My first sports feature article was published today. “First” sounds really optimistic; I’m not that sure if there’s going to be a second or a third since I’m really not into sports. But, being a mother, I have a soft spot for kids and I was really gung-ho on writing this story about kids reaching for their dreams despite the financial handicap.
Read the full text in the Sports section of Manila Standard Today. The article will ve reproduced here later with photos that I took during the interview.
The full article is below, as published in Manila Standard Today. The print version carried one photo which is not in the online version. Included in this reproduction are some of the photos I took on the day of the interviews.
WHEN the idea of writing an article about Centro Atletico first came up, the original plan was to post it in my Web log. But as things turned out, the story deserves more exposure and attention than my Web log can offer. Hence, I decided to submit it to Standard Today.
But, first, for the sake of complete transparency, let me state that a cousin and her husband, Rinna and Luis Abad Santos, are part owners of Centro Atletico and that I used to own membership shares in it.
This article, however, is NOT about Centro Atletico but about the children and teeners who train there to compete in badminton tournaments. This is about youthful dreams and the people who help youngsters make their dreams come true. If you’re one of those who literally get sick from reading about the muck in politics day in and day out, stick it out until the last word of the article because I’m going to tell you about simple dreams that will inspire even the cynics.
The story began almost 30 years ago with a young ballboy called Badong on the courts of the Manila Polo Club. Young Badong did not pick up balls for sports. He needed the money. When the courts were unoccupied, he would hit balls with his fellow ballboys and, later on, he would become a “palo boy.” Raw talent always get noticed and the case of young Badong was no exception. From such humble beginnings, Salvador “Badong” Banquiles would become a member of national badminton team during the heyday of the Gintong Alay program.
Almost 30 years later, the fire of competition and the glow of victory still shone in Badong’s eyes. Sitting across the table from me, he talked about how he won the national championship from 1988 to the first half of 1990 and how, in 1987, the Philippine national badminton team brought home a bronze medal from the Southeast Asian Games. He also talked about how he became a member of the Philippine National Police because it was the practice during the Gintong Alay years to draft promising athletes to the force to qualify for training and stipends. Gintong Alay ended, but Badong’s love affair with badminton continued. In the post-Gintong Alay years, Badong coached the badminton teams of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila and led them to many victories. He also coached part-time at Valle Verde. Among those he trained there were my cousin, Rinna, and her future husband, Luis. Today, Badong trains children and teenagers when he is off-duty.
As a member of the PNP, Badong played and did some coaching on the Camp Crame courts. From the sidelines, some youngsters, most of them children of policemen, policewomen and civilian employees at Camp Crame, would watch and daydream about playing badminton. These youngsters would go through a path similar to the one that Badong trekked all those years ago. They would pick up balls as the more affluent players trained. They would learn to hit the shuttlecocks when the courts were empty. Then, after some time, as it was with Badong, talent would get noticed.
When Badong joined Centro Atletico, he brought a few of these youngsters with him. The number has grown since. Because their families cannot afford the training expenses, these youngsters receive for free the same training offered to those who can afford to pay for it. In addition, they get free uniforms, free equipment, and free use of the facilities at Centro Atletico. Officially, they compete as Centro Atletico talents.
One of these talents is Gelita Castilo (below, in action), the daughter of a retired policeman and a sixth grader at the Doña Josefa E. Marcos Elementary School. She lives in the police quarters beside the badminton courts in Camp Crame designated as “Stall 32.” It was from there that she watched other children play and train, and daydreamed about playing badminton herself.
Two years of training and Gelita has collected enough prize money that should take care of her first year in college. Her most recent victories include winning as Girl’s Singles Elementary runner-up and Mixed Doubles Elementary champion in the 2006 Palarong Pambansa. In the 2006 JVC Juniors Badminton Tournament, she won the championship in both the Girls’ Singles 12-and-under, and the Girls’ Singles 14-and-under. She was also half of the duo that captured the Girl’s Doubles 12-and-under championship.
