-Cuba and the United State
have taken huge steps recently to normalize relationships
between these two countries. Now that Americans have begun to travel freely
to the island nation, a new partnership has formed
around the sport of tennis. This episode looks at how tennis
is playing an intricate role in the diplomatic
and human relationships between these two nations. ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -About a year and a half ago,
Jake Agna came to us at the Cuban American
Friendship Society and said, “Hey, I’m interested
in going to Cuba and seeing how we might be able
to help the Cuban people in the context of tennis.” I went down there thinking
that I was really going to help them teach tennis or… I don’t know. I had so many ideas of what I was going to do
when I got down there. I was completely blown away
right off the bat. I was so inspired, saying,
“Man, these guys understand how you can succeed.” [ All cheering ] Listen, listen, listen.
-[ Speaks Spanish ] -One of the best things
about Cuba are your coaches. -[ Speaks Spanish ] -Your coaches are
the best I’ve seen. I’ve been around. -[ Speaks Spanish ] So, keep listening
to your coaches. So within a few days,
I told the guys, I said, “Man, I’ve seen enough. I’ve got to try to get you
some balls, some hoppers, some stringing machines,
some rackets, shoes, and then I’ve got to get you
some courts,” because the courts were
the most beat-up courts I’ve ever been on. -Jake, being the stand-up
individual that he is, he came back to us, and he said, “I think what we need to do is,
we need to figure out a way to bring these tennis courts
back to life so that these kids can get
involved with a sport in a much safer, more exciting,
appropriate manner.” And we were really excited
about that. Problem was nobody had,
virtually, in the past 60 years, had ever done
a bricks-and-mortar project in Cuba. ♪♪ -What we’re trying to do is,
the first time, probably, since 1960, that something other than the recognized
categories can be sent. So it’s new,
uncharted territory. So no one has done this
in 60 years. -And so we decided we needed
to apply for what’s called a “specific license”
in order to that. So we asked
the State Department, the Treasury Department,
Department of Commerce, formally, of course, for a license
to do this project, to repair these
public tennis courts, not knowing what to expect. And we worked
with a good legal team and put together a really strong
license application, and a couple days before
Thanksgiving last year, we got notification that
the license had been approved, which, essentially,
allowed us to then move forward on repairing these
tennis courts. -I never heard of Cuban tennis, but I never really
concentrated that much on it. I knew baseball was tremendous. I knew boxing was good. But I didn’t know about tennis. But their tennis is very good
for being isolated from the world as long
as they have. I brought down a tennis pro
out of Miami. He, within the second day, said,
“You’ve got to be kidding me. These kids are
unbelievably good players.” And, you know, with training
like we have up here, like weights, these kids are going
to take off. I mean, that country is going
to put out some players. What they need now is,
they need… What we’re going to do is,
we’re going to build the National Tennis Center to the point where the courts
are really good. -That whole center, it’s called
the Pan American Park, so they have
a track-and-field arena. They have soccer fields. They must have baseball fields,
as well, and then what we saw was
the tennis center. That was all built
for the Pan American Games back in the ’90s. They went through
this special period where the Soviet Union
collapsed, lost much of their support, so there was less money
available for infrastructure. So that was just over
a couple of decades. Without a whole lot
of preventive maintenance, the courts ended up
where they are today. [ Indistinct chatter ] -Juan, how do you like to be on?
-What? -You’re here for a tournament? -No, for 30 minutes,
then I’ve got to go. -Everybody pick up a few balls. Everybody pick up a few balls,
we’ll get started. -I met Jake in 1998, when I worked at the club
where he teaches tennis, and he was concerned that it was
an exclusive group, and he always thinks tennis
should be inclusive. So he had the idea to bring kids
from youth programs in downtown Burlington
into his tennis to make it a better
demographic mix. So I helped him partner
with youth centers to change that mix
and change the demographic and, in doing so,
Kids On The Ball was born. -What are you doing? -Get in! -At the base of all of this
is his idea that everyone can learn something
from each other, and so he had the idea
to expand the program to Cuba. ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -Oh, my man. -[ Speaks Spanish ]
-How you doing? Good to see you. Hey, check out this guy. I played doubles with my man,
here, he’s great. This guy made a speech one time about what tennis has
done for him, as far as wanting to live
and wanting to go on, you know, with his life,
and it was heavy. -Why take on a project
like this? -Well, I just met the people. Like, I went
to the Marti Center, and I met the people,
and within a few moments, I felt like they were
the kind of people that I wanted to help. For me, it just seemed like
the right thing to do. [ Indistinct chatter ] -[ Speaking Spanish ] -Sit up front. -So here we are at
the Cuban Federation of Tennis. I’m bringing the guys down
for the first time to kind of get a look
at the site and let them touch it,
feel it, and taste it because this is where
we’re going to be for the next 14 days. -There’s spots all up here. -Yeah, but our grinders
will take all that out. -These are the tennis courts
we’re going to work on here. Courts there. This is the building here
that is the next phase. I came out here a year ago, and this was what I first saw,
is these courts. -But the…
These are the worst two. We get over there, you’ll see.
