Saturday, April 10, 2010

SPORTS:NYC Team Has Bold Plan to Remake Soccer in Haiti

By Wayne Coffey

NYC team has bold plan to remake soccer in nation torn apart by brutal earthquake

You start somewhere. You keep going. Such are the underpinnings of accomplishment, whether you're looking to rebuild a country or score a goal, and Jean-Baptiste Joseph has both in mind as he turns upfield, into a stiff wind in Brooklyn.

The sun is about to set over Field 8 in the Parade Ground, just off Caton Ave., in East Flatbush. Gregory Mervilus, a cab driver, store manager and coach of one of the city's newest soccer clubs, is putting his team through practice. One field over, men from a dozen or more countries are playing a pickup game. In front of Mervilus, all the players are from one country: Haiti. Most of them live in the Flatbush neighborhood clustered around Nostrand Ave., called Little Haiti, including Jean-Baptiste Joseph, a 28-year-old midfielder and former star at St. Francis College, a man with fast feet and uncanny vision, and big plans for the new team, unofficially called NYC Haiti.

Joseph grew up in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, playing soccer in the streets with everybody else, the cement hard, the ball whatever round object they could find.

When he was 16 years old, he was on the second string of the Haitian national team, before he and his mother moved to New York. He returned to Haiti in early February, three weeks after the Earth stopped quaking and the buildings stopped falling.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="233" caption="NYC Haiti coach Gregory Mervilus (from l.) proudly shows off Haiti's national team jersey, while his players train at the Parade Ground in Brooklyn."][/caption]

Joseph was used to seeing deprivation and poverty in Haiti, but nothing could prepare him for the devastation he witnessed as he drove into his homeland from the Dominican Republic. He started to cry. He felt as if he were going to vomit. It was all too much, and that was before he even knew that a cousin had died, that more than 100 neighbors and friends had died, and that more than 30 players and officials from the Haitian national soccer team had died, too.

The memory singes his psyche even now. It is why he considers NYC Haiti so important.

"Haiti is under wobbles," Joseph says, not in his native Creole, but a lilting island-tinged English. "There is so much need, so much to do. (But) we want to tell people that Haiti is still standing. The Haitian people are very resilient. We want them to know we love them, and that we are here to help them. We're out here not just to play soccer, but to do something positive for our country, and our community."

In the three months that have passed since Haiti was rocked by the earthquake, relief help has come from all manner of agencies, from all over the world. Now, a Brooklyn-based soccer team has joined the cause, with ambitious plans that range from helping to restock the decimated national team with promising players from the city, to building a sports and cultural academy in Port-au-Prince.


Source: NYD

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