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Seminar To Take A Closer Look At Women And Sports

By Gabrielle Paese

March 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

In a perfect world, men's and women's sports would get equal billing with the media. In reality, most sports fans don't know who Annika Sorenstam is (hint: If she were a guy, she would probably beat Tiger Woods).

That's why, no matter what your political leanings, you have to give Gov. Sila Calderon credit for dedicating $1 million of her Sports and Recreation Department budget to improving women's sports. Because it has been demonstrated time and again on the island, if you don't legislate equality, it will never happen.

So far, during the governor's term, Sports and Recreation Secretary Georgie Rosario has been working hard at creating grassroots sports programming for girls and young women. This is especially important on an island where many public schools lack decent physical education programs and 25 percent of the children are overweight. At this point, any government dollars put toward teaching a girl to throw a softball or play volleyball is money well spent, even if she never makes it to the Olympics.

On April 3, the Sports and Recreation Department will take another giant step forward when it hosts and international seminar about Women in Sports entitled "Face to Face: Equality in Sports."

Given a choice between an educational workshop about women in sports and Sportscenter, most male sports fans would yawn and pick up the remote control. But this event is especially newsworthy because it comes at a time when Puerto Rican women are making great strides on the playing fields.

Local history has shown that it often takes legislation to keep it that way because the women are still decades behind the men in terms of progress.

For example, Puerto Rico's Intercollegiate Athletic League (IAL) was formed in 1929, but it wasn't until the 1970s that women's sports were offered and that advance came only after Title IX so mandated women's participation.

Similarly, it wasn't until 1995 that the Puerto Rican legislature passed a law forcing organizers of sport competitions such as 10K runs, triathlons, bike races and the like, to offer equal prize money to the men and the women.

Among the guest speakers for the seminar is former Cuban 400 and 800-meter runner Ana Fidelia Quirot. Quirot is a lesson in strength and courage. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona she won a silver medal in the 800 meters despite being three months pregnant. She later lost that child in an accident in her home during which she suffered burns over most of her upper body. Yet she came back in November of 1993 to compete in the Central American-Caribbean Games in Ponce.

Joining Quirot will be IOC member Charmaine Crooks, of Canada, as well as host of international luminaries in women's sports.

"We need this seminar to increase awareness," said Maniliz Segarra, a former CAC Games and Pan Am Games medallist in the sport of judo for Puerto Rico. "The changes we have seen so far are not genuine. If the sports leagues and the companies that sponsor them don't take the initiative to create equality in the men's and women's competitions, no change will ever occur."

Segarra said the P.R. Olympic Committee pays only lip service to giving women leadership roles. The PROC's executive board has just one female member, Dr. Acacia Rojas, of the Handball Federation.

Lyssette Santiago, a local television broadcaster, said that while female athletes have made great strides, the same can't be said of coaches or administrators.

"You can look at NCAA women's sports and the WNBA and see female coaches, but here in Puerto Rico we still have men coaching girls. Those are stereotypes and myths that we have yet to break. What franchise holder would dare to hire a female coach?" said Santiago, one of the guest panelists for the seminar. "In the Intercollegiate Athletic League there are few and none in the leagues. And it's not because women aren't interested in the jobs."

Beltran: Cepero belongs to Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Volleyball Federation president Carlos Beltran warned former Nebraska two-sport star Greichaly Cepero, of Dorado, that he will make her life hell if she earns a spot on the U.S. volleyball team headed to the 2004 Olympics.

Beltran said earlier this week that Cepero is obligated to represent Puerto Rico instead of the United States because she is currently seeing action in the Women's Superior Volleyball League playoffs with the Mayaguez Indias. Beltran says that Puerto Rico can claim Cepero as theirs because she is playing in the "national" tournament.

Cepero played both basketball and volleyball for Nebraska and has practiced for the past two years with the U.S. national team.

Cepero, meanwhile, told the media she doesn't understand why Beltran would want to force her to play for Puerto Rico when she has made her desire to represent the United States clear.

Siaca Jr. to fight on Hopkins undercard

Manny Siaca Jr. fights former light heavyweight champion Lou Del Valle March 29 for a 12-round WBA light heavyweight elimination bout on the undercard of the Bernard Hopkins Morrade Hakkar middleweight bout in Philadelphia, Pa.

Del Valle (31-3-1, 21 KOs), is currently the No. 3 contender. He won the WBA light heavyweight championship with an eighth round TKO on September 20, 1997 against Eddy Smulders. In his next bout, Del Valle knocked down current heavyweight champion Roy Jones, Jr. in a light heavyweight unification bout before losing a twelve-round decision. Del Valle is coming off two back-to-back WBA championship fights against Bruno Girard, the first ended in a draw and the most recent a controversial loss on a split decision.

Siaca (16-4, 15 KOs) from Toa Baja, is the No. 6 contender and a former FEDELATIN champion. He began his professional career with thirteen knockouts in his first fifteen fights. Since then he has had three world title shots in the past three years. In his first world championship fight, Siaca, like Del Valle, lost a controversial split decision to Bruno Girard. In his most recent world title fight, Siaca again lost a split decision, this time in a rematch against Byron Mitchell. Siaca followed that disappointing decision up with a stoppage (TKO2) in his last bout against Jose Cruz-Rivas to get right back into title contention.

Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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