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Hispanic Players Have An Impact

By Bill Buchalter | Sentinel Staff Writer

October 10, 2003
Copyright ©2003
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

KISSIMMEE -- Check out Carlos Rodriguez, the junior football tackle at Osceola High School. At 6-foot-5 and at least 325 pounds, he is as big as they come on Central Florida's football fields.

Orlando Boone High's Ed Medrano is nearly as large, reaching 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds. And Orlando Colonial's Steven Rivera is 6-foot-2 and hanging around the 300 mark.

Now, look at Eric Zapata, all 129 pounds of him. The Orange County University High senior is a three-time Metro Conference weightlifting champion.

Big or small, athletes of Hispanic descent are making names for themselves in Central Florida, a high school barometer for demonstrating the growth of the region and the growth of Hispanic influence.

And they are everywhere, and in every sport.

Especially football. Steven Rivera, a three-year starter and good student, impressed coach Ed Koschewa.

"We made a highlight film for him, and the films don't lie. He . . . will block you and knock you down," Koschewa said.

Chris Orcasitas, of Mexican descent, started every football game at West Orange High a year ago.

"He's one of the top five strongest kids we've ever had," West Orange football coach Tim Smith said of his 6-foot-1, 265-pound lineman.

Sonia Bernal, originally from Colombia, played No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles for Orlando Dr. Phillips' powerful girls tennis team last year, one that advanced to the state championships. She expects to move up to the No. 1 singles role this spring.

And Arturo Rivera is a three-sport standout for Timber Creek High in Orange County who also finds time to be an outstanding student and a student government leader.

"What a great kid," Timber Creek football coach Jim Buckridge said. Arturo Rivera is a starter in Timber Creek's secondary and a basketball player. University High also has wrestler Melvin Perez.

Perez was a Metro Conference and regional champion and state qualifier. Orange County Cypress Creek's Zara Prades is an all-around athlete, super student and a three-year starter in volleyball who earned first team all-Metro Conference as a sophomore.

Other top Cypress Creek athletes include varsity lacrosse captain and Junior of the Year award winner Martha Najera, baseball star and three-year starter Julio "Quique" Negron and cross-country captain Philipe Araujo, who was a key member of last year's sixth-place team at the Class 4A state meet.

Dinelia Concepcion moved to Deltona from Puerto Rico and has become one of Central Florida's best defensive specialists playing volleyball for Pine Ridge High. With football under way, coaches have identified more Hispanic athletes participating and making names for themselves than in previous years.

One of the football captains at Dr. Phillips will be three-year offensive and defensive lineman Guillermo ("Call me Gil") Pichardo, a 6-foot-3 245-pounder. Another projected starter is Rencel Gutierrez, a 240-pound nose guard.

Buddi Andrade plays receiver and defensive back for Seminole County's Lake Howell High, where he also started in baseball. Steve Manana participates in three sports for the Silver Hawks. John Alonso, Alex Quezeda and Phillip Sanchez are standouts at Orlando's Bishop Moore High.

Alonso will be one of the top pitchers and infielders for one of Central Florida's top programs.

Quezeda is a linebacker in football, and Sanchez, also a football player, is one of the area's top soccer players.

Iramar Hernandez is one of the best all-around athletes at Oviedo High's strong program.

She reached the state final four both in softball and girls basketball. Alicia Perez was a softball teammate.

Dan Rivera, a wrestler at Winter Springs High, competed in the Asics Cadet Nationals, and Eric Escudero was a conference and district runner-up for coach Rick Tribit.

And Osceola High track star Vanity Vasquez, a school record-holder, finished third in the state at 800 meters last spring.

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