All-Hispanic basketball league thrives
By Lionel Green, The Sand Mountain Reporter, February 6, 2010
When the Boaz Recreation Center on North King Street is closed on Sundays, members of the Hispanic community are running wide open.
A number of Hispanics play in the Azteca League, a popular all-Hispanic men’s basketball league filling the Boaz gymnasium with players, their families and fans on Sunday afternoons.
The Hispanics have been operating tournaments and leagues since 2007, according to longtime Boaz basketball director Mike Bryan.
Teams played the second round of games in the new season last weekend. The nine-game regular season will culminate with playoffs. After the season, the league breaks for three weeks and starts anew.
This season, 10 teams featuring up to 10 players each are vying for the league championship.
“It’s by far the biggest league we have,” Bryan said. “When they come, it’s a family affair. They stay all day with their whole family.”
Bryan, who officiates league games, said most everyone overcame the cultural differences quickly.
“We set down some ground rules to make sure they knew where we were coming from as far as violence and how to act,” Bryan said. “They’re just like we are. They’d rather play than fight.”
Bryan said the chief issues at the start involved behaviors like spitting on the gym floor and littering.
“It’s going good now,” he said.
Most of the players appear to be in their late teens and 20s, but a few older men play. The Hispanics play fast, going up and down the court as quickly as possible.
Bryan said they play an international style of basketball.
“They just get it and go,” he said. “Everything is real fast-paced. But they’re adjusting and playing more of an American style.”
The league charges $2 admission to games with 60 percent of the proceeds going to the city.
Bryan said the gym is for public use, and the Hispanics are part of the public.
“They’re here and they’re not going anywhere,” he said. “My job is to use this place. I don’t care who it is as long as they act right when they’re here.”
Cirilo Martinez, of Albertville, operates the league now. Bryan said Martinez is the third person to oversee Hispanic basketball leagues and is the best one yet.
Martinez said the Hispanics have a soccer league, but many of them enjoy playing basketball. He said most of them are from Albertville, where they work in the poultry industry.
“We work all week, so today’s the only day we have a chance to relax,” Martinez said while standing outside the gym Sunday. “I see this game like that. Don’t worry about your bills. You leave everything at your house. You come here and play for fun.”
Players play for a little money, too. Team registration fees are divided among the top three teams.
Martinez said he facilitated a major tournament on Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day, which featured teams from all over the Southeast, and hopes to continue the tradition this year.
The Hispanics are not all Mexicans. Guatemalans, Puerto Ricans, and others with Hispanic and Latino roots are allowed to play in the league.
Martinez expressed a desire to include other ethnicities in the league. He said the league has tried to allow one or two whites or blacks on each team in the past, but this season is all Hispanic.
Martinez said the Hispanic players think “the Americans play more than us,” indicating they think the league is more equally competitive with only Hispanics.
“In the future, I expect to put one or two American players on each team,” Martinez said.
Manuel Jarquin watched the action from the sidelines Sunday and said he plans to join the league.
“It seems very good for the community,” he said. “A lot of young people can come and play. I think they enjoy it. It’s very good for health and gives them something to do.”