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Hands-on history

Baltimore students join Orioles for trip to Cuba

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Posted: Thursday March 25, 1999 08:06 PM

  Cuba Bound: Vernon Camphor signs his passport as he checks in at the airport with about 100 Baltimore and Washington area students. AP

BALTIMORE (AP) -- Fifteen students from a private Jesuit school in downtown Baltimore left Thursday for Havana with strict orders: no candy, no gum, no electronic devices and no more than $20 in their pockets.

School officials wanted to make sure the Americans made a good impression when they met Cuban youngsters.

About 100 Baltimore and Washington area students took a plane chartered by Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos to Cuba, where they will watch the Orioles play the Cuban national team in an exhibition game Sunday.

Among the lucky students were the boys from St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, who were selected by lottery and received donations to help afford the trip.

Students began arriving at the school at 4:30 a.m. wearing their uniforms of khaki slacks, black shoes, sky-blue shirts and maroon neckties.

Devon Parham, 13, was excited about the trip.

"This is, like, a new thing for me," he said.

Asked what he knew about Cuba, Devon said, "Not that much. It's not a wealthy country."

The father of 12-year-old Jonathan Chapman, John, still couldn't believe that his son was about to board a Havana-bound plane.

"I was telling him, 'Do you know you're part of history?' He doesn't really understand," the elder Chapman said.

Willis Gray said his 12-year-old son, Paris, wants to help make the goodwill visit come off well.

"He just wants to go there -- he wants to be a part of the picture. He feels like he will make a difference," Gray said.

But Gray worried that his outgoing son would make friends a little too easily in Cuba.

"If they open up travel between the two countries and people can visit freely," he said, "I'll have a house full of people, because he'll invite them all."

After getting last-minute federal approval March 19 to take his team to Cuba, Angelos sent word to area schools and recreation leagues that he would provide a plane for 100 youths and up to 50 chaperones. By Sunday, 50 youths had been signed up by parents who could afford the $750 per person.

Organizers saved the rest of the seats for students who would have trouble affording the fee. Angelos pledged $12,500 to help defray costs, but St. Ignatius still needed about $5,000.

By Monday benefactors were lining up to help make the trip a reality.

"The kids were coming in for breakfast, people were pulling over and giving them checks -- $1,000, $2,000," Mary Sapeta, the school's director of development, said.

With the help of Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the students got passports, visas and inoculations for Hepatitis-A and typhoid in just three days.

"My arm's still a little numb," said Jonathan Chapman, who packed a baseball that he hoped to bring back with the signatures of both the Orioles and the Cuban all-star team.

 
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