Editorial: Roberto Clemente’s dream can build sports cities in every community

City Deportiva. Sports city.

For Roberto Clemente, the Puerto Rican right-back who was one of the best players to wear a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, those words were more than just a dream. They were a project for the future. The sports city he envisioned was a gift for the children of Carolina, Puerto Rico, a way to build their bodies, hope and joy.

Today, the 304-acre park has nothing to do with the vision. It is overgrown and underutilized due to a tangle of reasons. There is the standoff between the Puerto Rican government and the organization Sports City Inc., headed by Clemente’s son, Luis. There’s the massive hurricane damage over the years, the reduced funding, and the massive tax burden.

Essentially, the Puerto Rican government did to Sports City what the federal government has often done to US territory itself: gave it less and expected it to do more. However, it is a problem that the Clemente family, the people of Carolina, and the Puerto Rican government must solve.

Here in Pennsylvania, Sports City can be seen as an aspiration and a cautionary tale.

Clemente’s goal was the kind of thing every community should challenge themselves to provide for their children. Kids – and adults, for that matter – need a place to prove themselves physically. Pick up this ball. Run this track. Work your legs, lungs and back. Clear your mind and set goals. Use that baseball field, basketball court, or bike path to become the best version of yourself. Whether it’s a world-class athlete or a slightly healthier individual.

But too often our playgrounds or other recreational facilities become an afterthought. They can be seen as extras that are not needed. When they are not maintained enough to be used, we blame the parks themselves, as if it was their fault that they did not fulfill their original vision.

To have thriving communities and healthy children, we need thriving places where children and families can gather, play and exercise. We need to encourage public and non-profit partnerships to make this happen, which most of our successful recreation opportunities use.

But more than anything, we need to recognize these facilities as valuable priorities and not as extra items that we add when we remember them.

Clemente’s example was an understanding. He saw how sport created its opportunities. He believed in it as an opportunity for others. And you can, but you can’t build a sports city – or any community – without consistency and commitment.

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