A Mayan team from a small community on the Yucatán Peninsula caused a stir by excelling as their athletes play barefoot and wear traditional clothing, breaking down barriers with every game.
HONDZONOT, Mexico – Playing barefoot and wearing traditional Mayan dresses known as huipiles, the Little Devils softball team crushes punches, snag lines and rush around bases in the sweltering heat of a city of the jungle of the Yucatán peninsula.
The team recently delivered a 22-2 victory to their opponents, the Felines, for another triumph in a season that has made the Little Devils a national sensation, not only for their style of play, but also for who they are. : a group of indigenous women from a traditional community who once discouraged women from playing sports, which were considered the preserve of men.
And the Little Devils now have company, the Yaxunah Amazonas, who also play without shoes and in traditional clothing and have helped to transform Yucatan’s sports culture.
“A woman here serves the house and is not supposed to go out to play sports,” said Fabiola May Chulim, team captain and manager of the Little Devils, known here as Las Diablillas, their name in Spanish. . “When a woman gets married, she is expected to do the housework and take care of her husband and children. We decided a few years ago that this will no longer prevent us from playing sports when we want to.
Four years ago, the women of the team’s small community, Hondzonot, started playing a modified version of baseball in the afternoon. The idea was to exercise after finishing the housework, and it grew from there. The Diablillas had no gloves and only a handcrafted bat carved out of wood. They were playing with a tennis ball. The game followed the rules of baseball, although, like kickball, a runner is considered to be sent off if he is hit with the ball.
A women’s team from a nearby town also played the modified baseball game with a tennis ball and challenged the Diablillas to a game. The women of Hondzonot won, received 1,500 pesos (about $ 75) and uniforms, and were assigned by the local municipality to a coach to teach them the rules of softball.
Although they now had jerseys, the women of Hondzonot preferred to play softball as they did before, barefoot and wearing huipil dresses, which they made themselves and often worn in the community. This decision would become the defining characteristic of the Diablillas, and it helped propel them to glory.
“We wear the huipil with a lot of pride, and it’s something that represents us as Mayan women,” said May Chulim. “We’re not used to wearing shoes either, and when we did, we only had blisters. Why would we wear something that makes us uncomfortable? “
As the Diablillas play more games, all friendlies as there is no established softball league for them, in the Mexican states of Quintana Roo and Yucatán their fame in the region grows. Today, just a few years after learning the rules of softball, they have played in stadiums in front of thousands of fans. and their faces are on a mural in the nearby resort of Playa del Carmen. Last spring, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador invited May Chulim to attend one of his daily press conferences in Mexico City.
The celebrity of the team changed the perceptions of men in the city. While members of the Diablillas used to ask permission for something as simple as leaving the house, they now say they feel more free and empowered.
“As we got better on the pitch my life got better too,” said Alicia Canul Dzib, who plays second and throws for the Diablillas. “I used to only leave home to help my husband with our crops. Now, thanks to softball, I am allowed to leave home, have fun with friends and visit new cities. It motivates me to keep playing and setting an example for my daughter.
The example set by the Diablillas has given women in the Yucatán Peninsula – and the rest of the country – the hope of having more resources for a sport which, despite the Mexican team’s fourth place at the Olympic Games in summer of Tokyo, has received intermittent and limited support at the national level. Although for nearly a century Mexico has had a nationwide professional baseball league that sometimes includes Major League Baseball players, women’s softball leagues are only offered at the state and municipal levels.
There is hope, however, that the popularity of the Diablillas and Amazonas will represent a “watershed moment” for the growth of the sport in Mexico, said Abel Fernández, president of the Quintana Roo state baseball association, in a recent telephone interview.
“It is not common for Mayan or indigenous women to participate in sport in their communities, and the Diablillas break these stereotypes,” Fernández said, adding that Quintana Roo had recently created a state softball association. “They have garnered a lot of attention and we are now seeing a surge in interest in softball and sports among women in the area. “
In a recent practice, the Amazonas, 15 players aged 15 to 64, communicated in a mixture of Mayan and Spanish, burst out laughing and threw the ball around the diamond as some of their goats bleated from the outer field, where they were tied to trees.
Like the Diablillas, the Amazonas have become increasingly sought after as opponents of women’s teams who wear typical crampons and uniforms. And in July, the Amazonas were invited to perform at the Yucatán Leones field, the professional baseball organization based in Mérida, the state capital.
Team captain Fermina Dzid Dzul said that since its formation three years ago, the team has struggled to shift gender paradigms around sports participation in Yaxunah.
“When I first started playing, the men in my family would say jokes and comments like ‘You’re just wasting your time playing softball’,” said Alvi Yajaira Diaz Poot, who plays several positions for them. Amazonas. “Now when I come home from games they can’t wait to hear how the game went and even bring me something to drink.”
And while the Amazonas and Diablillas know each other and are aware of their similarities, neither are pushing for a head-to-head match to determine the best Mayan women’s softball team in the Yucatán Peninsula.
They understand that their success and inclusion in the sport means that they have both already won.