By Al Quirin
Jai alai has survived through June 2020 primarily because of amateurs in the US who have played this sport for 60 years. I have witnessed most of this but have only played as an amateur for 35 years starting around 1985 at age 37. I started watching jai alai around 1975 when it first came to Connecticut Amateur jai alai and has existed in the US long before the sport came to Connecticut. Players have told me about Orbea’s which must have been awesome because everyone who talks about it seems to have great memories. North Miami Amateur continues to this day and has been the primary source of American players who turned pro in Florida. Other Florida amateur venues have existed in Florida over the years associated with frontons like Tampa, Orlando, Ft. Pierce, Palm Beach, Ocala, Dania and Miami. None of those exist today. However, amateur places like hundreds of outdoor locations in both Florida and Ct. on the sides of buildings continued to allow hard core amateurs to enjoy the sport anywhere they could find and not get “kicked out”. A few other locations have been more formalized like FAU racquetball courts and outdoor courts in Davie primarily due to the efforts of Ralph Secondo.
In Connecticut, the Milford Amateur facility and a “school” at Bridgeport and Hartford produced a lot of American pros in Connecticut. Also in Connecticut, a place called Jai Alai Heaven at St Thomas Seminary provided years of enjoyment for many amateurs like myself up until a few years ago. Jai Alai Heaven existed all those years primarily because of the efforts of people like Al Almada, Bob Discipio and Mike Brunelle Sr. This brings me to Matt at Connecticut Amateur Jai Alai, who is clearly the “savior” of amateur jai alai in the state.. His place in Berlin is perfect as I witnessed playing there many times when I was still in Connecticut seasonally. Last but not least is Paul Kubala and Jeff Conway (and I understand others) who play in St Pete at Puryear Park, by somehow convincing city officials to convert a racquetball court into an amateur jai alai facility including money to do it. That may be the greatest accomplishment ever in amateur history!
So why is the above amateur history important? The sport is alive today because thousands of amateur players love the game so much that they have kept betting over the last 60 years wherever they could find live action. Only Dania and Miami are still in existence today but new smaller venues like Magic City, Calder and possibly Pompano could become the future.