Border residents turn US-Mexico fence line into volleyball net and soccer field

Illustration by Victor Abarca

A new sport is gaining fame on the border between Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. Residents from both sides of the fence team up to play "wallyball" — a fast-paced version of volleyball where players can hit the ball off the wall.

The game, which has become an annual April tradition in Naco, Arizona and Naco, Sonora, is the newest way border town residents are celebrating binational ties and defying political boundaries by using the fence as a playground for creatively subversive sports.

Half of the team attacks on one side of the border and half defends on the other.
Oliver Cairo

Wallyball isn't the only cross-border fence sport. In January 2010, a collective of artists and activists held a soccer match that took place at the Mexicali-Calexico border fence with the teams dressed in jerseys depicting the faces of U.S. and Mexican presidents. The soccer match was meant to raise awareness about immigration policy and other border issues.

Obama, Bush, Fox, Calderón and others.
Oliver Cairo
The border as a soccer field.
Oliver Cairo

Other border-wall competitions have spread to the arts. Along the Tijuana-San Diego fence, US and Mexican musicians perform the annual “Fandango Fronterizo,” which is a sort of contagious singing and dancing showdown between the local border communities. Unlike wallyball, this event is monitored by border patrol agents.

The powerful imagery that these performances and games invoke serve as inspiration for many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who advocate for more and bigger cross-border events. In 2013, San Diego even submitted a joint proposal with sister city Tijuana to co-host the 2024 Olympic Games.


The bid didn’t go anywhere, but just like wallyball, the border soccer and the fandango fronterizo music festival, it showed the frontier in a different light — as a space for creative cooperation rather than political division.

Update. August 24, 2015: Naco border patrol allegedly told Flama the wallyball game hasn't been played in years.

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