The annual Justas LAI are rapidly approaching and with that, the end of this year’s athletic season. As we anxiously await this year’s finals, let’s take a look into the Rookies of the Year from 2017-2018. Naomi Joan Robles Morales is a second-year Nursing student and the starting pitcher for UPRM’s softball team. She began playing baseball when she was 5 years old and softball at age eleven. Although the former is her favorite sport to play, it is her outstanding achievements as a softball player that lead her win this award last year.
Before joining the UPRM team, the Juana Díaz native had been a playing member of the Female Softball Association of Maunabo (ASOFEM) since 2010 with which she has competed internationally. With ASOFEM, Robles has had the opportunity to represented Latin America in the United States. First, they compete “locally” against teams from Mexico, Curaçao, Aruba and the Dominican Republic, among others, and the victor wins the privilege to represent the Latin community. In 2011, Robles first competed in Portland in the name of Latin America and then again in 2015, this time in Delaware. In 2017, she played with the Revive Baseball Inner Cities (RBI) in Aguadilla with which she got to compete in Florida and Cincinnati during her first year. The following year she represented Puerto Rico again with the same team, first in Florida then in Minnesota.
Throughout her years as a softball player, it has been her Love for the sport and the friendships it encourages that keep Robles motivated. But beyond that, the sport gives her a purpose beyond everyday things. Robles said the sport itself “motivates [her] as a person to do something else; to not simply be another student and to represent the institution.” That being said, she also expressed how the sport is “vital” to her life and how different her life would be without it. For Robles, softball is a lot of fun and, mostly, it keeps her entertained while providing an escape.
As a student-athlete, the most important thing is time management. It requires a balance between setting aside the necessary time for her studies so that she succeeds as well as for her sport so that she is productive in it. But more than just a student or an athlete, Robles represents one of the top universities of the island, in both sports and education. She says she is filled with pride when she plays for UPRM because being a “colegial” is something else. According to Robles, it is courage, enthusiasm, determination and their motivation that sets the UPRM teams apart from other universities. “We are productive academically and athletically,” said Robles about student-athletes in UPRM.
Sadly, although most student-athletes excel academically and athletically like Robles said, they are not met with that enthusiastic support from the institution. Robles is painfully aware of the institution’s indifference towards its athletic programs and students, both from the local and general administrations. “Right now, we are about to get cut so the support that should be there, isn’t,” said Robles recognizing the precarious position student-athletes are in. Because of the institution’s bad administration, the softball team was forced to start their season without their uniforms, which is one of the few things the administration provides for the teams. The administration has been lagging in distributing these funds for years and it is a recurring problem through most of the teams in the University.
As Robles mentioned, there are impending cuts to be made to all the athletic programs across all UPR institutions and this is sure to have an effect in all the student-athlete population. “Some athletes may drop out, sometimes [scholarships] are their livelihood,” said Robles “the athletes will eventually leave” because they can’t afford the rising cost of public education. The cuts to the athletic programs which have already happened have affected the private sector as well. The Ana G. Mendez University System has made cuts to its athletic programs as well, leaving only the Interamerican University providing full economic support to its athletes.
Nevertheless, the softball team receives unwavering support from its fans. Robles says she can feel their support from the mound and it motivates her to give the game her all; “I have to do this right; my institution deserves it. Vamos pa’ encima”
Even after almost a decade as an athlete, Robles still feels anxious before every game. So much so, she needs to eat gum to calm her nerves. She listens to slow music to help her stay calm, usually in English. Robles listens to From Now On from soundtrack of The Greatest Showman and Vuelve by Sebastian Yatra.
Robles says the team has made great strides in their batting numbers this year. She also recognizes she feels more confident in her position as pitcher now which helps her game. Sadly, the team was eliminated in the semifinals. UPRM’s softball team won its last championship in 2012, hopefully, next year they will reclaim the title.