-Are they really? Geez, these aren’t as bad
as I thought they’d be. -So we pop as much loose,
skim it, and then… How much tack did they send? -Enough for all 10.
-Okay. We seam them and resurface them
and then… -Me and Mark, too. -Once the resurf is on,
we just keep moving. But once we put the, you know…
We’ll get these two courts started because
there’s minimal repair. We’ll go work on these two,
come back this way, then we’ll go to this end,
come back this way, and I think, with the teams
that we’ve got in place, it’s just going to be
a consistent flow of each day. We get this kind of weather,
we’ll be out of here in 14 days, I think. -Everyone’s probably wanted
to come to Cuba, so… and not a lot of people
have the chance to, being from America
and everything, so I was pretty psyched to be
able to make it out here and get on this project,
and I think, as well as everyone else. We’ve got the first
work-issued visa since the Eisenhower
administration, and I think that’s
pretty spectacular, and I’m glad to be
a part of that. -I don’t think we ran
into any problems or issues. I think our biggest problem
right now is our container is going
to show up tomorrow. And if our containers
all show up tomorrow, this job will go
very, very easily. All the guys are on board. They saw pictures and photos
of this 20 months ago. -This will all be pretty
jammed up by the time we leave, eh, boys? -Jesus. -What’s it make you think? -[ Sighs ] It’s a project. That’s all I’ve got to say. -I think what’s riding
on the first phase is the belief
of the Cuban people that we can make things happen. They already love Jake. They love seeing us come, and they love what we do
with the kids, but I think that they need to
see this first phase completed to really believe that we can
make this all happen. This has been the hardest part
for Jake, is waiting. “Wait” is not in his vocabulary. He likes things to happen
right away, so that this has taken so long to actually happen has been
really tough for him. So when things get signed,
and we’re almost ready to go, his anxiety level goes down. [ Music plays in distance ] [ Indistinct chatter ] -I think it’s wonderful
that Americans are able to travel more to Cuba, okay? I think there’s lot of things
that we, as Americans, can learn from Cubans, and there’s things we can
share with our Cubans that they can learn from us. That’s what mutual respect
and friendship is all about. That’s what neighboring
countries are all about. It’s not about building walls. It’s about breaking them down
and building bridges, quite frankly. And so I am not concerned
in the slightest about additional Americans
going down there. The Cubans are smart people.
They’re capable people. They’re educated people.
They’re going to figure it out. But that’s an important point. We have to respect that they’re
going to figure it out, and just because we’re going
down and helping them restore these public tennis courts doesn’t grant us
any special access. It’s up to the Cuban people
how they want to move forward in light of the influx
of American tourists, and I trust that they’re going
to do what they need to do. [ Indistinct chatter ] -Many thanks for being with us
bright and early on this morning —
a very special day for JetBlue. The launch of our 100th
Blue city, Havana, Cuba, with our very first flight
from Orlando. -After making history
on August 31st as the first commercial airline
in 50 years to fly to Cuba, we are very excited
to be here today and launch service
to Havana from Orlando. Once we have completed
our launches to Havana, JetBlue will be servicing
seven daily flights to Cuba from three of our major
focus cities, that being J.F.K., Orlando,
and in Ft. Lauderdale. [ Applause ] -[ Speaking Spanish ] [ Horn honks ] -Right now, the containers
have been approved to come through. so now it’s just a matter
of waiting for them to arrive, and we hope that they’ll arrive
some time early this afternoon because, at this point, we’re
three days behind schedule, and any further delays
could impact, from a financial perspective, both the project
and future projects. So we’re really anxious
about making sure that we can get this thing done,
the containers here today, and then have the work
still completed by December 7th, 8th or so. But it all depends on
the bureaucratic process making its way through. -[ Speaking Spanish ] -Supposedly,
all the trucks are over there. -Well, the trucks are there, it’s just a matter of
where we are in the queue. -Do we know what…
-The trucks are there for our containers,
is what we’ve been told. -[ Speaking Spanish ] -Well, you’re going to have to
grind down the whole thing here. -We have gotten assurances
now that some documents that had to be
finalized relative to the release of the containers
from the port has taken place. The company that is actually
transporting the containers to the facility is at the port, arranging that
to take place today. We’re hoping that,
some time after lunch, we’ll see these
containers arrive. We’ll start to unload
the containers. We’re going to focus on the
fencing portion of the project because that really needs
to be done first, and then once the other
containers are here, today and tomorrow, we’ll begin the actual,
probably, process of getting the courts prepped
and ready for the surfacing that will go down. -How are you feeling
about everything? -Well, right now,
I’m a little concerned about the delay
in the materials arriving because we’ve already
lost three days, and that just puts
everything back. From a financial perspective, it’s costing a lot more money. Also, guys had committed to
a certain number of days here, and they have other projects
and other work back in their own companies, so there is a little bit
of a concern right now, and we have our fingers crossed that everything is
going to happen today. And then they’ll just
have to hustle. If it does come in today, then I think these guys are
really looking at… They’re talking about
12-hour days — starting work
