A â€˜GHETTO kidâ€™ from Guyana, a Colombian security guard discovered on the street and a Uruguayan boy prepared to drive 1000km to recreate his fatherâ€™s dream are all set to benefit from a ground-breaking deal.
Guzman y Gomez Mexican TaquerÃa (or GYG as regulars call it!), one of Australiaâ€™s fastest growing restaurant identities, has today agreed to become naming rights and jersey sponsor of Latin Heat Rugby League.
As a result the Guzman y Gomez Latin Heat becomes a viable proposition in providing international rugby league opportunities and a development pathway for those of Latin heritage.
Until now Latin America has been the only occupied continent without a regular avenue for rugby league representation.
The backing of GYG, which has opened 29 restaurants in five Australian states since 2006, dovetails perfectly with the ambitious and community-minded nature of the Latin Heat squad.
â€œOur entire charter is about promoting cross-cultural appreciation,â€ says Latin Heat founder Robert Burgin.
â€œThrough rugby league we hope to display some of the well-known passion, flair and vibrancy of Latinos, while providing a welcoming environment to try one of Australiaâ€™s most dynamic sports.
â€œWe cater for players of all abilities and are a not-for-profit operation that does not charge coaching or uniform fees.
â€œItâ€™s a case of â€˜bring your boots, bring your mouthguard, and show some spiritâ€™ and weâ€™ll find you a spot.â€
An inaugural 13-man Guzman y Gomez Latin Heat squad has today been announced (bios pages 3-4) for the Wests Mitchelton Nines tournament on Saturday, September 21 in Brisbane.
The team contains many amazing personal tales of adventure and endeavour for players to reach a position where they can now play rugby league in Australia.
GYG founder Steven Marks said he was excited by the prospect of backing a project which mirrored many of the motivating factors behind his own venture.
â€œWhat started as a dream has now reached a point where we employ over 900 crew, all incredibly talented and all from diverse backgrounds, united in sharing GYGâ€™s passion for Latin culture,â€ said Marks.
â€œWeâ€™re very proud to be on board with Latin Heat Rugby League and to share that enthusiasm for promoting Latin culture to Australians and the world.â€
Tomorrow (Monday, September 16) signifies Mexican Independence Day and GYG restaurants across Australia will donate $1 from every burrito or burrito bowl to their chosen charity, MisiÃ³n Mexico.
Dedicated to providing a safe and loving home to children of all ages, MisiÃ³n Mexico takes in the orphaned, neglected and abandoned.
Meanwhile, the partnership with GYG caps a whirlwind few weeks for the Latin Heat, having scouted and assembled a team, organised the teamâ€™s debut uniforms and settled on a logo.
As it stands the Guzman y Gomez Latin Heat squad has players from right across the Latin American spectrumâ€“ and is always on the lookout for more talent.
The Heat has been actively recruiting at recent Latin American festivals and market days in Australia, welcoming interested newcomers to the game, along with those already boasting experience.
Beyond the Mitchelton Nines tournament, the Heat is targeting exhibition matches against other developing rugby league nations such as Thailand and Portugal.
The Heat will also accept an invitation to participate in the prestigious and highly diverse Cabramatta Nines in Sydney next February.
INAUGURAL GYG LATIN HEAT SQUAD 2013
Daniel SARMIENTO Â© Colombia Lives Petrie, QLD
Born in Bogota, Colombia, Daniel is a vital member of the squad both on and off the field. Chief playmaker for the Latin Heat, Daniel also works as a development officer for the National Rugby League (NRL). He has previously played rugby union for the Pine Rivers Pumas.
Kevin MCKENZIE Guyana Lives Caloundra, QLD
The most experienced member in the squad and arguably the best rugby league player to come out of South America, McKenzie features for Sunshine Coast in the Intrust Super Cup. From humble beginnings, he has represented Guyana at the Commonwealth Games and IRB Sevens.
