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The world's fastest game.

Jai-Alai originated in the Basque Country of Northern Spain. Jai-Alai means "Merry Festival" in the Basque language, though in Basque they refer to the game as "pilota" and the game is known as Jai Alai elsewhere. Gameplay is similiar to Raquetball, but instead use large "Scoops" to catch the ball, called a pelota, like Lacrosse. The game was played outdoors using the church walls as the first playing courts.

The ball is thrown with a curved wicker cesta. If you've seen the movie Tron, you may remember the scoops that the players used to lob the ball, those were cestas. The ball is made of rubber and goatskin, and can rebound off the wall as fast as 188 miles an hour, twice as fast as a fastball. If you get hit by one it could be fatal. Between 1920-1967, at least 4 players were killed by a Jai Alai ball to the head. Helmets were not introduced until 1968 after a champion player named Orbea was hit in the head, ending his career.

 Over three centuries ago, in the Basque area of the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain, Pelota Vasca (Basque Ball) developed. Jai Alai was a variation used mostly at festivals. The most daring of these games (Cesta Punta) evolved into the game you see in America. Jai-Alai came to Cuba from Spain in 1898, and was successfully introduced as a professional game at the Miami Fronton in 1926.

 While the round-robin form of play is common in the United States, overseas two teams play head to head in the Partido. In Spain, for example, a Partido runs 25 to 40 points and may last an hour or more. Each point is bet as well as the game itself.

 Jai-Alai is a unique sport played in various places around the world. Professional Jai-Alai in America originated at the Miami Fronton. Though its birthplace is the Basque Country, there are more Jai-Alai frontons in Florida than any place in the world.

Jai Alai is one of the few sports where left-handed people can't play, at least not with their left hand. The rules and traditions specifically forbid it. The reason is that the court has only 3 walls, and spectators watch behind a chain-link fence. The side wall on the left is where the ball can be rebounded. Because of that, it would be dangerous and really difficult to throw and catch with their left hands. Well, if both players were left-handed, they could just use the other wall, but currently lefties are banned from playing.

More complete official rules can be found at
http://www.fla-gaming.com/rules.htm
http://www.jaialai.net/rules.htm

Watch live webcast games over at http://www.dania-jai-alai.com/

Information taken from Jaialai.net and Just Curious , Jeeves, 2000. Thanks Gritchka for explaining the Basque to me.

The fastest Jai Alai ball thrown was clocked at 188 miles per hour at what is now Newport Grand Jai Alai in Newport, RI. This is according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Interestingly enough, before the place become known as Newport Grand (and started putting out annoying commercials), the building read simply "JAI ALAI" on one side and "HI LI" (to aid American pronunciation) on the other, in big bold red sans-serif letters. For all non-Americans, a good phonetic transcription of the correct pronunciation is "Hai Lai".

Now the building has very large pieces of wood shaped and painted like one-dimensional trees plastered to its side.

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