Meet the young wrestlers of Cuba Young wrestlers Braimond Sanchez, from left, Raimel Lazaro and Junior Lazaro strike a pose in a park in Old Havana, Cuba (AP photos)
Meet the young wrestlers of Cuba
Lexile

In a wrestling suit the colors of the U.S. flag, 8-year-old Yodimiler Arias grapples with a classmate in the scorching heat of a Havana afternoon.

About 20 children are learning to wrestle in a park in Old Havana. When asked why they chose wrestling in baseball-loving Cuba, they shout in unison: "To be like Mijain Lopez!"

Lopez has won two Olympic gold medals in Greco-Roman wrestling, as well as five world championships and is one of Cuba's most heralded and popular athletes.

Cuba is the island country not far off the southern tip of Florida.

Under the watchful eye of their teacher, former wrestler Michael Guerra, the children run, do squats and practice pins. Some are barefoot while others wear sandals or tennis shoes.

"Have fun, play," Guerra, 27, tells the children so they don't get bored. He wants them to come back each day after school for more training.

The Kid Chocolate hall named after Cuba's first world boxing champion where the children normally train is closed for repairs. So Guerra moved the classes to a nearby park. Because he wanted the children to practice on mats, he also asked the neighborhood sports director about using the local indoor gym. He was given permission to do so for two days.

In the park, the children's laughter mixes with the honking of car horns and the conversations of passersby.

Parents look on and, afterwards, they help clean up, carry supplies or collect money for transportation.

Maibel Arias doesn't miss any of her son Yodimiler's classes. "He likes it and I want to help him with his passion," she said.

She said the American flag wrestling suit was sent by her cousin in the United States.

Salvador Frometa, 7, has a suit given to him by his grandmother in Spain. He saves it for competitions. His mother, Daylebis Chapi, says she suffers a bit watching her child in combat. But she comes every day. "It helps him to be disciplined, I am happy that this is his passion."

The children are candidates to enter the Sports Initiation School. That is the first stage of sports training in Cuba. There they would specialize in wrestling.

Critical thinking challenge: Baseball is very popular in Cuba. So why are these boys wrestling instead?

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COMMENTS (98)
  • 8GOMMAHANENE-Flo
    10/27/2014 - 12:26 p.m.

    these boys are into wrestling instead because they want to be like Mijain Lopez. Lopez has won two Olympic gold medals in Greco-Roman wrestling, as well as five world championships and is one of Cuba's most heralded and popular athletes.

  • 8SANDOVALNICOLE-Flo
    10/27/2014 - 12:27 p.m.

    These boys are into wrestling instead of baseball because they wanna be like Mijain Lopez. They wanna be like him because he is the most famous athletes.

  • AB200lblue
    10/27/2014 - 01:01 p.m.

    Everybody does not like to playing baseball other people like other sports. They like wrestling and they are good at it so if baseball is popular in Cuba that does not mean that everybody has to play baseball.

  • TR2001golden
    10/27/2014 - 01:02 p.m.

    I think the answer to the critical thinking challenge is that they are probably board of baseball and want to do something more competitive. In base ball the only thing they do is hit the baseball and run. In wrestling You actually have to try to win.

  • km1999bieber
    10/27/2014 - 01:03 p.m.

    The boys chose to do wrestling instead of playing baseball like everyone else because wrestling is the boys passion and they said they want to be just like Mijain Lopez , a wrestler. He influenced them to play an uncommon sport in Cuba, and that's the boys decisions.

  • BrynnDani
    10/27/2014 - 01:42 p.m.

    These kids must have a great amount of passion for their sport. It would definitely be tough to return day after day to practice hard drills in the scorching heat but it does not seem to bother the kids one bit. You can tell that they really love to wrestle and it is great that they all have such supportive families.

  • summerm-Win
    10/27/2014 - 03:22 p.m.

    They are wrestling instead of Baseball because wrestling is their passion. They may not enjoy Baseball. Thy might think that wrestling is more fun than Baseball. Wrestling is what they like to do not Baseball.

  • davidd-Orv
    10/27/2014 - 05:05 p.m.

    At 8 I would have been scared to wrestle I would always be wondering if I would brake a bone or something even if I trained that's not me but they might enjoy it

  • Eriku2
    10/27/2014 - 08:27 p.m.

    This article is about how young children in Cuba are training to be wrestlers. Cuba's main sport is Baseball. Young Children want to wrestle to be like Mijan Lopez. I think this is inspiring to all Cubans.

  • BiancaB-3
    10/27/2014 - 08:55 p.m.

    In Havana, young children learn how to wrestle. They do this during scorching heat, in a nearby park. Kids of all ages and shapes join together and learn how to wrestle from the very best, Mijain Lopez. Lopez has won two Olympic gold medals as well as five world championships. All of the kids who gather for his teachings do so because they want to be just like him. From the park, they upgraded to a gym for two days. During this time, kids will be taught the combat and different skills that wrestling and Lopez has to offer. I personally love the sport, as I do it myself. It is a great sport for all children to learn. It offers self defense and a great way to stay in shape.

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