Friday, November 25, 2011

Touchdown City

Some time in between filing my game story from inside a greasy stadium concession stand and being woken up by a high school football mom while taking a nap in the stands, it hit me.

High school football on this island ain't too shabby.

The U.S. Virgin Islands high school territorial IAA varsity tackle football game (that's a long title for a game played in the outfield of a baseball stadium) was held this week and the timing was not ideal for this dizzy sports scribe.

I'm was totally consumed by the annual Paradise Jam basketball tournaments and the football game was penciled in between the men's and women's tourneys. That's why I stretched out on the top bleacher, relaxed my eyes and took a nap during the JV All-Star game.

"Hey, I know you," the mom said as she sort of nudged my knee. "You're the guy who went to Florida or Mexico or something. The guy from the paper..."

My mumbled response sounded like, "Yes, that's me. Is that why you woke me up?"

Gridiron Mama: "Oh, I just wanted to let you know that you have a following here. I enjoyed your articles. Are you covering this game?"

Lethargic writer: "Yup, front-page exclusive."

Gridiron Mama (not taking a hint): "That's good. These boys are the future of football here."

The future? What was this woman talking about? They don't even play with field goal posts here. A lot of my friends are bewildered by that fact. The simple response is they go for a 2-point conversion every time. Opening kickoffs are laughable (and that's if they stay in bounds).

I'm supposed to talk to my boy Linval Joseph about that next month. I call him my boy because it sounds cool. The truth is I've met him in person only once and we've talked on the phone a few times.

Joseph plays for the New York (football) Giants and he is from St. Croix. He asked me last year what he could do to help out football back home. He wanted to do something different compared to the normal "giving back" tactics. New uniforms, pads, a sponsored all-star game -- all things the USVI players desperately need -- were off the list. He asked me to thing outside the box.

"Three words," I told Linval. "Field goal posts."

He was amazed they didn't play with them. I told him that by comparison, it was a success if a game even kicked off within two hours of its scheduled start time of if the stadium lights actually worked.

Linval laughed at my antics but I assured him that I was telling the truth and it was a bad scene back on the islands. They need his help. I'm going to see him again soon and will tighten the screws on his alleged hometown commitment.

After the mom left me alone, I went back to sleep until the varsity championship. Charlotte Amalie High won its sixth straight title, 38-20. Moments after the game, players from both teams joined the cheerleaders for an impromptu dance party on the 50-yard line.

I thought that was hilarious. They didn't have any field goal posts they could tear down in celebration so a little grinding with the booty-happy cheerleaders sufficed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Back in America

Well, I'm back on the Rock and it feels good to be home. I'm proud to tell friends that I only got sick twice while in Mexico for the Pan American Games. I had to reiterate that I was Mexico sick, which is a totally different monster compared to the common cold or syphilis.

One thing I learned very quickly is that most Americans speak only one language and this only becomes apparent when you're in a foreign country.

Drunk guy from Peru in elevator: "You Americans only speak English but there's so many countries and languages out there. What do they teach you in school?"

Me: "Sex Education. I know about all the STDs."

Drunk guy: "That's gross, dude."

Me: "Come si dice 'genital warts' en Espanol?"

In all seriousness, I later explained to my new Peruvian friend that he was right. That most Americans lack a connection with other cultures or even any interest in them. He couldn't totally understand it but I tried to explain to him that our country thinks it is so wonderful. The USA is so grand that its citizens really do think the world evolves around them.

Photographer from California: "What's the point? In most parts of the world, it's considered uneducated or crass if you don't speak English. I guess we lucked out."

He had just bought me a beer and tequila shot before he dropped that sophistication bomb on me so I did not argue with him. Instead, I shared a photo on my phone with him, which he found to be hilarious and brutally honest...

Click on the image to get a full view

Friday, November 4, 2011

Guadalajara Glory Days #8

I'm covering the Pan American Games from Oct. 13 through 31 in Guadalajara, Mexico for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

Security at the Games

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Gaudy M-16 machine guns don't seem to deter computer hackers.

There's no question the Mexican federal police force stepped up its presence in and around Guadalajara during the 2011 Pan American Games. At almost every corner, the policemen were dressed in dark blue commando outfits and carried huge guns I've only seen before in video games.

Early on during my stay, I had to snag a picture of one cop who held a massive gun in one hand and checked the text messages on his cell phone with the other.

But these intimidating figures apparently have little sway when it comes to computer security at the Games.

The Globe and Mail out of Canada reported Monday that an anonymous tipster alerted reporters via email that personal information about the media – full name, date of birth and the first five digits of his or her passport – was accessible through the Pan Am Games website.

There are more than 1,400 journalists covering the Games as 21 accredited Canadian journalists received the email, along with reporters and photographers from The Associated Press and Reuters. I'm happy to report the V.I. Daily News was spared during this fearful campaign.

