Puerto Rican basketball player thankful for Liberty’s hurricane relief efforts
When Liberty Flames sophomore point guard Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz, a native of Ponce, Puerto Rico, heard the news that Hurricane Maria was headed toward his homeland, he found it hard to attend classes out of concern for his family and friends in the storm’s path.
“I just tried to communicate with my friends and my parents, and I wasn’t able to,” he said. “It was hard for me to concentrate in school, and my mind wasn’t here at all. I was just worried about my family and friends.”
It was the strongest storm since 1932 to hit the U.S. territory and caused catastrophic damage, so Pacheco-Ortiz was relieved when he finally received word from home.
“I was in class, and my mom texted me, so I was really happy,” he said. “She said, ‘Don’t worry about us. We are fine. Just keep doing schoolwork and focus in practice.’”
Liberty’s Athletics Compliance team received permission from the NCAA and conference office for the university to cover the travel expenses for Jorge Luis Pacheco and Cristina Ortiz to fly from Ponce to Lynchburg, Va., to watch their son play in the Nov. 17-19 Paradise Jam, held in Liberty’s Vines Center. The Liberty Flames Sports Network (LFSN) filmed the family during their visit and interviewed Georgie for its weekly “Game On” television show.
“It was a great feeling; I was a little bit emotional,” Pacheco-Ortiz said of having his parents on hand for the tournament a couple months after not even knowing if they had survived the storms. “[Liberty Men’s Basketball Head Coach Ritchie] McKay and Liberty University just made it happen … and I was very happy.”
The deadly hurricane season was actually the reason the Paradise Jam tournament was played in Lynchburg. It was relocated there from St. Thomas due to the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria throughout the Caribbean. Liberty donated the $15,154 in proceeds from ticket sales and more than 500 items collected at the tournament to humanitarian relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Before the Paradise Jam, Pacheco-Ortiz and his team participated in a fundraising exhibition game at Virginia Commonwealth University on Oct. 26 in Richmond, Va., with proceeds going directly to hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.
“When they told me that we were doing this, it meant a lot to me and my family, my people back home,” Pacheco-Ortiz said in a postgame press conference. “It was great.”
Earlier this month, LU Send Now, Liberty’s disaster relief initiative, sent a team of eight students and two team leaders to Ponce to work alongside Samaritan’s Purse’s International Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). Prior to leaving on the weeklong trip, the team prayed with Pacheco-Ortiz and members of the basketball team and coaching staff. While in Puerto Rico, the team assembled water filters, patched roofs, and led distribution centers in some remote areas.
“There are still a lot of people that don’t have water, don’t have food. If anyone from the States or wherever they’re from can help … we would really appreciate that,” Pacheco-Ortiz said.