- Triqui Indian boys from Mexico win basketball tournament playing barefoot
- The team playing without shoes reflects the poverty in the state of Oaxaca
- The boys have been heralded as the "Barefoot Giants of the Mountains"
- Tournament in Argentina featured teams from all over Central and South America
Despite most of the team being of short stature and playing barefoot, the Triqui Indian boys from Mexico won the championship -- and the hearts of many -- at the International Festival of Mini-Basketball held in Argentina.
Their coach, Sergio Zuniga explains that playing barefoot is a reflection of the poverty in their community in the state of Oaxaca.
"The boys train barefoot, they always walk barefoot. There are no resources to buy shoes," Zuniga commented in an interview with the Basketball Federation of the Province of Cordoba, where the tournament was held.
The seven games against six local teams ended with incredible scores: 86-3 over Celestes; 22-6 against Cordoba University; 72-16 against Central; 82-18 over Hindu; 44-12 against Monteeis and 40-16 over Regatas de Mendoza.
The National Sports and Physical Culture Commission of Mexico named the team as the "Barefoot Giants of the Mountains."
54 teams from various Argentine provinces and countries such as Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela, participated in the tournament. A total of 8,000 kids were part of the championship held from October 11th to 14th.
Last year, the youth championship (which started in 2010 in Ecuador) was held in La Vega, Dominican Republic. About 400 kids participated in the event. Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador and delegations from 20 Dominican provinces were part of the championship.
The Triqui children-training program began its operations in 2009 with 500 kids. Nowadays, it trains around 2,500 children with focuses on: psychology, leadership and "laughter therapy," according to coach Zuniga.
"The main idea was to help these children through sports, to give them a different opportunity: go to school, play basketball, to get away from the mountains, to see other parts of the world," he said.
The most important factor that determines who participates in the tournament (or who gets to be in the team) is to have good grades. "If they don't have a 8.5 grade --out of 10-- (in elementary school,) they don't train or play."
"With education as the motivator, the kids are going back to school, which is the project's main goal: give these kids an education through basketball. Away from the sports, the most important results are those reached at school."
According to Zuniga, the academy's success inspired other Mexican states to adopt the Triqui community model. Similarly other countries such as Peru, Bolivia and some Hispanic communities in the United States have expressed interest in the program.
The Triqui kids were inspired after the Mexican team reigned at the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship held in Caracas, Venezuela in September.
"We can also do it. If they did it, we can also win, we can qualify and be world champions," said Rigoberto Lopez, 11, a member of the Triqui kids team, to CNN en Espanol before traveling to Argentina.
Silverio Cruz, 9, another member of the Triqui basketball team, said the most important element in the game is to have the "mentality of a champion."
Before leaving Argentina, the kids also defeated the Gorriones de Argentina 3-1 in a soccer match.
The team's next goal is to participate in the 2014 Barcelona Cup Basketball Tournament. In the meantime, they will keep working hard and will continue their journey to achieve their goals.
"It's beautiful to see that all their cons became their weapons. Hunger, poverty, motivated them to show themselves as they are. It's something we lack in Mexico: character, strength, inner strength. They are setting an example, even to me, that yes, you can do it," said Zuniga.