From San Francisco... My love for Pilota started before I was born. It dates back to a different time when the Holy Trinity of our Basque Culture…..FEDEA / BESTAK / PILOTA was still core to the Basque Society. Every Sunday and in the Town Festivals the ritual would repeat. Every Sunday, in the Town of Arraioz in the Baztan Valley in Nafarroa, Manuel Berrueta from Etxalar, my aitatxi, would play pilota against the Church wall against the local priests. Most of the time, the Sunday collection from Mass was at stake. Many times Manuel Berrueta would come home with the “collection”. To this day, I believe the Vatican has us Berruetas as on a special list with the powerful House of Medici of Florence as people to be weary of.
FAST FORWARD TO AUGUST, 2019
Lima, Peru... the capital of the historic Inca Empire and for 20 magical days where 41 countries set their differences aside and came together under the slogan Jugamos todos.....We All Play. As a Basque American, I was extremely proud that of the 52 sports that were celebrated, only one had the moniker of a specific people. Not American Baseball, not Canadian Field Hockey, not English Football/Soccer……but Basque Pelota / Pelota Vasca. Let that sink in. A piece of my ancestry and my current reality being thrown around like it was common knowledge. I imagined some of the conversations that could have occurred “You know…. Basque Pelota….right by the Baseball Fields and the Water Pool Arena…”
The medalists of Basque Pelota Lima 2019
In planning for Team USA Preparation (headed up by fellow Basque American Esther Ciganda), I had received a phone call in February 2019 by the Panamerican Confederation of Basque Pelota (whose founding president was longtime SF Basque Community member Martin Minaberry back in the 1980’s) to head up as Director of Competition for Basque Pelota at Lima 2019.
I took on the challenge and enjoyed every single moment. 12 Countries, 80 Athletes, 35 Judges …all with their own personal aspirations and national goals. But I reminded every single one of them; we had one shot…just like the song by the rapper Eminem Lose Yourself under the one flag….the flag of Pelota to leave a lasting impression. We were rubbing elbows for prime time media coverage (ESPN Mexico, TYC Argentina) with Volleyball, Baseball, Basketball, Swimming and left an impression as all the medal games were sold out and the kantxas/courts filled to capacity. It was a wow moment. Santiago 2023 is only 4 years away and the top candidates for 2027 (Argentina and Bolivia) are commited to keep Basque Pelota on the PanAm Calendar (previously Argentina 1995, Dominican Republic 2003, Mexico 2011). Lima 2019 has come and gone. But the memories are in me forever. The volunteers with their smiles at 7am despite the Lima fog filled days (worse than a San Francisco Summer day) and the children in the humble and impoverished neighborhood of Villa Maria coming to get a glimpse of what our sport… GURE culture was all about. But by far… watching the smiles of the children as I handed out pilota goxuak every afternoon…. that ….that will stay with me forever.