Israel Mateos says playing in the Pan American Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him.
PASADENA, Calif. (KABC) -- In the early mornings, you can find Israel Mateos on the court at McDonald Park in Pasadena, working hard to improve his frontball skills.
"This is the actual ball we play with. It's called frontball. It comes all the way from Spain. We cannot buy this ball here, we cannot order one," said Mateos about the frontball.
The San Fernando native says frontball is a Basque sport most commonly played in Spain, Mexico and France. Mateos says it's fairly new and typically not played here in the U.S., but he has plans to change that.
"It's something very new you know, it's a blessing. I got to do what I can and hope for the best," Mateos said.
Frontball is very similar to handball. The ball has to hit the wall and stay within the court. However, Mateos says the main difference is the ball and the rules.
"Handball when we play, we play to ace the ball. When we call an ace, the ball can hit all the way down to the floor and if it rolls out it's a good ball. So when it comes to anything in the Basque sport, like frontball, there's a line. So every shot has to be above the line," Mateos said.
Mateos started playing handball as a hobby throughout the San Fernando Valley when he was 17 years old. He says he had never heard of frontball until he met his trainer, Francisco Mancilla playing handball at a park in Los Angeles.
"He's always pushing himself to participate," said Mancilla.
Mancilla says he saw a lot of potential in Mateo's frontball skills. In April, they both went to Peru for the Pan American Games qualifying tournament. Mateos was representing the U.S. and his skills were put to the ultimate test.
"So, it was 12 countries and it was a six-man bracket of each one and it was just a process of elimination. It was kind of my first time being introduced to this sport," Mateos said.
Mateos says he finished in fifth place overall and qualified to play in the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, which starts Oct. 20. He says the opportunity is once in a lifetime.
"This could be very well a way to open the door to make this thing into something bigger than what it is,"Mateos said.
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