Basketball was first played in Puerto Rico in 1902, introduced by the United States soldiers. When the YMCA opened its doors in Puerta de Tierra (1913), in what is today the headquarters of the Olympic Committee, the sport became regulated on the island. Late in the second decade of the 20th century, the Puerto Rican Basketball Association was created, but it broke apart shortly thereafter and the Puerto Rico Sports Association arose. Both organizations were dedicated to regulating the sport, organizing tournaments and coordinating the participation of teams in competitions on the island and beyond. With the disappearance of these two organizations, the Island Basketball Federation was formed (1936) and, two years later, the Puerto Rican Basketball League was established. Both were in charge of not only holding tournaments, but also attracting teams from other countries to battle with the national teams in events such as the Silver Jubilee, which was held as part of the celebration of 25 years of basketball on the island. These organizations also brought Puerto Rico into the Antillean Series.
The superior basketball league was established by the Parks and Public Recreation Administration (today the Recreation and Sports Administration). In 1949, the Island Basketball Federation disappeared and the Superior Basketball Circuit entered the scene. Soon thereafter it was called the Superior Basketball Federation. The federation included the Superior Basketball League, the Intermediate League, the Youth League and the Women’s Basketball League, today called the Women’s Superior League. Puerto Rican basketball has since achieved numerous successes on the international level.
Volleyball was another sport that arrived on Puerto Rico’s shores through the YMCA. By the 1920s, various teams existed on the island. At the Fourth Central American and Caribbean Games held in Panama (1942), the Puerto Rican team, a combination of players from the two best teams on the island at the time — Aguada and Yauco — won the gold medal without losing a single game. They won again at the Fifth Central American and Caribbean Games in Colombia.
The women's volleyball in Puerto Rico was originally recreational and played in the courtyards of the houses, where they met a group of ladies to do a bit of exercise. The women's team training quickly paid off when them won silver medal in the Central American and Caribbean III (El Salvador, 1935) and repeated this feat in, Colombia (1946), Jamaica (1962), Colombia (2002) and Mayagüez (2010).
In the 1950s, the Puerto Rican Volleyball Federation was created and shortly thereafter it affiliated with the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee. At the end of the decade, the federation got volleyball included in the Inter-University Athletic League (LAI for its Spanish acronym) games of the time.
Beach volleyball, meanwhile, is a form of this sport that was formally instituted in the final decade of the 20th century. Puerto Rican teams, both men and women, have won medals in various international tournaments.
The sport of baseball, though played recreationally, was not formally organized until the second decade of the 20th century. Late in that decade, the first amateur tournament was held, sponsored by the Sports Reporters Association under the title of Amateur Baseball Championship. Since then, two categories have been recognized: amateur and professional.
In 1932, the baseball park in the Escambrón area was inaugurated and, shortly thereafter, it was named the Sixto Escobar Stadium in honor of the first Puerto Rican boxing champion. Over the years, many international teams, mainly from the United States, Cuba and the Dominican Republic have come to participate in winter baseball tournaments on the island.
In 1938, the Semiprofessional Baseball Congress was created, which included the San Juan Senadores, the Ponce Leones, the Caguas Criollos, the Mayagüez Indios, the Humacao Grises and the Guayama Brujos. The Guayama team won the championship in the first Semi-Pro tournament on the island. In the second half of the 20th century, the number of teams increased, along with the construction of baseball parks both in and beyond the metropolitan area and improvements to sports installations. These factors supported the development of baseball on the local level.
Puerto Rico currently has two players in the professional Baseball Hall of Fame: Orlando Peruchín Cepeda and Roberto Clemente. More than 60 Puerto Ricans currently play in the Major Leagues in the United States.
Softball was first played when the YMCA was founded, and in the early years it was played in a small gymnasium there. The game was known as "diamond ball." It was not until the 1930s that softball was played regularly. The Puerto Rico Amateur Softball Federation was founded in 1958. It affiliated with the International Softball Federation and the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee the same year. The women’s teams, particularly, have been successful at the international level and have won medals in most of the competitions in which they have participated.
The shooting sports have existed in Puerto Rico since the Spanish era, but it was originally restricted to the military. In the late 19th century, civilians were allowed to enter the competitions. It was the first sport in which Puerto Rico won international medals and the list has since grown in other tournaments and competitions at the international level. Archery has also been included in university sports and competitors have also won awards at the international level.
One of the most popular sports among the Puerto Rico public is boxing. The sport has been around since Spanish times, though it was then illegal. It was not until 1927 that boxing matches were legalized and formally regulated. Puerto Rico has won six Olympic medals in the sport, as well as numerous medals in the Central American and Pan-American Games. Puerto Rico also has several champions and three-time champions in various divisions in the sport.
