Sunday, November 11, 2001

The next time sports superstars complain about how hard their jobs are, they need to be reminded of a time when losing the game sometimes meant death. The precursor to team sports, the Mesoamerican ballgame, was played about 3,500 years ago.

Much like today’s football, the game involved teams, protective uniforms, ornate coliseums filled with fans, gambling and halftime shows. Played with an eight-pound rubber ball and three players on each team, losers of the fast-paced game were sometimes sacrificed to the gods.

A museum has teamed up with a multimedia company to provide a glimpse into the specifics and history of this sport through an unforgettable Web site experience.

The Mesoamerican Ballgame

Site address:


The Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, N.C., owns the site and selected Interactive Knowledge Inc., an E-learning firm that specializes in working with museums and cultural organizations, to create the pages.

Creator quotable:

“Furthermore, users of the Web site can gain a knowledge of the geography and cultural context, through virtual tours of archaeological sites, for example, that are impossible in a static exhibition.”

Word from the Webwise:

Acting as an online educational companion to a traveling exhibition associated with the ancient sport (running through Dec. 30 at the Mint Museum), the site takes Internet visitors on a dynamic, interactive jaunt through Mesoamerica.

Mesoamerica covers the region between North and South America, or more specifically, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Not just a primer for the ballgame, the site uses several multimedia elements to highlight the historical and sociological context of the spectacle, displaying and exploring artifacts, art, symbolism, religion, music and culture.

Visitors will find four major sections, each offering creative use of Web technologies to help educate. “Explore the Mesoamerican World” features a fluid time line and map to the see the rise and fall of seven civilizations; “Explore the Ballgame” concentrates on the rubber ball, equipment worn, the court and action; “Experience the Ballgame” allows a look through the perspective of fan or player; and “Experience the Exhibition” provides information on the actual program.

My favorite section, “Explore the Ballgame,” comes complete with video footage (from the National Geographic Society) showing a live re-enactment of the game, a 360 degree walk around the court, a “Dress the Player” activity (using drag-and-drop clothing) and a 500-year-old reconstructed Aztec song honoring the patron god of the ballgame.

This little ditty really shines. Click on the court area and an introductory text box reveals a pop-up box featuring the song “Matlatzincayotl.” Visitors can listen to the music introduction, vocal performance or spoken postscript while learning about the song’s history, purpose, lyrics and re-creation.

Ease of use:

Using Macromedia’s Flash 5 plug-in, Quicktime, a version 5.0 or above browser and at least a 56k modem connection, visitors will have a rewarding encounter with Mesoamerican Ballgame. I was blown away by the sound, imagery and video used on this site and hope teachers around the world use its fantastic capabilities.

Don’t miss:

Visitors can participate in the sport through a neat quiz masquerading as a rudimentary video game. Found under “Experience the Game,” the challenge invites players to answer five multiple choice questions from information found on the site, which will animate the cartoon players. Winners get a shower of flowers from the crowd while losers must bow before the victors.

Family activity:

A well-developed list of projects for the entire clan can be found under “Classroom Connections.” Everyone can take part in making a face mask, headdress and costume out of paper, or mold clay figurines and effigy vessels. Compete instructions are provided for each model and encompass everything from templates to coloring guides to educational objectives to a full glossary of terms.

Cybersitter synopsis:

I immediately was consumed in the learning process thanks to the site’s dizzying presentation. Written at a sixth-grade level, visitors age 5 and older should be able to understand the information.

Overall grade: A+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (

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