The Guadalajara 2011 Organizing Committee (COPAG) later released a statement denying any illegal access to the website took place. But the fear still remained.

“I'm just going to work from my hotel for now on,” said German, an Argentinian writer I met at the main press center, who had interviewed me earlier about where exactly the U.S. Virgin Islands were located.

“I'm not so sure that will preserve the safety of your online information,” I told him. “Those police officers with the big guns can find you anywhere.”

Maybe the sarcasm did not translate, because German quickly became annoyed, rolled his eyes at me and left the press room.

WAPA troubles in Mexico

It was the emptiest open bar I had ever seen. Bartenders with their arms crossed and nothing to mix up. Bottles of water everywhere.

I guess that's what happens when international athletes get together for a little dancing and fun.

A local club in Guadalajara sponsored a “Athletes' Village night” on Tuesday where Pan American Games athletes could drink for free. I won't mention any names, but the USVI was well represented. The territory's best athletes – and a certain sports writer – owned the dance floor and we felt right at home when all of a sudden, the music stopped and room went dark.

“Someone didn't pay their WAPA bill,” I yelled out. No one really laughed but I got a few snickers from the USVI contingent.

Cornell University reunion

USVI track coach Nathan Taylor grew up on St. Thomas and graduated from All Saints Cathedral. He represented the territory as a track athlete when he lived on St. Croix in the 1980's and has been a college track coach for 24 years – the last 12 at Cornell University.

Strangely enough, Taylor was not familiar with the fictional character Andy Bernard from “The Office,” who boasts his complete allegiance to Cornell.

“Never heard of him,” Taylor said. “Is he a dweeb? We have a lot of them up there.”

Along the way, Taylor has coached over a dozen college athletes who had ties to the USVI. One of his Cornell products was Mohammad Halim, who is not a dweeb and competed for the USVI in the triple jump at the Pan American Games.

“For me, this was a great experience because Mohammad is a special athlete,” Taylor said. “I've known that ever since I met him when he was 17 years old. It's been a pleasure to coach him at Cornell and at the international level.”

Guadalajara Glory Days #7

I'm covering the Pan American Games from Oct. 13 through 31 in Guadalajara, Mexico for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

Innocent bystander

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Considering I don't speak Spanish, this Guadalajara Gringo has relied on physical and visual landmarks to get around town.

Inside the main foyer of the Guadalajara Expo Complex, where the main press center is also located, a massive model of the city reveals where all the Pan American Games sports venues are and all the roads associated with them.

Earlier in the week, I got yelled at because I walked up one of the viewing stations when it was very late at night. I was done writing for the evening and was trying to figure out where the next day's adventure would begin. A nearby security guard yelled at me from the upper floor, kept a keen eye on me while he calmly rode the escalator down to my level and was not happy when he finally came within reach of me.

In my best Spanglish, I quickly told him I didn't know I was in the wrong and sarcastically begged for his forgiveness.

Through an interpreter, I later learned that another media member had accidentally dropped his soda from the very same viewing station the night before and the security guard thought the same culprit was back again. It was the first time not knowing Spanish actually helped me.

“The guy from last night was Colombian,” the interpreter said to me. “Sorry about that.”

Planning ahead

U.S. Virgin Islands Olympic Committee president Hans Lawaetz is also the treasurer for the Central American and Caribbean Sports Organization (CACSO) and that group held meetings this past week in Guadalajara.

The main discussion was about the when to hold the 2014 CAC Games in Veracruz, Mexico.

“The mayor of Veracruz said he wants it to be held in October, which as we've learned, is not good timing for the other countries' athletes,” Lawaetz said. “That's when kids are still in college and it's going to limit participation.”

At these Pan American Games, four USVI track and field standouts stayed in school instead of taking two weeks away from the classroom. Lawaetz and a majority of the other Olympic Committee presidents are opposed to any start dates after the middle of August.

“The weather is better in October – that's their only excuse really,” Lawaetz said. “A lot of people don't know this but things like the CAC Games are a money-losing proposition. We'll see what happens.”

Team USA doubling up

Midway through Tuesday's track and field events, the Americans have really started to run away with the medals count at the 2011 Pan American Games. Just before the evening sports started, Team USA had secured 173 medals, including 64 of the golden kind. The next closest is Brazil with 79 medals (29 gold) and Canada with 73 medals (20 gold).

The Games are starting to wind down but there will be plenty more opportunities for Americans to climb up to the medals podium. More than 40 medals will be up for grabs on both Thursday and Friday.

Since the Pan American Games started in 1951, the U.S. has won an all-time high 3,936 medals. Aruba, the British Virgin Islands and Saint Kitts and Nevis have yet to win a medal.