Good Sport

November 1, 2017

 

© John Kealey
© John Kealey

Photographer John Kealey captures the determination and spirit behind a nearly forgotten game

 

Go behind the scenes of the sport of jai alai (pronounced “high lie”) in photographer John Kealey’s personal project. Kealey travelled to Miami to visit the US headquarters of jai alai, which is a variation of the 16th-century racquet ball game called Basque pelota that has fallen out of popularity since the 1980s. Kealey, who developed a large-format newspaper promotional piece on the series, plans to extend this project by soon travelling back to where it all began in northern Spain’s Basque country. He reflects on the importance of honouring the nearly forgotten pastime.

 

© John Kealey

 

How did you first hear about jai alai?

I remember my father taking us when I was a kid here and there while in Florida over the winter breaks. So it was more of a childhood memory. Recently, I started looking into the sport just out of pure interest and, while travelling through Florida a few years back, I stopped by Ocala Jai Alai and immediately discovered something that needed to be photographed.

 

Why did you think this would be a good photography project?

The sport is very much overlooked and probably in its final years of existence in the US with the exception of Dania Beach. Personally, I wanted the photography to serve as a testament to the beauty of the sport, players, courts (concha), stadiums (frontons) and makers currently surrounding jai alai in Florida.

 

© John Kealey

 

How would you summarize the spirit of the players you photographed?
There’s a strong camaraderie amongst the jai alai clubs and all the people that are involved, from the players to the managers to the makers to the other support staff. I think the players that have played through the ups and downs of the sport have experienced better days for sure. Among the younger players, the resounding spirit was like many professional athletes—stoked to be playing a sport they love on a professional level.

 

What surprised you the most?

The pelota (ball) and cesta (basket) used to throw and catch the ball are made by hand. Each fronton employs full-time ball makers and cesta makers (often retired jai alai players) that work on site to repair, maintain and make cestas and pelotas. This just affirmed how definitive the sport actually is.

 

© John Kealey

 

© John Kealey

 

© John Kealey

 

© John Kealey

 

© John Kealey 

 

© John Kealey 

 

© John Kealey

 

A condensed version of this article appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Applied Arts.

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