A team of Trique Indian boys, most of whom were barefoot, won this year's championship at the International Festival of Mini-Basketball held recently in Argentina, and has earned appreciation from Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto.
According to Associated Press, the boys were generally shorter than their opponents and were dubbed “the barefoot mice from Mexico” by other teams. But, they compensated for their lack of height with "strength, speed and resistance," Ernesto Merino, one of the coaches, told AP.
He noted that although shoes were provided to the youth, who hail from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca considered to be one of Mexico's poorest and most marginalized areas, they preferred to go barefoot as they are not used to wearing shoes.
"For them it's normal to not have shoes, to walk barefoot," he said, adding that the children come from families that struggle to make ends meet.
According to AP, the boys who won the tournament are part of a program that began three years ago to help poor children in Oaxaca. Currently, 40 children, including five girls, are enrolled in the program where the state government provides them with tennis shoes, uniforms and a monthly $46 stipend.
To be eligible for the program, children must have good grades in school, speak their native tongue and help with chores at home, AP reported.
“We want them to be prepared in life,” Merino said, adding, "We see a basketball as an opportunity to grow in life.”
On Wednesday, the Mexican president took to his Twitter account to congratulate the team for its achievement, and the team also won a minute of applause on the floor of Mexico's Chamber of Deputies, a legislative body.
"The victories of the Trique Indian team from Oaxaca's Academy of Indigenous Basketball make Mexicans proud," Pena Nieto wrote.