Andre Berto seeks to rebuild school in Haiti
Andre Berto was preparing for the fight of his life when the greatest disaster of his life hit.
The World Boxing Council welterweight champion boxer from South Florida was 18 days away from a title showdown against Pomona's Shane Mosley when the major earthquake struck Haiti, the homeland of Berto's parents and a place where his sister and several family members resided.
He'd learn in the following days that his uncle, Jean-Pierre Berto, a tire shop owner near Port-au-Prince, had been crushed to death inside his home along with seven family members, including Jean-Pierre's 3-year-old son.
"Every time we'd go down and visit Haiti, we'd visit their home," Berto said.
After enduring two days without word from his sister, Berto opted to withdraw from the Mosley fight and scheduled a trek to tour the country he represented in the 2004 Olympics. At least 170,000 are dead and 1.5 million homeless, according to news reports.
"The conditions are ... every other building is crushed, it's like a big bomb went off," Berto said after surveying the damage last week. "Still, people are adapting quickly, putting up tents to sleep in, with the women cooking food for everyone in big pots. But it's rough."
Berto has united with Westmark School, a grades 3-12 school in Encino, to help rebuild a school in Haiti. He'll appear on the Westmark campus Thursday to discuss the Haiti tragedy and how help can be provided.
"We're trying to bring them some organization, to put together a game plan to help the Haitians," Berto said. "It'll be great, there's so much work that needs to be done."
Berto has long supported the country, shipping an estimated 10,000 pairs of shoes, sponsoring orphanages and schools. "Some of those schools and orphanages are now crushed," he said.
Now that he's visited Haiti, Berto is looking forward to resuming his boxing career.
As Mosley has moved on to a May 1 date against Floyd Mayweather Jr., Berto will choose from a field that could include Paulie Malignaggi, Ricky Hatton or anyone else his promoter, Lou DiBella, can find. Berto said he could fight again in April.
"I want to give the fans an exciting fight," he said. "The plan is to fight in [Madison Square] Garden or in [Miami's] American Airlines Arena, where there are big Haitian populations. We need to do as much as we can for them."
-- Lance Pugmire
Photo: Shane Mosley, left, and Andre Berto pose after their news conference at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino on Nov. 14, 2009 in Las Vegas. Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images.