When Tam High baseball and softball teams travel to Cuba in February to play ball with students in Havana, it’s quite possible they will be the first to ever do so.
“I’ve tried in vain to find another high school that’s gone and played baseball with a high school team there,” said Tam High Global Studies Director and French teacher Brian Zailian, who organized the trip.
“It may be historic, who knows,” he said. “It may be nothing; it may be huge.
The school is still firming up the final head count, but hopes to send 18 baseball players, 10 softball players, four coaches, four chaperones and three journalism and multimedia students to Cuba from Feb. 13 – 22.
They're also holding a fundraiser at Sweetwater Music Hall on Nov. 4 from 6:30 - 10 p.m. to raise $20,000 to pay for the coaches to go. Tickets are $75 and the evening features Cuban dance music, free appetizers, wine, beer and raffle prizes. The students have also been selling wrapping paper to help offset costs.
Once there, the baseball and softball teams will play three games each with teams from Havana, hopefully shadow Cuban students during a school day, and explore museums and landmarks in the city. The students have been learning about Cuban history and culture but Zailian said he doesn’t think the trip has really hit them yet.
“I think they’re in an extended state of disbelief at this point,” he said. “Reality doesn’t really sink in until it’s about four weeks out.”
This will be the first time in more than a decade that Tam High students will travel to Havana. Zailian organized a trip there with journalism students in 2000 through a study program, and got along well with a chaperon, Jose Pineda. The next year, they worked together to plan an trip focused on the arts, with Tam High musicians, artists and dancers.
While there, they visited the baseball stadium in Havana.
“The feel of the stadium – it felt like when you see old black and white footage of Yankee Stadium,” Zailian said. That got the wheels turning for the next trip.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind, but it was a timing thing.”
But soon after, the Bush administration issued travel restrictions to Cuba, making it much more difficult to secure licenses. President Obama later eased the restrictions for academic purposes in 2011, and around May 2012 Zailian decided it was time to give Pineda a call.
“He’s stayed a friend all that time, and since then has moved to Florida,” Zailian said. Pineda also created his own business that legally takes groups to Havana, and will be traveling with the Tam High group.
The trip, Zailian said, has the potential to grow into something more. He hopes to partner more with schools in Cuba, encourage other high schools to visit, or even set up an exchange program where Cuban students could stay with families in Mill Valley.
Regardless, he knows the students will make a good impression.
“This is not just any group going to Havana,” he said. “This is unique.”
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