A team of Trique Indian boys that recently swept a youth basketball tournament despite the players’ generally short stature and most of them playing barefoot, have earned acclaim in Mexico and abroad.
The team from the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca won all six of their games to become this year’s champions at the International Festival of Mini-Basketball held recently in Cordoba, Argentina.
Other teams in the tournament dubbed the Trique Indian team the “the barefoot mice from Mexico” because they are shorter than the other competitors, said Ernesto Merino, one of the team’s coaches and a Trique Indian.
He said his players compensate for their short stature with “strength, speed and resistance.”
Children are given tennis shoes when they join the team, but many do not wear the sneakers because they are accustomed to being barefoot, Merino said.
Merino said they grow up in large, poor families who struggle to find the money to buy clothes and shoes.
“For them it’s normal to not have shoes, to walk barefoot,” he said.
The team’s performance won them a minute of applause on Wednesday on the floor of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies, as well as accolades from Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and basketball experts.
“The victories of the Trique Indian team from Oaxaca’s Academy of Indigenous Basketball make Mexicans proud,” Pena Nieto said in a tweet.
Horacio Muratore, president of the International Basketball Federation-Americas, which organizes the annual tournament, said the boys were the best players.
“These boys deserved [the championship] more than anyone,” Muratore wrote on the organization’s Web site.
The team’s achievement has come at a particularly sensitive time for Mexico, which is agonizing over the poor performance of its once well-regarded national team. El Tri have barely kept alive their hope of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Merino said the boys who played at the tournament in Argentina are part of a basketball program designed to help poor children in Oaxaca, which is one of Mexico’s poorest and most marginalized areas. The Oaxaca State Government gives them tennis shoes, uniforms and a monthly US$46 stipend.
“We see a basketball as an opportunity to grow in life,” Merino said.
The program was started three years ago and currently has 40 children enrolled, including five girls.
To enter the program, children must have good grades in school, speak their native tongue and help with chores at home.
“We want them to be prepared in life,” Merino said.