Every weekend, a community of New Yorkers gathers for a night of ecuavoley, a variation of volleyball that sprouted more than a century ago in their home country
By Paolo Uggetti
By 9 p.m. on a recent night in the city, St. Nicholas Park in South Harlem was nearly pitch dark. The basketball courts were desolate, and the few street lamps that worked emitted a faint orange glow that lit only a small radius beneath them.
The sole signs of life came from one half of the converted volleyball court in the middle of the park, where two floodlights shone down on a rollicking group of about 30 Ecuadorean-Americans. Every weekend, from Friday to Monday, they transform this tree-lined spot on the western outskirts of the park into their personal playground.
But it isn’t volleyball they’re playing.
“It’s basically the same group of people who come here every week,” said Jorge Juelle, a regular attendee, who spoke in Spanish. “Some have been coming for 20 years to play.”
You won’t hear the classic sounds of a basketball on a Harlem court on these weekend nights, or even of a volleyball being batted back and forth. Mostly, you’ll hear the jeers and cheers of middle-aged men playing a game called ecuavoley, a sport that is known almost exclusively to Ecuadoreans.
“Tuya, tuya, tuya!”
“Your ball, yours, yours!” The common shout blared across the court as the players frantically scurried below the lights in search of the ball as it hurtled through the night air.
Ecuador didn’t send a volleyball team to the Summer Olympics in Rio this year. Nor did it send a beach volleyball team. As a country, Ecuador ranks 117th and 137th, respectively, in the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball rankings of the sport. It isn’t really a volleyball playing nation.
But this is ecuavoley, a popular variant of the sport played on cement courts rather than sand or wood-floor gyms. It’s played not with a team of five, but with three on either side of a very high net. Not with knee pads or uniforms, but in casual clothing and sometimes without shirts. And not with a conventional volleyball, but always with a soccer ball.