For more than 2,000 years, people have played ball games in the Americas.
In Arizona, more than 200 ball courts have been discovered. During the period of history when the ancestors of the Pimas, the Huhugam culture, flourished, dozens of ball courts were in action in the valley.
Huhugam ball courts were constructed in semicircular to oval shapes and surrounded by earthen embankments. The raised areas served as gathering places for people to watch the games being played. The games Huhugam men played differed from women's games. The men played in teams and used a hard rubber ball that they threw through a hoop. Since latex trees grew in southern Mexico and Central America, it is thought that the rubber balls originated from there. However both hollow and solid ball forms have been found in and near ball courts in this area. Courts were usually 20 to 30 feet wide and 40 to 50 feet long and surrounded by 8 1/2 foot white washed walls on which the hoops were mounted. A line on the ground divided the court into two parts.
The women's game was very different. The game, called "thaka", is played in teams but the women use sticks made from native trees like mesquite and willow to hit the balls. Unlike the men's game which is more like modern-day basketball, the women's game is similar to field hockey that is played today. While both men's and women's games involved an element of sport, games played always carried a spiritual significance. In addition, ancient ball courts were also used for ceremonial events.
In bringing baseball home, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community writes a new chapter in its history of ball courts as it announces that it will build and operate a new spring training facility for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
The history of the Pima (O'odham) and Maricopa (Piipaash) is the story of a chain of events richly woven with legend and fact. According to our traditions, both tribes have always been in Arizona. Our presence today is proof of the unbroken continuum that began with the Creator, was passed to their ancestors and now is held by us.
The Pima or O'odham consider our ancestors to be the "Huhugam," a people who created an advanced society in central Arizona from about 300 A.D. to 1200 A.D. The word "huhugam" translates as "those who have gone before." Archaeologists refer to the Huhugam as Hohokam. The ancestors the Mariocpa (Piipaash) are the Patayan who lived in what is now northwest Arizona. The Piipaash originated in what is now the Parker area as five separate groups of people. Over many years, the Maricopa migrated to Mexico, then to Gila Bend and to Laveen in Gila River. Ultimately, some moved to what is now the Lehi area of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
The joining of the two communities did not occur as a single cataclysmic event but as a migration that happened over generations. Even in pre-history, there is evidence of overlap between the Huhgam and the Patayan. Each tribe was a dynamic society. They traded, mixed and interacted with each other as they relocated to avoid their enemies, and over the years moved closer to each other.
By the time the Spanish made contact with the O'odham (Pima) and Piipaash (Maricopa) in the 1600s, the two groups had formed a Confederation that created a powerful fighting force to battle our enemies. We fought against the Apache and Yavapai and cooperated with the Spanish and the U.S. military. But despite our accomplishments, the Confederation was not able to win the decisive battle against an unrecognized enemy – westward expansion. Ultimately, the relentless drive West took way most of the tribes' ancestral lands and all of our water, and forced the Pima (O'odham) and the Maricopa (Piipaash) to create a new life, together in central Arizona.