Rick Mauch - Special Contributor
While sophomore Cleyder Blanco loves Weatherford College and basketball, she was nonetheless a little lonely last season. But it wasn’t anything a little salsa music and a good friend couldn’t fix.
Being from Venezuela, adjusting to life in a new place and learning a new language was, as may be expected, a challenge for Blanco. The same was true for her good friend Waleska Perez, a fellow Venezuelan who was playing for New Mexico Junior College, last year.
Problem was, WC had no scholarship to offer Waleska. Not last season, anyway. Once one became available, Blanco wasted no time in telling Perez.
“We became friends when we played together on the national team in Venezuela for three years,” Blanco said. “We stayed in touch, even though she was in New Mexico and I was here. She’s always on Facebook.”
Perez, of course, made a beeline for Weatherford to become her friend’s teammate.
“Weatherford was a better fit for me because Cley was here,” said Perez. “I was very lonely there, not being able to speak much English.”
“It really is hard trying to fit in when you’re learning a new culture, new language, a new world really,” Blanco added, “But we both have basketball, it’s the same in the whole — an equalizer.
“And coach (Bob McKinley) really cares about his international players. He makes us feel at home.”
Blanco said she is the first female Venezuelan basketball player at WC, and while she is flattered to be a groundbreaker, she was very happy when Perez arrived on campus. Not only was she happy to have a new teammate from her home country, she also had a new dance partner.
“Here in America we can’t find a salsa-music club,” said Blanco.
“So we dance in the dorm,” Perez chimed in.
Sometimes they invite the only guy in the Coyotes men’s program from Venezuela, freshman Drexler Mejias.
“We did a lot of salsa dancing back home,” Perez said.
“That and go to the beach,” said Blanco.
This is actually Blanco’s second trip through American college basketball. She played at a junior college in Kansas in 2008, she said, but went back to Venezuela after injuring her knee.
“The doctor told me I couldn’t play, but I worked out every day and was determined,” she said. “My doctor in Venezuela was very good. I’m back and I’m fine now.”
The girls have not decided where they will go after this season. Blanco would like to play somewhere in Florida, as she is in love with the state. Her favorite TV show is “CSI: Miami.”
Perez is not sure where she’d like to go, but both are certain they want to continue playing.
Blanco is a criminal justice major and Perez is majoring in kinesiology. And they both want to play basketball as long as they can.
They admit they will each miss WC and, for the most part, Texas, with one exception. The weather.
“Here, everything is too hot or too cold,” said Blanco.
“A good reason to be basketball players,” Perez counters.