Crowds of people, players and spectators alike gather around the red-top courts at Maria Hernández Park every day to enjoy ecuavóley, a national sport of Ecuador brought to Bushwick by immigrants.

Carlos Morocho, who runs the ecuavóley league at Maria Hernández, spoke with Bushwick Daily about the sport.

“Here, in this area of Maria Hernández, the people who started el voleibol were the Ecuadorians,” he shared while keeping score of a match. “We’re from different places. Some are from the northern part of Ecuador like those from Ambato. Some are from Riobamba. Others are from Cañar Province. And others are from Cuenca as I am. I’m Cuencano. The players then arrive and bring with them their own knowledge and customs of the sport.”

Though there are no steadfast teams or leaders in the park’s games of ecuavóley, the group of enthusiasts is under the name Morocho Volleyball League after Morocho received a permit from the NYC Parks Department to reserve the space. There are, however, categories that classify players of different levels.

Carlos Morocho standing in front of the ecuavoley court.
Carlos Morocho standing in front of the court. 

Ecuavóley (also known as ecua-volley, ecuabol, or simply boly) is thought to have originated in the mountain region, or La Sierra, of Ecuador in 1895 and has quickly gained popularity since then, spreading throughout the country before arriving to others like Colombia, Spain and the United States. This adaptation of volleyball has its own set of rules, and people have competed in tournaments all around the world since the mid-20th century.

Claudio Rodas, a local resident of Bushwick for 25 years, remembers how the daily ecuavóley matches began. 

“It started as a group of friends that got together every weekend,” said Rodas. “But now, there are more and more people who continue to come to enjoy the sport.”

Marcelo, another player of the sport, commented that the growing community provides amistad, or friendship. 

“We get to meet new people, new friends,” he commented. Ecuavóley, he shared, is also a great way for people to exercise, get outside and stay healthy under the circumstances of Covid.

According to Morocho, the community has been gathering to play since 2004, “since they fixed the park.” 

Today, Maria Hernández is known as the bustling community center for the neighborhood with its many free events and activities, but as its rich history shows, the park has undergone many changes throughout the years. Known as Bushwick Park for nearly a century and then as Knickerbocker Park, the space was renamed to honor Maria Hernández in 1989, a resident of Bushwick who had fought against drugs in the neighborhood by organizing gatherings and block parties to “unite the community” as reported in a previous Bushwick Daily article.

Thanks to funding provided by the New York City Council and the former mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg, Maria Hernández was completely reconstructed around the time ecuavóley made its presence known at the courts. The playground was rebuilt with new equipment, the basketball courts were renovated, park benches were installed for sunbathers and a plaza with a stage was situated at its center.

Locals enjoying encebollado, a fish stew often made with cassava and topped with onion and lemon juice, with fellow players before the games begin for the day.
Claudio Rodas enjoying encebollado, a fish stew often made with cassava and topped with onion and lemon juice, with fellow players before the games begin for the day.

“What we do here is for the public,” said Morocho. “It’s for all those who enjoy voleibol – men, women, children, everyone who likes ecuavóley.

“We also come to support the newcomers who practice and play the game and improve. It’s promising for the sport,” Rodas expressed. “With the passing of time, there will be really good players who can represent this area in leagues, maybe even on a regional level to visit other states.” 

Other spectators support the community by providing food and drinks. Tania Morocho, who found out about the park’s ecuavóley games through family members who play the sport, both sells and donates typical Ecuadorian dishes to the community, including guata, seco de pollo, mote and potatoes, and encebollado. She also sells beverages such as freshly made pineapple juice and tamarind juice, though others provide bottled water and cans of soda.

A plate of guatita with rice topped with a onion and tomato curtido.
Tania Morocho holding a plate of guatita with rice topped with a onion and tomato curtido.

“I noticed that there wasn’t anyone offering food here and so I decided to come,” Tania shared. “It’s a great way for people to destress after work or to distract themselves.” 

Families and their children sit on the lawn chairs surrounding the coolers where the food is stored to enjoy their meals, Tania added.  

When asked about the changing weather as we reach the end of summer, Rodas explained that some of the dedicated players set up nets in closed schools. They rent the space to escape the rain and snow.  

“It’d be great if the government could facilitate more nets and spaces so more people can enjoy the sport,” Rodas commented. “We have two nets here, but with the people who come to play, the space is now too small. It’d be great if we were recognized, the Ecuadorian community, so they could help us attain bigger spaces so we can continue our tradition.”

Locals playing ecuavoly at Maria Hernandez Park
Players during a match of ecuavóly.

The Morocho Volleyball League plays ecuavóly on weekday evenings and at approximately 2 p.m. on weekend days. Stop by for a plate of food, to enjoy the game, or to play a match!

Editor’s note: All quotes have been translated from Spanish by the author.

All images: Allie Herrera

For more news, sign up for Bushwick Daily’s newsletter.

Join the fight to save local journalism by becoming a paid subscriber.