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May 7, 2004
When it comes to fitness, sports and physical education for kids these days, you can never have too much of a good thing. Given Puerto Ricos social problems, ranging from high juvenile crime rate to an youth obesity epidemic, Id say we need more of anything that gets young people headed in a positive direction.
Enter the Department of Sports and Recreation (DSR). In what could be construed as an election-year offensive, DSR Secretary Georgie Rosario is putting together his biggest "National Games" ever for Puerto Rican school children.
The event, May 30-June 5 encompasses 23 different sports and boasts the participation of 8,000 kids. This is Rosarios largest outreach program since taking office four years ago.
And it has the Department of Educations Physical Education director peeved.
"A duplication of effort," is was Annie Marrero called Rosarios "National Games" earlier this week, just hours after Rosario held a send-off press conference.
"If he had consulted us [Department of Education] and used our structure, he could have reached so many more students," said Marrero. "The ideal solution would have been for the DSR to put together our regional and statewide championships instead of him trying to put on his own."
The Puerto Rico public school system has an estimated enrollment of 600,000. Marrero says her championships draw 400,000 kids, making Rosarios 8,000 pale in comparison.
Marrero also takes issue with the DSRs newly passed "Organic law."
The law has one basic principle. It recognizes the inalienable right each Puerto Rican citizen has to sports and recreation and demands that the government provide the means. At its root, the law is a good start for a population the Department of Health estimates to be 60 percent overweight.
Marreros beef is that the new law steps on Educations toes by specifically legislating physical education.
"Thats not his department, thats our department," said Marrero. "And we already have a law mandating physical education in the public schools that provides for three hours weekly and makes phys ed a class in elementary school, just like math and social sciences."
In addition to phys ed classes, Education also runs sports programming during school on two levels intramural and intraschool.
"If we already have the structure, why not work with ours?" said Marrero, who claims her agency was not consulted when Rosario forged his new law.
Rosarios goal with the new law, however, seems to be more theoretical than logistical. He deserves credit for thinking on a grand scale.
"Were excited and hopeful about the departments future and the impact it will have on Puerto Ricos quality of life. The DSR has evolved from an agency that benefited only a few and put together small-scale projects into one that has ambitious and novel plans to impact all sectors of society," Rosario said in defense of his $60 million budget. "Our new program will stimulate true social change."
Rosarios budget includes $48.5 million in operating costs, $6.6 million for special assignments and $11.7 million for improvements to DSR facilities, including those that have not yet been turned over to their respective municipalities.
The DSR will likely never get away from its role in facility maintenance. Yet over the past decade it has also taken on challenges previously held by the Olympic Committee as the principal source of funds for elite athletes.
Gov. Sila Calderon will go down in history as the first governor to assign money specifically to womens sports. In addition to the $2.2 million in Aid to Full-Time Athletes, she added $1.3 million for womens sports development.
When Rosario first submitted the agencys report to the legislature defending program funding early last summer, 20 federations testified as to the need of a national program.
Rosario estimates he has 165 "Sports Formation Centers" in 56 municipalities with 19 different sports and 4,000 children between the ages of 7 and 19 participating, not including parallel programs already running in the public housing projects.
Does Rosarios programming replicate Educations on a smaller scale? Probably. But this is the one instance in which it is a good thing to spend government money twice in one day on the same thing. I say the more programs that keep kids moving, the better.
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 email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.