Cuban-American teen athletes more drawn to American football.
Eric Ordenza was 8 years old when he started playing football with friends in his neighborhood.
His father, a former soccer player, and his mother, a former volleyball player, expected their son to play a sport more traditionally Cuban.
When he told them he was going to play football, they were briefly upset.
“At first, my parents did not like me playing football,” he said. “They were surprised I wasn’t playing soccer, but after one game they liked it.”
In South Florida, Cuban-Americans are gravitating more and more toward sports other than baseball.
Fifty years after Fidel Castro established his communist government, Cubans and Cuban-Americans are becoming more Americanized by sports like football, which was not played on the island when their parents or grandparents lived there.
There are players in programs at universities around the country. Some Cuban-American players have been drafted into the National Football League.
There is even a Cuban-American, Mario Cristobal, coaching in Division I football at Florida International University.
As President Barack Obama seeks to ease tensions between the United States and Cuba, more Cubans will get wind of football and other American customs, teens in Miami say.
Max Ramos, 17, a recent graduate of Sunset Senior High, played on the football team’s offensive line.
“It is a new thing among athletes my age,” he said.
“The teams I played against had a lot of Cuban-Americans, and it is a growing thing.”
Matthew Romeu, 15, is a freshman on the varsity football team at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School, where he plays wide receiver and tight end for the Trojans.
His father played high school football and got his son interested in the game by showing him pictures and telling him stories.
Tony Chalita, 18, a graduate of La Salle High, where there were about 30 Cuban-Americans in the football program, was on the offensive line. Chalita said he believes players will continue to play baseball and play football as well, calling it a mixture of both sports.
Ian Noa, 17, a rising senior, is another football player from La Salle. Noa plays on the defensive line and has played football from a young age. Noa said he believes football is becoming more popular with Cuban-American athletes than baseball.
“Football gets more hype so when they (Cuban-Americans) see baseball get less attention, they will switch,” he said.
Zachary Coker, 18, is a La Salle alumnus whose father played high school hockey and whose mother came from Cuba. He was on the offensive line with Chalita, playing center and long snapper.
Coker started playing football when his brother, a former quarterback, taught him how to play. He said his family loved that he played football since it helped him in school.
Miguel Gonzalez, 26, is a practicing lawyer who played at Coral Reef Senior High as wide receiver and tight end. Gonzalez played college football for one year at Hanover College in Indiana.
Gonzalez said he believes that the recruiting for colleges in South Florida has a lot to do with the decision of what is played.
“When kids reach high school, the number of Cuban-American kids that play baseball drops off,” he said.
Gonzalez still loves football and thinks other Cuban-American athletes will love football as well.
“It is a sport everyone relates to; as the Cuban and Cuban-American populations grow, more athletes will play football or basketball rather than baseball,” he said.
If Obama’s diplomatic overtures are successful, there could potentially be more exchanges of sports customs. Ramos of Sunset thinks football might be one.
“Since Cuba is so close to Florida,” he said, “I can see a future for football in Cuba.”