Ten-year-old Prince Joshua Monterubio, the son of a policeman and a policewoman, is the 2006 Kidsmash Boys’ Doubles champion. During the 2006 JVC Juniors Badminton Tournament, he was the Boys’ Doubles 10-and-under champion, and Boys’ Singles 10-and-under bronze medalist.
Eleven-year-old John Kenneth Monterubio, whose parents are both members of the police force, is the 2006 Palarong Pambansa Boys’ Doubles bronze medalist and the 2006 JVC Juniors Badminton Tournament’s Boys’ Doubles 12-and-under champion.
Thirteen-year-old Jessalam Sampurna, daughter of a policeman, was the first runner-up in the Girls’ Doubles 14-and-under, and second runner-up in the Girls’ Singles 14-and-under during the 2006 JVC Juniors Badminton Tournament. She was also a runner-up in last two Palarong Pambansa.
I talked to some of the Centro Atletico kids. I wanted to hear from them what it is about badminton that keeps them glued to the sport. The training schedule is no joke. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays after school and one day during the weekend. It’s enough to screw any child’s normal playtime. What is it, then, that makes these kids follow their training schedule religiously?
Gelita (below, right) does not dream of becoming a professional athlete–she dreams of becoming a nurse. She plays badminton because it is fun and because it allows her to be with friends and to make friends in a healthy and safe environment. Although she has won more rackets and shoes in prizes than she can use, she hasn’t given them away but keeps them as mementos, and she holds on to her cash prizes to prepare for college.
Unlike Gelita, Jessalam (above, left) intends to play badminton professionally. She entertains ideas of coaching kids later on when her competitive years are over.
The interests of Jan Banquiles (below, left), coach Badong’s 12-year-old son who trains with the rest, goes beyond badminton. He enjoys performing in stage plays, he sings and dances, and enjoys baking. He swims, and he plays soccer and volleyball.
(Carl Kristian Clemente, or CK, is on the right photo above)
In other words, these are regular kids that I talked to. I saw none of the telltale signs that often afflict young talents–that of being driven to succeed by stageparents anxious to turn them into meal tickets. They play and train for the love of the game, for the camaraderie and for the chance to excel in a sport that they enjoy and have the talent for.
But they also play to win. They know the difference between playing as part of horseplay and playing on competition level. Of course, the pressure gets to them, too. But, unlike most adults, they recover from the hurt and the disappointment fast. Rinna described how the younger ones would cry after losing or after very hard-fought games. But, after an hour or so, they would be running around, playing and roughing it up just like most kids their age. And when the next tournament comes along, they would be ready and quite oblivious to previous disappointments. That really warmed my heart.
As I wrapped up the interviews, I could only wish that these kids would have at least half the opportunities that future professional basketball players get. Despite the popularity of badminton during the last few years, young badminton talents do not generate the same interest and attention showered on future basketball professionals. Athletic scholarships are rare, if not completely unheard of, for budding badminton players in the Philippines. A few generous souls have donated to the Centro kids’ training in the past but not the kind that will ensure continuous training for this batch and for batches of future talents.
And much as the idea sounds good, Centro Atletico cannot keep adding to its stable of talents and offer free training infinitely. My cousin, Rinna, doubles as canteen concessionaire while keeping an active interior design career. Her husband Luis, the full-time manager of Centro Atletico, doubles as part-time badminton trainer. They serve as drivers, yayas and chaperones, along with Coach Badong, when the kids compete. Yet, they persevere because they believe that they are helping these children realize their dreams. Not that Centro Atletico does not benefit from it all. These children, and their successes, are walking and talking endorsements for Centro Atletico. Between these indirect and still unquantifiable benefits, the kids’ accomplishments and their personal pride in their contribution to teach these kids to believe in themselves, there is more than enough to compensate for the long hours and all the hard work.
As I write this article, I can still hear Gelita’s and Jessalam’s giggles, I can still see Jan’s smile, I can still hear the pride in Rinna’s voice and the passion in coach Badong as he talks about the sport that he loves so well. Many dreams have already been fulfilled. Still, I wish that many more will be for these kids and for the ones who will come after them.[tags]Philippines, Philippines+sports, badminton, Centro+Atletico[/tags]