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Shoeless Mexico Indian Kids Win Basketball Tourney

October 21, 2013

A team of Trique Indian boys from Oaxaca won this year's International Festival of Mini-Basketball, held in Argentina. Smaller than the other competitors, they were dubbed 'the barefoot mice from Mexico.'

Cordoba, Argentina - Despite being undersized and mostly shoeless, a team of Trique Indian boys from Oaxaca, Mexico who were participating at this year's International Festival of Mini-Basketball in South America, not only competed, but won the tournament.

No, this wasn't some "Do you believe in miracles?" situation or March Madness Cinderella moment. These boys were dominant, winning all six of their games on the way to claiming the championship

Other teams in the tournament dubbed the boys the "the barefoot mice from Mexico" because they were smaller than the other competitors, said Ernesto Merino, one of the team's coaches and a Trique Indian. He said they compensate for their short stature with "strength, speed, and resistance."

Surprisingly, the reason a majority of the players opted to play barefoot wasn't because they were too poor to afford proper footwear. Rather, growing up as Trique Indians in Oaxaca, the boys are barefoot more often than not and therefore are more comfortable without shoes.

Shoes are a luxury where these boys come from.

The boys who played at the tournament held in Cordoba, Argentina, are part of a basketball program designed to help poor children in Oaxaca, which is one of Mexico's poorest and most marginalized areas. The Oaxaca state government gives them tennis shoes, uniforms and a monthly $46 allowance.

The program was started three years ago and it currently has 40 children enrolled, including five girls. To enter, children must have good grades in school, speak their native tongue, and help with chores at home.

The team's performance won it a minute of applause on the floor of Mexico's Chamber of Deputies, as well as accolades from Mexican President Pena Nieto and basketball experts.

"The victories of the Trique Indian team from Oaxaca's Academy of Indigenous Basketball make Mexicans proud," Pena Nieto said in a tweet.

Horacio Muratore, president of the International Basketball Federation-Americas, which organizes the annual tournament, said the boys were the best players. "They deserved the championship more than anyone," Muratore wrote on the organization's website.

The Trique Indian boys' impressive victory proves that it isn't the shoes that make the baller, but the other way around. And that's refreshing in a day and age where basketball sneakers can leave a three-figure dent in your bank account.

"We see a basketball as an opportunity to grow and be prepared in life," Coach Merino said

There's an important lesson to be learned from the reigning International Festival of Mini-Basketball champions - effort and desire beat out style and traction every time.