Ben VENGOA Chile Lives Redcliffe, QLD
Another squad player with vast experience, Ben is currently with the famous Redcliffe Dolphins club. He represented NSW Combined Catholic Colleges as a teen and has played for Newtown and Windsor in Sydney. Also sponsors the Latin Heat via his business Plus Fitness Morayfield.
Brenden VENGOA Chile Lives Redcliffe, QLD
Twin of Ben, Brenden brings the ability to play up the middle or on the fringes. The former NSW Schoolboys rep has long dreamt of honouring his familyâ€™s Chilean heritage, but thought the opportunity would never arrive. Works as a barman at Redcliffe Leagues Club.
Leighton JOHANNESEN Colombia Lives Bundaberg, QLD
A man with an amazing life story, Johannesen was born to Gin Gin sugar cane farmers who became Colombian missionaries. His parents still work in Valle Del Cauca, Colombia today. Now a forward with Bundaberg Brothers, Leighton was once a goalkeeper for Colombian football club La Cortulua.
Diego Lopez PINTO Colombia Lives Southbank, QLD
Literally picked up off the street, Diego was spotted by team management working as a security guard in Brisbaneâ€™s Queen Street Mall. From a baseball background, the Bogota native is one of the teamâ€™s most enthusiastic members and will be playing rugby league for the first time.
Juan SOSA Argentina Lives Wooloongabba, QLD
An Argentinian who grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Juan speaks both fluent Spanish and Portuguese. He has a strong background playing as a prop in rugby union, representing University de Cuyo and Club Banco de la Nacion in the famous wine-producing area of Mendoza, at the foot of the Andes.
Franklin LOPEZ Nicaragua/Costa Rica Lives Carseldine, QLD
Born in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose to parents both of Nicaraguan nationality, Franklin adds further cultural flavour to the team. Now an employee of Queensland Police, strongly-built Franklin began playing rugby league as a high school student in Sydney.
Josh GADEA-HELLYER Uruguay Lives Casula, NSW
Another amazing story, Joshâ€™s father left Montevideo by boat in 1974, searching for a better life. It took him six months to arrive in Australia. Set to play the vital role of hooker, the Cabramatta junior is embarking on his own pilgrimage, travelling to Brisbane by car to proudly represent his heritage.
Peter HUNT Uruguay Lives Casula, NSW
Also making the long trip north from Sydney, Hunt has a Uruguayan father and Hungarian mother. Huntâ€™s grandfather Hugo Huezo was brought to Australia to work as a helicopter engineer for the Australian Defence Force. A utility forward and half, Peter plays for Valley United Spartans.
Fernando VILLEGAS Colombia Lives Annerley, QLD
A laboratory worker who has grown to love rugby league via touch football, Fernando will be playing his first match under full tackle rules. Like several others in the squad, Fernando hails from the Colombian capital Bogota, known for its universities and libraries as the â€˜Athens of South Americaâ€™.
Alex MORENO Colombia Lives Petrie, QLD
In an eclectic life, Alex has been to military school in Colombia, studied accounting in Boston, USA, and now works for a car rental company at Brisbane Airport. He is a regular rugby league player for the Pine Rivers Bears and plays touch football in the Redcliffe competition.
Jonathan ESPINOZA Nicaragua/Chile Lives Greenslopes, QLD
Big bopper Jonathan studies marketing by day at Griffith University and works as a bouncer by night. A player in Queenslandâ€™s University Rugby League, he was born to a Nicaraguan father and Chilean mother. Along his travels, he has previously played rugby union in Tasmania.
Alejandro Zota BALVIN Colombia Lives Brisbane City, QLD
Adding speed out wide, Alejandro is new to Brisbane after studying at Bond University on the Gold Coast. Prior to that he was in Medellin, Colombia – once known as the most violent city in the world. Alejandro is one of the favourites to become the first try-scorer in Latin Heat history.