A team of Mayans from a small community on the Yucatan Peninsula caused a stir by excelling as athletes play barefoot and wear traditional dresses, breaking down barriers with each match.
HONDZONOT, MEXICO – Playing barefoot and wearing traditional Mayan dresses known as huipiles, the Little Devils softball hits, jumps in lines, and jumps around bases in the sweltering heat of a jungle town on the Yucatan Peninsula.
The team recently handed a landslide 22-2 victory to their opponent, the felines, for another victory in a season that made the Little Devils a national sensation, not only for their style of play but also for who they are: a group of Aboriginal women from a traditional society that once discouraged women from practicing Sports, which was seen as the prerogative of men.
And the Little Devils now have companions, the Yaxunah Amazonas, who also play barefoot and in traditional clothing and have helped turn the sporting culture upside down in Yucatan.
“Here is a woman who serves the house and is not supposed to go out to exercise,” said Fabiola May Cholem, team leader and manager of Little Devils, known here as Las Diabelias. “When a woman gets married, she is supposed to do the housework and take care of her husband and children. We decided a few years ago that it would no longer stop us from playing sports when we wanted.”
Four years ago, women in the small team community, Hondzonot, began playing a modified version of baseball in the afternoons. The idea was to do some exercise after the housework was done, and it grew from there. Diablillas had no gloves and only a homemade paddle cut from wood. They played tennis. The game followed the rules of baseball, although as with a kicking ball, a runner could be considered disqualified if he hits the ball.
A nearby town’s women’s team also played modified baseball with a tennis ball and challenged the Diabella team to a match. The Hondzonot women won, receiving 1,500 pesos (about $75) and uniforms, and a coach was hired by the local municipality to teach them the rules of softball.
Although they wore T-shirts now, Hondzonot ladies preferred to play softball as before – barefoot and huipil dresses, which they make themselves and often wear in society. This decision would become the hallmark of Diablillas, and it helped propel them to fame.
“We wear the hoipele with great pride, something that represents us as Mayan women,” May Scholem said. “We are also not used to wearing shoes, and when we did, we got blisters. Why would we wear something that makes us uncomfortable?”
As Diablillas play more matches, and all friendlies because there is no established softball league for them, in the Mexican states of Quintana Roo and Yucatán, their popularity in the region is increasing. Now, after a few years of learning the rules of softball, they played on the fields in front of thousands of fans. Their faces are on a mural in the nearby resort of Playa del Carmen. Last spring, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador invited May Scholem to appear at one of his daily press conferences in Mexico City.
The team’s stardom has changed the perceptions of men in the city. While members of Diablillas used to ask permission for something as simple as leaving the house, they now say they feel more liberated and empowered.
“With our development on the field, my life has improved as well,” said Alicia Kanol Dzeb, who plays on base and second pitches for Diablala. “I used to leave the house just to help my husband with our crops. Now thanks to softball, I have permission to leave the house and have fun with friends and visit new cities. It motivates me to keep playing and be a role model for my daughter.”
Diablas’ example has made women in the Yucatan Peninsula – and in the rest of the country – hope for more resources for a sport that, despite the Mexican team finishing fourth at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, has sporadic and limited support at the national level. Although Mexico for nearly a century had professional baseball leagues throughout the country at times featuring Major League baseball players, women’s softball leagues are offered only at the state and municipal levels.
There is hope that the popularity of Diabella and Amazonas will represent a “watershed moment” for the growth of the sport in Mexico, Abel Fernandez, president of the Quintana Roo State Baseball Association, said in a recent phone interview.
“It is not uncommon for Mayan or indigenous women to participate in sports in their communities, and the Diable family breaks these stereotypes,” Fernandez said, adding that Quintana Roo had recently set up its state softball association. They generated a lot of interest, and now we’re seeing a boom in interest in softball and the sport among women in the area.
In a recent practice, Amazonas, 15 players between the ages of 15 and 64, communicated in a mixture of Mayan and Spanish, laughing and tossing the ball around the diamond while some of their goats burst from the field, where they were tied to trees.
Like Diabella, Amazons are increasingly sought after as opponents of teams of women who wear cleats and typical uniforms. And in July, the Amazons were invited to appear at the stadium of the Yucatan Lions, a professional baseball organization based in Mérida, the state capital.
The team’s captain, Firmina Dzid Dzul, said that since the team’s formation three years ago, the team has struggled to change gender paradigms around sports participation in Yaksonah.
“When I first started playing the guys in my family said jokes and comments like ‘You’re wasting your time playing softball,’” said Alfie Yajira Diaz Bot, who plays several positions at Amazonas. “Now when I come home from the games, they are curious to see how it went.” game and even bring me something to drink.”
While the Amazonas and Diablillas know each other and realize their similarities, neither of them push for a head-to-head match to determine the best Mayan women’s softball team in the Yucatan Peninsula.
They understand that their success and integration into the sport means that they have already won.