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#2654: AP story: Haiti Athletic soccer school (fwd)




From: Guy Antoine <GuyAntoine@windowsonhaiti.com>

NBA's Elie Visits School in Haiti

By Michael Norton
Associated Press Writer
Saturday, August 14, 1999; 1:57 p.m. EDT

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Mario Elie felt proud when he returned to his
parents' homeland and saw how a dedicated former political prisoner and
soccer player was nurturing hope in disinherited slum
kids.

``I'm Haitian, too. And I'm tired of hearing nothing but negative things
about Haiti. But this is positive,'' said the 35-year old Manhattan-born
guard for the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, who had been with the two-time
champions Houston Rockets.

Elie hadn't visited Haiti since he was 17. So when Bobby Duval, a soccer
star who now helps underprivileged children, invited him to return, Elie
jumped at the chance.

Duval runs Haiti Athletic, a soccer school for poor kids that he has almost
singlehandedly turned from a vacant lot four years ago into a soccer field
and clubhouse.

The asphalt of three basketball courts had just been poured, and Elie was
there for the opening Friday.   Located in suburban Drouillard, the field is
near some of the poorest neighborhoods in this poorest country of the
Western Hemisphere.

``Most are slum kids, and their models are juvenile delinquents,'' Duval
said. ``But our kids won't turn into bums.  They learn discipline and how to
dream a brighter dream.''

About half of Haiti's 8 million population is under 18. ``Hundreds of
thousands of poor kids want to get involved in sports. I want to show them
the way,'' Duval said.

Duval's professional soccer career ended brutally in 1976, when he was
accused of political activism during the Jean-Claude ``Baby Doc'' Duvalier
dictatorship. He was arrested and imprisoned in the Fort Dimanche fortress
for 17 months. After Duvalier's exile in 1986, Duval became a political
activist and went on to work in his family's construction business. Now at
age 45, he works full time at keeping the school alive.

Friends, private-sector sponsors and private voluntary organizations provide
the school with funds and supplies, but it survives on a month-by-month
basis. Sometimes Duval cannot meet the payroll for his 20 employees. Under
Duval's supervision, eight trainers teach soccer skills to more than 200
slum kids from ages 7 to 20. Hundreds more flock to the field to watch. Many
of Duval's kids are so poor they come to practice barefoot.

At Haiti Athletic everything is free -- soccer gear and the hot meal the
players get after practice. Duval also pays their school fees and medical
bills.

Duval said there is hope that Haitians may someday rebuild the ruined sports
infrastructure that, in 1974, pushed Haiti into the World Cup finals. Haiti
has 24 first division A dilapidated sports stadium was recently renovated,
and the government runs a soccer camp for promising young players.

`There's hope for us. Haitians are doing things for Haitians,'' Elie said.

 Copyright 1999 The Associated Press