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Posted July 28, 2003 by publisher in Cuban Sports

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SignOnSanDiego.com | By Nicole Vargas | UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

Bonita Vista head coach Carl Parrick peruses an album filled with memories from a two-year stay in Cuba as a child.

Sports traditionally incite a passion in Cuba, where boxers and baseball players beat a path to the world stage. Yet American football largely remains a mystery on the island.

Two local high school football teams are busy this summer working on a game plan to teach thousands of Cubans about touchdowns and timeouts.
Bonita Vista and La Jolla are set to begin the 2003 season opposing each other in Cuba at Havana’s Pedro Marrero Stadium. The game will be the first organized American football game in Cuba since 1958, when a semipro league – featuring teams of Cubans and Americans – played its final game.

While other local schools have opened the season in distant places such as Hawaii, Canada or Mexico City, the game between the Barons and Vikings on Sept. 5 will be just one highlight of a weeklong educational experience for the student-athletes.

“It’s the chance of a lifetime,” said Bonita Vista senior Rowdy Arciaga, one of more than 280 travelers set to make the trip. “We can’t wait.”

The game is being publicized by the Cuban Sports Ministry. Admission will be free, and the ministry is hoping it can come close to filling the 30,000-seat stadium.

A handout explaining the rules will be passed out to spectators before the game, and Brian McBride, the regular public address announcer at Bonita Vista’s games, will be on hand to call the action in Spanish.

“We’re there to show them what football is all about,” said La Jolla senior Donald Sewell. “For us to go down there and play a game for the people, that’s huge.”

Since 1963, American travel to Cuba has been restricted by a U.S. embargo designed to isolate the Cuban government and deprive it of American dollars. However, trips are allowed if they relate to one of a dozen established categories among them athletic competition, educational exchange and visiting family members.

In 2001, approximately 150,000 Americans used this method to visit the island and about 50,000 others found ways to skirt the embargo.

After studying options for opening the 2003 football season out of town and hearing of a similar educational exchange from a parent who recently visited Cuba, Bonita Vista assistant coach Dan Hodges presented head coach Carl Parrick last fall with an intriguing choice: Washington, D.C., or Cuba.

For Parrick, the decision was simple.

“The kids could go to Washington whenever they want, and many of them have,” Parrick said. “But when can they go to Cuba? This is a great education, an experience they’ll never forget.”

Parrick lived with his family in a Havana suburb for a little more than two years while his father, a Navy lieutenant, was stationed on the island. They were forced to leave at the height of the Cuban Revolution.

Since 1959, Fidel Castro has ruled the Communist nation, which is slightly smaller than Pennsylvania, almost as long as Florida and has a population of 11.2 million.

Cuba also has been at the center of events that, for the students about to visit the country, have lived primarily in the pages of their high school history books. This trip will change that, said La Jolla High principal Dana Shelburne.

“It’s a living laboratory for these students,” Shelburne said. “I’m hoping they will achieve a more modern awareness of the political structure of Cuba, the day-to-day life of Cuban society, the geographical layout of the country. They will personally experience the climate of the country.”

Shelburne had little trouble selling the idea to La Jolla football coach Dave Ponsford.

“That was a pretty easy one,” said Ponsford, who teaches social science. “We could play a football game here, but this is a great chance for (the players) to see history changing before their eyes, because we don’t know how long Cuba will be like this.”

Both teams will begin their education before stepping foot in Cuba’s Jose Mart International Airport, thanks to classes and briefings by teachers and coaches as well as by U.S. representatives based in Havana.

Once in Cuba, they will tour Havana and its historical sites, as well as visit a memorial for the 260 sailors lost on the battleship USS Maine, which blew up in Havana Harbor in 1898 and served as a catalyst for the Spanish-American War.

Teachers from both schools will be on hand to coordinate educational exercises, such as journals, and provide lessons on everything from the Bay of Pigs invasion to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The football teams will visit two high schools, and coaches will conduct a clinic for local coaches and players hoping to start a football club at the University of Havana, the city’s only university.

