There are still many holes in our modern understanding of this ancient sport. Many people today are aware that these societies played a ballgame of some sort and some have even seen images of the massive court at Chichen Itza with its high walls and "basketball-style" loops. However, the majority of Maya ball courts would be more akin to the public basketball court at the local park, rather than the billion dollar Jerry World in Dallas, Texas (to which the Chichen Itza court might be compared). In any event, the nature and style of the game not only greatly varied between cultures, but also from site to site within a culture, as well as over time. Archaeological record estimates the game began circa 1500 BC with the Olmec (the Olympics didn't start until 776 BC). It was still going strong with the Aztecs 3,000 years later as the Spaniards recorded many accounts of the game with much fascination when they arrived.
|The modest, but typical, Xunantunich ball court.|
|The average Mayan was 5' 4".|
Our guide seemed to relish in recounting the fate of the losing team: they were sacrificed to the gods! Not to worry if you were a local, though - the game tended to be rigged in their favor. Apparently, captives from other cities were brought in and forced to play on the opposing side. As long as they were winning, the game would not end. As soon as the local boys got ahead or scored a significant point, officials would call the game and declare them the victors. The doomed captives were then summarily "cut from the team," you might say, as a spiritual offering. This no doubt must be the origination of the term "home field advantage!"