at 6:00 in the morning until 6:00 at night to try to make up for the days that we missed over the last,
you know, three days. So we’ll see. Actually, right now,
I’m not that optimistic. -So, I sent him a nice,
detailed, up-to-date e-mail as to where we stand. Don’t worry. The guys had kind of a day
Monday to, you know, see old Havana
and experience the culture and get a nice little tour, and then today we took them
to beach for the day. So their batteries are going
to be well-charged, and we’re going to hit
the pavement running tomorrow. We got it sorted out. We were here for four, five days before we could really
get anything started, which I kept worrying
more about my guys and their morale
and wondering, “Is this thing going
to, actually, happen?” And then we got assurances
from the president of the Federation
of Transportation that everything would be looked into immediately,
which it was, and we got the containers
Friday and Saturday and ended up started working
on this past Sunday. So we’ve only worked Sunday,
Monday, Tuesday. Tomorrow will be our fourth day. ♪♪ -Come on! ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ We are working hard. ♪♪ -We’re waiting now
for temperatures to get to the point where we can put
the seaming tape on the final two courts
that need to be seamed. We’re color-coating court six
right now, and we’ve got courts
eight and nine that will be ready for
resurfacer and then color. [ Whirring ] ♪♪ Modern technology at work. We’ll be on “Modern Marvels”
before we know it. And we’re pouring it
into these bottles that used to have
water in them, and we improvised
by making them a device that we could squeeze
the material out and then pour onto the surface. -I don’t know what day
it is now. I think it’s been,
like, a month, but we’re finally trying to get
all the edges seamed up. We’ve got all the courts
laid out. The matting is down. I think we’ve got five courts
fully painted and striped, and now we’re just waiting
on the sun so we can get
some seams done and, hopefully,
start painting and stuff and get this stuff done
by the weekend. ♪♪ -I just remember stepping on
the court with my daughter, you know, who had played
a lot of tennis with me. And my wife was
around the court, but I just remember standing
next to my daughter. And we looked at each other,
and we said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” The level of play and
the enthusiasm in the… And just the spirit
of the people was phenomenal. It’s just who they are. [ Indistinct chatter -And, of course, the big story,
former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90. This has been confirmed
by Cuban State Media. [ Applause ] [ All chanting in Spanish ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Jake’s work, the work that CAFS is doing, the work that President Obama
has done, the work that
Major League Baseball did when they went down there
and played baseball, those are all slowly
breaking down that wall that has been in control
of our politicians for 60 years. -I want… I want these… I want to have them share
what they know about community, about playing the next ball. Our theme at Kids On The Ball
is “play the next ball,” and then, whatever happens,
play the next ball. Be able to get over it, because I think for especially
people without means, they need to not ruminate
in what’s not fair… And a lot of the things that kids have a hard time
in the States with is just play the next ball, and that’s a good habit
to get into, just to try to go to
the next moment, be positive, use the opportunities you have, and just try to get on
with your life because, you know, for me,
I had every opportunity, and a lot of the people
I’m around. But people don’t
have opportunity have got to use
their opportunities. -The kids are kids,
no matter where you go. They are excited to play. They are excited to win. They’re excited to try again. They’re kids, and I think, even though we didn’t
necessarily speak their language,
it didn’t matter. We were there playing
and having a grand time, and they’re kids. And tennis lets you communicate
with them without being able to speak
the same language. -[ Speaks Spanish ] -[ Chuckles ] I don’t know. -It is a start,
and I think that that’s the… Sometimes with the stresses
of what we’re doing, I forget that this is
the first time that anything like this
has been done in probably 60-plus years. And to have it done through,
you know, the work of a small organization like Kids On The Ball
and someone like Jake Agna, who has done
an unbelievable job, and his vision of helping
improve the connections between Cuba and the U.S., helping to find ways
of bridging the gaps that we have between
our two countries through sports is wonderful. -We’ve never lost focus on
what the ultimate goal here is. It’s really to engage with
Cuban children, Cuban youth, through the sport of tennis. -[ Shouts in Spanish ] -It feels pretty good. I mean, it took a little
longer than we expected, but I’m glad to be here to see
the finished product. I’m glad we didn’t have to get
out of here before it was done. I mean, luckily we got
to get home before Christmas and everything,
but, like I said, I’m glad. I’m glad we got to finish it.
I’m glad we got to help out. It seems like everyone here
loves it, and, hopefully,
it will do a little something for Cuban-American relations, and maybe our country will be able to come over here
more often and help out a little bit more. ♪♪ -I wanted — I tried to say to people that the value of this
in the long run is that these kids can come
to Burlington, Vermont. They can come to Los Angeles. When our countries open up, we’ll be really impressed
with how they play because they’re great players,
that they’re going to take these opportunities that
they’re going to get, and they’re going to go
way further with it. ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

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Dennis Veasley

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