Putting Their Best Foot Forward: How One Man Aims To Solve the Cuban Wrestling Shoe Crisis

Organized sports are a great way for children to grow by challenging themselves and forcing them to deal with adversity, but in recent years, participation in organized sports has been dwindling, especially in poorer communities (only about 1 in 3 children from low-income families participates in athletics. What happens if you’re unable to participate in the sport you love because you don’t have the means to purchase the necessary equipment or you’ve outgrown the gear you do have? For many of Cuba’s youth wrestlers that is the reality they face every day, and it’s a problem that Bob Kelsoe, a Southern California high school wrestling coach, aims to remedy through a program he started called “Wrestling Relief for Cuba” (WRFC).

Kelsoe created this initiative after visiting Cuba last May. Prior to leaving for Cuba, a friend had suggested bringing everyday items to give away as gifts because the embargo items many of us take for granted and use every day are highly coveted by residents. Being an athlete and coach, Kelsoe brought a case of baseballs (due to baseball being Cuba’s national sport) and six pairs of wrestling shoes. While walking through the streets of Havana, Kelsoe met a man named Yordan whose son, it turns out, is the number-three wrestler in his age group in all of Cuba. Kelsoe offered him a pair of wrestling shoes to give to his son which Yordan graciously accepted.

The following day, Kelsoe was invited to watch a wrestling tournament at the National Sports Complex in Havana where he “was impressed with the skill level of the Cuban wrestlers”. He noticed that many of the athletes were competing in worn-out uniforms and even went as far as cutting the toes off their wrestling shoes in order to accommodate their growing feet. Kelsoe inquired as to why the athletes all seemed to have worn out equipment, to which one of the coaches explained that many of the younger athletes have to wrestle barefoot or in street shoes because many Cuban families only make $25 a week, making wrestling shoes a luxury they simply cannot afford.

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cuban wrestling shoes
Image Source: Bob Kelsoe’s Facebook

Upon arriving home, Kelsoe made it his mission to collect gently used wrestling shoes with the goal of collecting 100 pairs to deliver in-person come November since the Cuban mailing system is unreliable. WRFC has been fortunate to have a variety of disciplines supporting the cause, and so far, they have collected 44 pairs of wrestling shoes. Their mission is to “provide athletic gear and support for children in need around the world” regardless of their economic situation. But in order to be successful, they are relying on the kindness of strangers to help make this possible.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can help go to everyoneplays.org or send any new or gently used wrestling shoes to:

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Everyone Plays
8754 Kendra Lane
Corona, CA
92880

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