Basketball in Barranquilla is on the Rebound

Basketball in Barranquilla. Photo credit: Orlando Amador

As is common across Colombia, Barranquilla has a small but very passionate basketball culture. In fact, in terms of team sports, it is the third most common in the city, after football (soccer) and baseball. It has had a very short and troubled history that has kept the discipline from expanding all along the coast.

About twenty years ago, in a battle against the predominate football culture, the traditional basketball families who wanted to buck the tide and the keep the practice in Barranquilla started forming clubs. Soon the sport developed in the city, especially for youth, where the parents were seduced by the benefits that this great game could provide their children.

Unfortunately, down the road, internal political problems appeared and slowed the growth process. Nowadays, the department has only five basketball academies recognized by the COLDEPORTES, yet not all of them are affiliated with the Atlántico Basketball League.

In past years, some of the managers of these schools separated themselves from the Official League arguing irreconcilable differences with their policies and decisions. Mostly, the coaches have been unhappy with the League’s way of giving economic aid to clubs. They feel that the departmental institution is not properly organizing and supporting the selection teams that represent Atlántico. On top of that, some of them claim that there is corruption within the League, and that all the positions are filled through nepotism rather than merit, as they are supposed to be.

All this internal division is affecting the overall performance of Atlántico at a national level. The players who belong to the clubs not affiliated with the League are not allowed to play for the departmental squad. So these players, who have excellent preparation and skills, are either ignored (a terrible waste) or are recruited by Magdalena, Bolivar, Cesar, and other rival Leagues.

Ronald Berrio, head coach of Cachorros Club, explained that Atlántico League is not functioning well. “Right now, we’re trying to reunite. The clubs are the soul of any League. If the same current isn’t followed, if there’s no integration, the results will keep dropping considerably. Losing players, created here in Atlantico, to other leagues, is a great defeat,” he said.

Coach Ronald Berrio
Coach Ronald Berrio

Last year, at the national basketball competition, the sub 15 team was the best representative of the department, finishing just fifth, completing a destitute tournament for Atlántico. “We all hope to improve. This year we have grown our relationship a little and are at least working in selection teams, something that has never occurred before. We are putting together a great team to compete in the nationals in Bolivar. And we are both (League and Clubs) realizing that we must have the same judgment,” Berrio explained.

As for having professional or NBA players, our country is an up-and-coming basketball country, so logically it is very complicated. Also, talent-wise, we belong to the lesser-known second row of countries in Latin America that pairs us up with nations like Venezuela, and Chile. We strive to be as developed as Brazil or Argentina, but we simply don’t have a long tradition of established basketball programs.

Colombia has a small professional basketball championship called DirecTV League, organized by the Colombian Basketball Federation. It was founded in 1992 with over 18 squads, but that number has now decreased to just ten. There are many athletic players in the country, and the style of play is fluid with an emphasis on up-tempo play.

Unlike what happens in other countries, where the sport is mainly ruled by men, our nation takes pride in our highly developed women’s basketball leagues. The short tradition of the discipline in this latitude allowed the girls to pair up, or in many cases, beat out the men’s teams on an international level.

Suri Salcedo Park Photo Credit: Jorge Pérez,
Suri Salcedo Park Photo Credit: Jorge Pérez,

Despite a relative lack of interest in the professional sport, Barranquilla is a city of future promise on the court. Although at this time we don’t have either a professional team playing in the DirecTV League or a functioning basketball stadium, Major Alex Char recently announced his desire to have a pro squad in town. For that, he promised economic aid to the League and the renovation of the Elias Chewing Complex to host basketball in the Central American and Caribbean Games. This, even though still nothing is concrete, gives a lot of hope to the fans, since the last benefactors of the Alligators (Barranquilla’s former basketball team), were the Chars’.

Berrio knows that with a professional team, the kids of Barranquilla would have a different choice of sport. “There is a whole world beyond football and its masses, and this is one of the best disciplines that exist. If we had a team we could use it as a tool to bring more people in.” At the moment, if a teenager finishes the youth basketball program when he is 18, he goes to college where if his degree lets him, he will keep practicing for four more years and then drop forever.

Barranquilla is only recently coming onto the scene and producing high caliber players with the level to play in the US. Our prized prospect, Franklin Ordoñez, is currently playing AAA with a University in Oklahoma, which after finding him, decided to link Cachorros to a scouting plan that seeks capturing young talents in Latin America.

Along with swimming and athletics, basketball strengthens personality, motor skills, and the cognitive side. As a team sport, it builds communication, understanding, following of the rules, teamwork, respect, and foster’s kids’ ability to make constant and fast decisions. All these are excellent reasons to join. Berrio claims that through a child’s behavior on the court you can identify and work on some of their psychological issues. “If a child is timid, a bully, or hyperactive, it is very easy to recognize in their style of playing. As coaches, we try to channelize that energy in a good way, on and off the pitch. It’s not only about learning to play but also to give them concepts that they can apply both in sport and in life.

Cachorros School in Villa Country
Cachorros School in Villa Country

Practicing basketball can help a tall kid with slow mobility work out those long muscles and bones, and ultimately gain speed while doing an activity where they have the slight advantage of being closer to the basket. In the same manner, it can help a small child to increase their size and grow a few centimeters while taking the power of their better skills to pass over their taller rivals. “If a kid is linked at an early age, the volume of their muscles is going to increase, they will have more mental activity and a lot more concentration, resulting in communicative and sociable children who have no problems interacting with others,” Berrio said.

Most of the youth basketball academies work in the afternoon to allow the kids to go to school and practice regularly. Also, many of them offer talent scholarships and strata-based subsidies to the kids who can’t afford the monthly fees.

Next month, there will be a national tournament, organized by Cachorros, where forty clubs from all over the country will fight for the title in the fields of Parque Suri Salcedo and Escuela Americano. It will run from October 9th to the 12th.

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Fran graduated from Universidad de Palermo in Buenos Aires, Argentina in Journalism and Sports Journalism. Before returning to his native Barranquilla, he traveled extensively throughout Europe and North America. When he’s not busy writing or reporting on a game, he’s probably watching whatever sports news is on TV. He also enjoys dancing, learning new languages and cultures.