The crowd packed into the stands, and shuffled for standing room on the sidelines. Six unlikely, athletes took their places on the volleyball court (no uniforms required), and the challengers served up the soccer ball. The crowd was silent. Worn faces watched as though their life savings were riding on the game. This was Ecua-Volley.
Played with three players a side, a higher net and a soccer ball, this Ecuadorian version of volleyball is played all over the country and across the U.S. and Europe by Ecuadorean immigrants. Oddly its importance seems to have grown as around 10-15 percent of the country’s population has left to work abroad. Ecuadoreans take the game very seriously, and this sport, unique to Ecuador, has become key to keeping immigrant communities tight in the U.S. and Spain, even drawing police intervention in areas like New York and Danbury, Conn.
But this is no invention from abroad. The sport is one of the most common activities that you can find on a Sunday in the park in Quito, and some of the games are for the high rollers.
We witnessed two very different games today. The first, as described above, was in a miniature stadium in the major central park of Quito (Parque la Carolina). With over 250 spectators, the vendors frying pork and corn on the sidelines seemed to be doing well, even if their sodas were more tepid than cold, but when play began, no one was buying-everyone was watching the game. The crowd was as serious as a funeral — not a single person cheered, nor clapped, nor showed much of a reaction of any kind; everyone watched intently.
The second game we saw was a pickup game among a family, perhaps a brother and sister with their spouses and children, on one of the many public courts elsewhere in the park. That is the way Ecuadoreans tend to work — it’s always a family affair, especially on Sundays, whether you are watching for your winnings or playing for fun.