Practice English everyday with VOA Special English

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 | Latest audio lessons → VOA Learning English

Jai Alai Fans Are Betting on a Better Future for Their Fast Sport

Jai Alai might be the fastest ball sport in the world. The ball flies at a great speed. Long-time player John Silvia says that is what got him interested in the sport.

JOHN SILVIA: "The ball averages about 140 miles (225 kilometers) an hour on the throw. It kind of comes at you like a snake in the air, so it is very difficult to catch."

The players catch and throw the ball with a cesta -- a wicker-basket glove tied tightly around one hand. Jai alai's rules have changed very little over the years. Players have to keep the ball moving by hitting it against a wall.

A player must be replaced if he lets the ball bounce more than once or if it leaves the playing area. The game was once very popular in many parts of the United States.

JOHN SILVIA: "My mom took me when I was a kid to watch, and ever since then I was hooked to it. The guys were running around and jumping up the wall, and the crowd was screaming when they made good catches. And I was just very excited to see it; And so I always wanted to do that."

In the middle of the twentieth century, there were jai alai courts - called frontons - across the country. Thousands of people went to see the sport. Many hoped to get rich by predicting the winners. But today, jai alai is only played in Florida. Long-time fan Rob Craig says most of those hoping to win money have turned to other activities.

ROB CRAIG: "Nowadays, a lot of times you come and it's a very empty building, very few players. I think the sport just really hasn't invested a lot in rebuilding itself. There is a lot of new competition in the area. There is gambling, there are casinos, there are slots. You know, it's just one of those things that the sport just needs to take a true investment and invest back into itself." Simon Jackson operates a fronton in Orlando, Florida. He says he wants to teach people about jai alai.

SIMON JACKSON: "What we're trying to do is explain the sport in its fullest to give people better understanding and help them with their wagers, which is part of what this sport is about. And, so we're trying to get out more information so that people aren't scared." Mister Jackson says he would like to see the game become popular once again. He says it will if the sport advertises more and educates people about it. I'm Steve Ember.