By Ryan Carey

As always, we theme the Cherry Blossom to the current year, which is “18”, but we decided to also have the sport of Jai Alai as a focus of the weekend.  Jai Alai is the North American version of the game of Basque Pelota. Basque Pelota is a cousin of Court Tennis, and, just like Court Tennis, it was originally played in a courtyard with handball and paddle variations.  However, in the mid-1800s, a curved basket with a sewn glove evolved as the equipment of choice and quickly became the popular style of play in the Basque Country.  One of the main reasons I started to play Court Tennis was because the court reminded me of a Jai Alai court. When I was in high school in CT, I used to sneak into Milford Jai Alai with my friends, granted it was initially to drink beer, but we quickly became captivated by the game.  Jai Alai is played in a round robin format where there are 8 players/pairs per game who make up post positions 1-8. It is a sport that you bet on, similar to horse racing, and so there is Win, Place and Show.  As such, this year’s Cherry Blossom would be a fight for 1st, 2nd and 3rd on (April)4 5th/6th/7th and 8th.  Dania Jai Alai, in Dania, FL, is one of the few frontons left in the U.S. where Jai Alai is still played.  #18 on Dania’s roster is a player named “Chasio”, and upon seeing that, it very much looked to me like a Basque version of the word “chase”.  I took that as a sign, was able to get Chasio to sign photos for the Cherry Blossom winners, and so players in the Cherry Blossom were now playing to “Win The Chasio”!

Matches got underway in earnest on Thursday.  As billed on the flyer, this tournament also featured “Hi-Lo” action, where in lieu of playing a chase, each team, one time per match, could roll three dice (which could total up to 18).  The team who called for “Hi-Lo action” would choose “Hi” (a roll of 10 or better) or “Lo” (a roll of 8 or lower) and would win or lose the chase, depending on whether they were correct in guessing “Hi” or “Lo”.  This was a small nod to the MGM Grand in both Las Vegas and Reno, where Jai Alai was played in the 1970s.

18th Amendment Cocktail Party.  The “Jai Alai Special” was served as the featured cocktail in special Jai-Ball glasses.  We raised our tournament souvenir glasses, made by what was originally the New England Glass Company founded in 1818, in a on-court toast to Fred Prince, Michael Do and all of those who first helped Prince’s Court first “raise the glass” wall.  The Jai Alai Special cocktail recipe came from a Tijuana Fronton postcard from 1934 and it was reported that this cocktail was the drink of choice for the Jai Alai players back then.  To salute the 18th Amendment and Prohibition, we had an on court Pro-(ex)hibiton, where National Tennis Club member, and former professional Jai Alai player, Aitor Aldazabal, wowed the crowd by hurling tennis balls out of the cesta down the court with notable speed.  Jai Alai is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the world’s fastest ball game, with a recorded speed of 188 mph!  We also streamed the evening matches from Dania Jai Alai on the projector in the club room, so everyone could see what the real game looked like.

The Saturday night social scene was kicked off with a Basque “Merry Hour”.  Basque cider, Sidra and Txakoli wine was served along with traditional Basque pintxos to celebrate the those who brought us the wonderful game of Jai Alai.  We supplemented that with some cajun fare to acknowledge Louisiana, the 18th state and once home to a Jai Alai fronton in Arabi, just outside of New Orleans.

The main event was Prince’s Jai Alai Evening Session, where we turned the court into a Jai Alai fronton and players competed in games using a Jai Alai round robin format, where you could bet on your favorite players!  Robert Frost, of Chase One and RTMarker app fame, extraordinarily developed a Jai Alai scoring app which we could use to display the scores on the side court projector, so that players and spectators could easily follow along with the scoring.  Before each game, the players, dressed in the traditional white pants with a sash belt, would line up and march out onto the court in their 1-8 post position order and then stop and raise their racquet to salute the crowd, as is the Jai Alai custom.  It could’ve been the Basque wine or the wagering, but let me tell you, the crowd, players and spectators were into every point!  As a small nod to the fronton in Mexico City, we invited a 5-piece mariachi band to make a cameo during the evening session for a little more atmosphere.  Chris Aley was the winner of the first ever Prince’s Jai Alai Singles Championship.

Jai Alai literally means “Merry Festival” and the game would traditionally be played on Sundays as part of the “merry festival” of the town.  There would be food, music and games. We had a very special musical guest play during the Sunday brunch, Tom Brosseau. Tom is a folk singer from North Dakota, and bills himself on his website as a “Highplainsman Troubadour” but for our  purposes, we converted him into the “Jai-plainsman Troubadour”. Tom is considered an American Folk treasure and lauded by many media outlets such as NPR, but in his younger years, Tom was a tennis fiend who trained at Bollettieri Tennis Academy and actually knew what court tennis was when I first approached him to play at our merry festival.  Winners were given a copy of his latest album, Treasures Untold, which was in the form of a 180 gram vinyl LP.

All matches on Sunday were played in the Basque “partido” style, where games are played up until a certain point total, similar to squash or rackets.  In our case, we played games up to 18 points, to keep with the current year’s 18 theme.  Instead of bisques, we played the Sunday matches with “Basques”, a handicap adjusted head start on points with a conversion chart developed by our in-house think tank of Head Professional Ivan Ronaldson and Featured Guest Professional Graham Hyland, or as we called him, “Jai-Land”,  In the morning, we had all teams that weren’t in the Finals play the “Loseiana Cup”, again as a small salute to the 18th State, Louisiana. Winners received a gold Brooks Brothers (founded in 1818) lapel pin and finalists, a silver one.   The Cherry Blossom Finals were the best of 3, 18 point games and in keeping with the highly competitive Masters Final Round, which was happening at simultaneously with our Finals, we nicknamed this format  “The 18 Whole Playoff”, in that all finals were played using the 18 point scoring system.

May all your chases be better than 18 inches.

RED DIVISION – Mostrous/Elmore def. Soucek/Toscano  16/18 18/14 18/17
PURPLE DIVISION – Christensen/Domagala def. P. Livingston/Heslop  18/12, 18/8
BLUE DIVISION – Carlson/Horowitz def. Logan/McCall 18/12, 12/18, 18/12
GREEN DIVISION – Hoang/Lopez def. Hyland/Carey  18/14, 18/6
ORANGE DIVISION – Hufford/Philpott def. K. Motz/C. Motz  18/8, 10/18, 18/17
PINK DIVISION – Courson/Caputo def. Lonaeus/Bahethi  18/13, 18/13

Full Results, Photos and Streaming Links can be found on The Cherry Blossom Doubles website:

Chasio & Ubilla at Dania Jai-Alai
Matt DiDomizio at Connecticut Amateur Jai-Alai
Aitor Aldazabal
Robert Frost
Tom Brosseau
Graham Hyland
Sean Quinn at Gold Leaf Athletics
Temple Belarra and the Belarra Family
Ivan Ronaldson and Chris Aley
The Prince’s Court Members who donated their time and resources & all of the players who came from afar to truly make this a special tournament.