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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Volleyball and soccer, Peruvian style

After deftly dodging traffic through the La Victoria district of Lima, Peru, Carlos Aparicio pulls his car into the parking lot of Estadio Alejandro Villanueva, the home stadium for the Alianza Lima club soccer team.

There’s no fùtbol being played inside the 35,000-seat stadium on this misty, overcast day in the Peruvian capital, but there is plenty of activity.

At one end of the parking lot, two dozen policemen mounted on motorcycles are drilling, riding in tighter circles as their engines roar. At the opposite end, behind a black, chain-link fence, a soccer team practices in a lighted, half-pitch setup.

And in between — in an unlit area — two volleyball nets are set up for the Club Alianza Lima de Voley players, coached by Aparicio.

“This is my second home,” Aparicio says.

Aparicio, a former national women’s volleyball coach for Peru, puts his players through their paces on the hard concrete. There is not much diving for balls on this particular court — on other days, the team practices in a gymnasium — but the players are agile and get to them. The players average around 5-foot-7, but there are a few 6-footers.

Volleyball is the third most popular sport in Peru, behind soccer and, interestingly enough, taekwondo. The women’s national volleyball team took the silver medal in the 1982 FIVB World Championships.

These girls, ranging in age from mid-teens to early 20s, are not only competing for honors as club players, but also are hoping to be selected to the Peruvian national team. During the Peruvian winter (July is mid-winter in the Southern Hemisphere), the girls practice twice a day — about an hour in the morning and two hours in late afternoon or early evening.

I was in Peru because my daughter, who plays club volleyball and has lettered at Riverview High School, was invited by Aparicio to come train with the team for a few weeks. A mutual friend had made the suggestion that Aparicio was open to the idea, and my wife and I certainly were open to traveling to South America.

So there I was, in a parking lot sitting against a wall on a plastic chair with other parents, watching the practice as the temperature began to drop. My daughter faced a bit of a language barrier — none of the girls she was practicing with spoke English, although Aparicio and his assistant did. Still, there was some nonverbal communication. The girls on the junior team, however, spoke English and were trying their phrases on my amused daughter.

My command of Spanish is less than stellar, too, but some things are universal. One parent, well dressed in his business suit, sat next to me and remarked, “frias, si?”

“Frias, si,” I replied. It sure as heck was getting cold.

The players felt it, too. Many practiced in heavy jackets, but were wearing shorts.

Another parent handed me a steaming cup of coffee and asked if I was the American who had Italian ancestry. Yes, I said.

“You don’t look Italian,” she laughed.

I’ve been told worse.

The Peruvians I met during our trip all were kind, gentle, courteous people — but extremely aggressive drivers. And yet, there was not a hint of road rage.

“Es Lima,” Aparicio shrugged.

All I could think about was a South American version of the final line of the movie “Chinatown”— “forget it Jake, it’s Lima.”

Before practice, Aparicio took me into the stadium to see the field used by the Alianza Lima soccer team, which belongs to the Peruvian first division. I even got to walk to the midfield circle to take some photographs. In another room, trophies and photographs of championship teams dating to the 1920s were protected by glass cases. The squad has won 22 league titles, most recently in 2006, and was runner-up in 2011.

Tragedy struck Alianza Lima on Dec. 7, 1987, when the entire team was killed when its charter plane, returning from Pucallpa after a 2-0 victory, crashed into the Pacific Ocean just a few miles from Lima’s airport. The pilot was the lone survivor.

At another part of Estadio Alejandro Villanueva (the stadium is named for a player who is considered one of the top Alianza strikers during the 1920s and ’30s), is a mural of another player, along with a statue of the same player kneeling in prayer. Aparicio told me it was to honor Sandro Baylón, who starred for Alianza in the late 1990s. Baylón was killed on Jan. 1, 2000, when the 22-year-old crashed his car into a wall and then against a lamppost near the beaches in Lima’s Miraflores district.

It’s a team that has experienced many triumphs and some bitter tragedies. Aparicio can pridefully point to the fact that his 22-year-old son is playing for Club Alianza.

After running through some drills, the volleyball team scrimmaged. As it got darker, the police ended their drills and zoomed out of the parking lot in a double line. The spirited soccer game behind the chain-link fence continued.

After Aparicio and his assistants give a pep talk, the players disperse. They greet their parents and others with kisses on the cheek. And even though I am not Peruvian (and certainly don’t look Italian), I was included in the kissing line.

It was a nice memory to take home.

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