Another sport with an international presence is swimming. In Puerto Rico, which is an island, after all, the sport is a common recreational activity. The best known competition was the race across San Juan Bay from Cataño to San Juan. The construction of swimming pools in the 1920s and 1930s encouraged competition in the sport. In the 1940s, the Puerto Rico Swimming Association was created, the basis for the Swimming Federation of today that is affiliated with the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee. Swimmers began their participation in international games at the Fourth Central American and Caribbean Games in Panama (1938). In addition to short and long races, synchronized swimming and diving are also practiced in Puerto Rico and competitors in these sports have competed in international competitions.
Water polo was first played in 1938, in an improvised manner, because three teams were needed and there were only two. A team was formed from tennis and basketball players who knew how to swim. The sport later reappeared at the Tenth Central American Games in San Juan. Water polo has not always been represented among the sports in which international delegations have competed, but competitors have won awards on various occasions.
Track and field, which includes sprint, long-distance and medium-distance races, race walking, cross-country running, hurdles, relays, shot put, pole vaulting, and combined trials (triathlon, pentathlon and decathlon), is the sport in which Puerto Rico has won the most medals at the international level.
After the Interschool Athletic Association was created in the early 20th century, sports were regulated, competitions between schools were organized, and students were encouraged to learn sports. After university athletes were incorporated in 1929, the association became known as the Inter-University Athletic League (LAI for its Spanish acronym). In the late 1920s, two new sports clubs were formed: the Olympic Club in San Juan, organized by Julio Francis Edward, and the Ponce Athletic Club, founded by Julio Enrique Monagas. These organizations adopted the English system along with the metric system for measuring events.
Four track and field athletes from Puerto Rico entered the Second Central American and Caribbean Games, along with members of the 65th Infantry Regiment representing shooting sports and tennis. This was the launch pad for participation by Puerto Ricans in other international competitions: the Central American, Pan-American, World and Olympic Games.
The most victories have occurred in the Central American and Caribbean Games, followed by the Pan-American Games. Women’s track and field has been outstanding since its first participation in international games, as evidenced by the gold medal won by Rebekah Colberg in discus and javelin at the Fourth Central American and Caribbean Games (1938) in Panama. Medium-distance running has been the area where the women have had the most success, however.
Tennis was also introduced by people from the United States who also formed the Anglo-American Club. Governor Theodore Roosevelt, an enthusiast of the sport, led a delegation from Puerto Rico to the Second Central American Games. At the Fourth Central American Games (Panama 1938), the island athletes achieved their first international success by winning a silver medal in doubles. A standout in women’s tennis in Puerto Rico is the inclusion in the Hall of Fame of Gigi Fernández, along with her doubles partner, Natasha Zvereva.
In 1920, the first judo match was held in Puerto Rico. Enrique González faced Harold King, but the results are unknown, because at that time the competitions were not formalized. True development of judo on the island occurred in the 1960s, when M. Benítez, Ricardo Paraños, Jesús Alvariño and Otto Brito arrived from Cuba and were able to get judo included in the Tenth Central American and Caribbean Games.
This group of Cuban judo competitors began giving classes in Old San Juan. They were joined soon after by their teacher, Masayuki Takahama, 8th Dan, who was responsible for preparing the judo group that represented the island in 1976 at the competitions in Montreal, Canada.
In 1962, the Judo Federation was founded. Today, it is part of the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee. Puerto Rican judo athletes have won numerous medals and recognition at the international level, so much so that in 1983 Puerto Rico (Mayagüez) was the site of the World Judo Championship. As in other sports, women have also been equally recognized in medal rounds of international competitions.
Weightlifting is another sport where Puerto Ricans have found success in international competitions, above all at the Central American and Caribbean Games. Puerto Rico has participated since the games in Panama (1938). The Weightlifting Federation is affiliated with the International Weightlifting Federation and the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee.
Many sports are played today on the island. Athletes from various sporting disciplines have achieved success in international competitions, winning multiple medals. Racing horse, paso fino, and equestrian competitions are among the favorites. Others sports are: bowling, table tennis, tae kwon do, karate-do, wrestling, fencing, gymnastics, cycling, rowing, triathlon, pentathlon, golf, sailing, sport fishing, chess and racquetball, among others, Puerto Rico is tenth in the medal standings of the Pan-American Games and is fifth in the Central American Games.
Huyke, Emilio. Colección Puertorriqueña: Los deportes en Puerto Rico. Sharon, Conneticut: Troutman Press, 1968.
Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico, Deportes, Jorge Colón. Puerto Rico: Scholastic Inc. 2004.
Uriarte, Carlos. 80 años de acción y pasión: Puerto Rico en los Juegos Centroamericanos y del Caribe 1930-2010, 2010.
Irizarry Rodríguez, Reynaldo. Crónicas del deporte de tiro al blanco puertorriqueño 1896-1993. Publicación Independiente, 1993.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: August 29, 2014.