A trip of this magnitude is relatively new for La Jolla’s athletic program, but Shelburne said the school’s staff has learned from Bonita Vista. The South County school has sent its football team to Hawaii and Las Vegas in addition to sending large groups of students on numerous international trips.

Bonita Vista High principal Ramon Leyba said he most recently accompanied the school’s band to Japan and to Australia for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Even though Cuba has no formal diplomatic relations with the United States, Leyba said he encountered more security and counterterrorism issues on the Olympics trip.

Another obstacle to overcome is the cost. Each school’s football booster club is working to raise about $1,425 for each traveler, a total of $65,000 for the players alone. Both say they’re on track to meet their goals.

With less than a year to raise funds, Bonita Vista booster club president Steve Hoffman launched a massive letter-writing campaign.

“We presented it as a unique opportunity, and every little bit has helped,” said Hoffman, who will accompany his son, senior Chris Vasquez, on the trip. “I think the parents are more excited than the players right now, just because they realize the impact of a trip like this. But as time passes, the players will realize it, too.”

In addition to meeting requirements of the Sweetwater and San Diego school districts, permission had to be obtained from the Treasury Department, which enforces the U.S. embargo by monitoring American dollars spent in Cuba.

Similar to other trips taken by Bonita Vista students, some parents have declined to grant permission for their children to travel out of the country with the team.

Even though her grandson is making the trip, at least one family member of a Bonita Vista player has voiced concerns about students visiting the country she left more than 40 years ago.

“I would think people would have a little more conscience than to go to a place that oppresses people,” said Rosa Adato, 60, who spoke at a recent school board meeting and contacted the office of Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, about canceling the trip. “I feel they shouldn’t be going.”

Adato said she understands money for the trip was collected through private fund-raising, but the schools are still representing American public education. She would have preferred to see what she estimates will be more than a quarter-million dollars spent on the trip funneled back into the U.S. economy.

“I feel they are sponsoring the regime,” Adato said, pointing out that Cuban officials don’t allow tourists to see what life in her native country really is like. “Maybe they want to make a point I don’t see. But there’s always two sides to a story. I just hope they know what they’re doing.”

Leyba said this trip is not about politics.

“We’re not taking any stands on the rightness and wrongness of the government policies of either the United States or Cuba,” he said. “We are trying to focus on the educational and cultural opportunities for our students and, of course, a football game.”

Because it has been 45 years since an American football game was played in Cuba, equipment and personnel must be brought along for the game, to be played in the country’s newly renovated principal soccer stadium.

Portable goal posts have been purchased. The schools also will take everything from first-down chains to chalkers for the field. The current method of chalking the track and soccer field, according to Hodges, is pouring powder from a paper cup.

A team from the San Diego County Football Officials Association will make the trip as well as a group of San Diego doctors to work the sidelines the night of the game.

Some time during the evening, players will distribute 500 donated footballs to children in attendance.

“I’m looking forward to the game,” said Arciaga, the Bonita Vista quarterback. “That will make the whole trip.”

  1. Follow up post #1 added on January 20, 2004 by jay, jay chidex

    hope to hear more information from you for more understanding.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on November 08, 2004 by michael

    I’m doing presintation for my Spanish class and was wondering if
    you could give me some information about Cuban sports. I would really appreciate it. Thank You.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on January 23, 2009 by ice newton

    please i need all football contact in cuba and also bahmas
    please let me know the full informan of all caribean football
    clubs ok

  4. Follow up post #4 added on January 23, 2009 by ice newton

    Ice Newton football manager.  with a great honor and good heritage.
    With due respect, we will like to support and supply some clubs in caribean foot ball players that are good and talented players from our clubs in africa. These players are very fantastic and can bring glory to any club, if given the opportunity.
    Invitation Letter for a trial, while our club will take care of responsibility of feeding and hotel
    God bless
    ice newton

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