The first fronton in Florida opened in Hialeah, Florida in 1924. People bet on jai alai. However, other forms of gambling have become more popular and the sport is not as popular in the United States as it once was. However, a new fronton was built in 2008 in St. Petersburg, Florida and an amateur jai alai fronton was opened in May 2010 in Connecticut. Joey Cornblit was a world famous jai alai player in the late 1970s.
He was the reining champion and was the first American to equal the Basque masters of the sport. He was known for his 150 miles per hour shots and his killer attitude. But the most interesting thing about Joey Cornblit is that he was born in Brooklyn, New York and is Jewish. His parents are from Israel. After learning to play jai alai as a young boy, he became a professional jai alai player at the age of 16. He went to Spain to train. Mr. Cornblit retired in 1995 after suffering from a herniated disk and injury to his shoulder and bicep tendon.
His jersey number 37 was retired as well and now hangs on the wall at Dania Jai Alai Fronton. Mr. Cornblit is now a grandfather and lives in Plantation, Florida. Just as Mr. Cornblit’s career ended, the sport of jai Alai declined. Mr. Cornblit and other top players could make $100,000 per year. However, now with fewer and fewer people watching and betting on Jai Alai, the top players make less than $50,000. The frontons where the game is played are empty. When Mr. Cornblit played, 10,000 fans would watch him. Today, players are lucky to have 100 people watching the games.