Zúñiga and members of the Triquis basketball team Zúñiga and members of the Triqui basketball team. milenio

Basketball players continue to dream

World-famous Triqui players look beyond the court to the classroom

The internationally famous Triqui basketball players from Oaxaca continue to aim high, setting their sights on high school studies and college scholarships abroad.

Just three years ago, people from Mexico and around the world marveled at the team’s skill, beating opponents on the world stage who were better fed and better dressed. The Triquis’ opponents wore shoes on the basketball court; the Mexican team played barefoot.

Now, some of the young teenagers are getting ready to continue their formal education at a high school in the city of Houston, Texas, come next summer.

The youngsters’ journey has taken them overseas, offered them an education not only in their native Zapotec and Spanish languages, but also in English, and gave them the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of sharing the court of Los Angeles’ Staples Center with members of the Lakers basketball team.

While members of the team are eager to pursue university studies in medicine, law and engineering, they also want to return to their hometowns and help make them better places to live.

The architect of the dream is Sergio Zúñiga. Before he arrived in Oaxaca and created the Indigenous Basketball Academy of Mexico (ABIM) six years ago, many Triqui children were destined to become undocumented immigrants in the United States or farm laborers, with their education interrupted at a young age.

A former professional basketball player and undocumented immigrant himself, Zúñiga can now count over 1,000 children who have worked under 25 trainers in his sports program in three different training centers in the mountains of Oaxaca.

A father of one, Zúñiga didn’t have an easy start. When he first arrived in the Triqui region he faced opposition and threats from residents.

While the initial hurdles have been overcome, the trainer still faces some pushback, particularly with regard to girls joining his training program and teams.

So far, only five girls have signed up. “Fathers believe that by letting them join the process and being surrounded by men, their value decreases.”

“We had to pay a dowry in order for the fathers to allow the girls to join; it has been very hard,” Zuñiga told the newspaper Milenio.

The trainer has also faced critics who have accused him of exploiting the young basketball players for his own monetary gain, but he brushes off the criticism.

“That’s normal. The kids have their studies, three meals a day, whatever they need to be healthy. They can travel and attend workshops, camps, and are provided with clothing, shoes, toys . . . everything that was denied to them. As long as my kids have a smile on their faces, everything else becomes secondary.”

A competitive person from the start, Zuñiga keeps expecting more and better results. “The dream today is for the youths to pursue a college degree . . . .”

Several institutions in the United States and Europe have expressed interest in providing scholarships, he said.

The Triqui indigenous people live in the northwestern region of the state of Oaxaca, where they number about 23,000, according to Wikipedia.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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