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Memo To Acevedo Vila: Sports Should Begin In School

By Gabrielle Paese

November 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

The votes have not yet been re-counted, but if the State Election Commission is to be believed, the Popular Democratic Party’s Anibal Acevedo Vila is Puerto Rico’s new governor.

Four more years of the PDP means continuity for sports and recreation programming in Puerto Rico – and that is a good thing. Now, I’m one of these really naïve sportswriters who believes that youth sports should not be subject to partisan politics. However, when you have parties building entire campaigns over whether Puerto Rico’s Olympic Committee would even exist under statehood, sports becomes a political football (go deep, bad pun).

It shouldn’t have to be this way. You’ll note that Puerto Rico has given the world some great athletes – from Roberto Clemente to Wilfredo Benitez to Gigi Fernandez to Chi Chi Rodriguez to Felix Trinidad. All of them have one thing in common: They excelled in pro sports. Involve Puerto Rico’s government and you guarantee mediocrity -- less than a handful of Olympic medals.

In its defense, Puerto Rico’s government doesn’t spend much on sports. The total budget, including the Department of Sports and Recreation, doesn’t amount to more than $63 million. It pales in comparison to Education’s $2.3 billion budget (and the kids aren’t doing well on their SATs either).

PROC president Hector Cardona estimates he needs at least $9 million a year (he gets $3.3 million) to even begin to produce medals at the elite level. In reality, he probably needs a lot more.

What Cardona needs in Puerto Rico is a unified effort. Imagine after-school sports programming run for the public (and private) schools with regional and islandwide championships in all the major sports. Imagine the PROC’s sports federations, the Department of Sports and Recreation and the Department of Health all putting their efforts into school sports instead of running parallel (and competing) programs.

In most developed countries, the top athletes come out of school sports programs. In Puerto Rico, only a handful of schools, most of them private and sports-specific, specialize in athletic education. The rest can barely manage to hold gym class.

Sports should not be exclusive terrain of either the elite or those who have access to some kind of outside-of-school program. By earning four more years in office, the PDP has a golden opportunity to put an end to all that duplicate programming and channel the funds into one solid place – school sports.

Cotto, Bailey get ready for Dec. 11 fight in Las Vegas

WBO junior lightweight champ Miguel Cotto got a surprise for his 24th birthday last weekend. Top Rank shipped his next rival, Randall Bailey, to Puerto Rico for a promotional press conference, giving the Caguas native a chance to take a long look at his rival for their Dec. 11 fight on the Vitali Klitschko-Danny Williams undercard at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas. Bailey (28-4, 27 KO), who lives and trains in Miami, is a former WBO and WBA junior welterweight belt-holder. Cotto (21-0, 17 KO) will be making the first defense of the title he won Sept. 11 in San Juan with a sixth-round TKO over previously unbeaten Kelson Pinto, of Brazil.

Cotto’s trainer, Evangelista Cotto, said Cotto’s camp was well aware of Bailey’s power, but not concerned that the 30-year-old veteran might be too much for the newly crowned champ.

"When you’re fighting a former world champion you know he is good because he wasn’t world champion for nothing," said the elder Cotto. "I’ve seen him fight on tape and I know he’s a hard hitter but so is Miguel."

Bailey said he’ll depend on his own knockout power.

"It’s hard to stay away from it because it is what got me to the title twice," said Bailey. "But honestly, I’m not thinking about a knockout. If it happens it happens.

"Cotto is a good fighter. But I’ve been to the table three times [Bailey is 4-3 in world championship fights] and I think I’ve seen everything already," said Bailey. "In his case, there are a lot of things he hasn’t seen yet. He’s the one who has to watch out because he hasn’t met a hard-hitter like me yet."


Velazquez tapped for Eclipse Award

It looks like Puerto Rican jockey John Velazquez cinched the jockey Eclipse Award, horse racing’s equivalent to the MVP, this past weekend as he rode Speightstown (in the $1 million Sprint) and Ashado (the $2 million Distaff) to victories last week in the Breeder’s Cup held at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas. Velazquez was also second in three other races -- aboard Roses in May in the $4 million Breeder’s Cup, riding Kitten's Joy in the Turf and aboard Film Maker in the Filly and Mare Turf.Velazquez’s victory aboard Speightstown stopped an 0-for-12 drought at Breeder’s Cup races for trainer Todd Pletcher, Velazquez’s main client.

On Sunday, the day after the Breeder’s Cup, Velazquez arrived just in time for the seventh race at Aqueduct in New York as he remained in Texas to receive the Bill Shoemaker Award, which is given to the jockey with the best Breeder’s Cup performance.

The 32-year-old is now the front-runner to receive the Eclipse Award, having collected 317 wins, the third-best in the United States and 50 stakes race victories. Velazquez’s mounts earned $3.13 million on Breeder’s Cup day and his 2004 earnings are at $21 million, making him the winningest jockey.

Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was 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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