By: Emily Ann Olivera
Through the years sports have been a big part of student athletes at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez (UPRM) that are dedicated and show their skills and abilities in the game. If we only had to choose one sport that since the beginning has had its ups and downs it could be softball. UPRM, also known as Colegio, a few years back was nothing compared like today and student athletes had to struggle to succeed, according to long life workers and past players.
Also knowing that one of the problems in the 70’s was that softball for women did not have fans or admirers because it was mostly known as a male sport, and not many women were interested in playing. In consequence, there were not that many coaches interested in trying something new. In 1976, the Athletic League made an initiative and organized a tournament which was called Inter-American Athletic League (LAI), where only Puerto Rico universities (UPR) could participate.
The first universities that organize their teams that year were Humacao, Católica, Inter and Turabo. In 1977 the University of Humacao won the championship defeating the Católica. That year the Colegio did not participate because there were no women interested in playing and most of them were only interested in completing their studies.
“In that time when I decided to form a team there were no leagues in which I could look for player, there were only carnivals that were starting in other towns and I saw women playing and some were even better that the men,” said Francisco Cintrón, men baseball coach at the time and now the Colegio womens softball coach. “When I finally got the women that were interested in being part of the team it was a struggle for me because I not only had to teach them, but I also had to teach myself because I was no longer dealing with men. Now I was facing the fact that in my hands there was a women’s team that I had to put up high”
The women received help and had the opportunity to play for the university and get an education as well. “When I started playing for the Colegio in 1978 we did not have what you girls have today and we didn’t even have a stable park to practice each day,” said Frances Jusino, a past player. “There were no lights so we had to practice during the afternoon; if it rained we went to the coliseum and most of the times we had to go toIsabela, Rincón and Hormigueros because we were very dedicated to win a championship,” also added Frances.
The team was not yet playing for (LAI), so they had to travel to other towns to play in carnivals or whatever game they were invited. “We worked hard every day and it was not easy because we played late at night, far from our homes and we also had to study because the next day we had regular classes; most of the times we even wasted our time traveling because in most places they didn’t wanted to play against us because they said we were too rough for the fact we played fast pitch,” added Frances.
It was not till 1980 when the Colegio team could finally play for (LAI). In 1983-1984 was the first time they entered finals and also won their championship against the Inter–American University. After that in eight years they won seven championships and a second place. During the years they always got their place in the first four positions and it was not until 1999, 2000 and 2010 that they brought three more championships.
“There is no doubt that now a lot of girls are interested and through the years our team has called the attention of many people by our way of playing the game,” said Francisco. “Women’s softball started very slow but we can see that now for many people it has turned into an addiction and it has caught the eye of even the press that follows us every place we play.”
“One of the advantages at our time is that most girls arrive to the universities well prepared and with experience because now we can find leagues in all countries and the only thing they have to do is keep participating to get even better,” added Francisco. Frances Jusino, long time player, believes that the girls that are playing now are very fortunate and that what they are experiencing now is an opportunity of a lifetime. “Even though in my time was not like today and we even had to play with one bat it was the best years of my life and I wouldn’t change them for the world because it was an experience I could never forget,” Frances added.
It is said that the Colegio has had its best moments and there are better things to come. As for Francisco, “This is the time when women’s softball has its great respect and we are going to give our maximum to keep bringing championships to our university.”