Urgent: 6 plane tickets for Philippine champs
Softball may not have turned Glesyl Opjer and Gene Joy Parilla into sports idols just yet. But they took up the game for reasons other than to gain fans.
“This is the only way for me to finish schooling. If we stay in the province, our parents can’t afford it. That’s why I go to training every day so I could continue my studies,” said Opjer, 18, an auto mechanic’s daughter from Bacolod City, who is taking up a course in education at Adamson University.
“This sport enabled me to pursue my studies. I have to balance my studies and my game,” said lead batter Parilla, also 18, a Cagayan de Oro native whose father works as a company driver.
The sport that has earned Opjer and Parilla scholarships is not exactly a craze in a nation eternally in love with basketball, agog over boxing, and, lately, infatuated with football.
Still, even without a hometown fan base to speak of, Glesyl, Gene Joy and the rest of the 12-member Philippine youth softball national team recently won the Asia-Pacific championships and had consistently logged runner-up finishes in the World Series.
They have gotten that far even with zero funding from the government.
The Philippine youth team is now scrambling for funds in its bid for the Little League World Series in Michigan next week, where the girls hope to improve on their second-place finish last year.
The Filipinos will represent the Asia-Pacific region in matches scheduled from Aug. 4 to 10 against nine other regional teams, including Latin America, Europe, Canada and the US.
For the past few months, the girls have been steeling body and mind—staying away from chocolates and soda, even avoiding distractions like Facebook—for this year’s world championships in the United States.
Early this week, however, the girls were still not sure whether they could actually make it in time to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Money for the plane tickets comes in trickles.
“They love the game, they want to travel to the United States, they want to live their dreams, they want to make it to the World Series,” said coach Randy Dizer.
“It’s all about pride. It’s their whole life. Most of them come from poor families and it’s their way out of poverty,” he added.
“We’re the Asian champions. This is where we have a chance. This is the sport that should get support,” Dizer told the Inquirer on the bleachers of Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium in Manila, where the girls warmed up for practice amid heavy rains dumped by Tropical Storm “Juaning” on Tuesday.
Under President Aquino support cut
“I really cannot understand why we’re representing Asia-Pacific. We’re not even sure if we’ll be able to go because we don’t have support,” Dizer said.
Donations from private citizens have been few and far between, and the team still needs to raise funds for six more roundtrip tickets (at around $2,000 each) for the entire Philippine delegation, including the 12 players, three coaches and two officials.
For now, the team would be counting on the support of the Filipino community in America to provide lodgings for the girls, as their kababayans did when the team competed in last year’s World Series.
Dizer said the team used to receive funding from the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), but it was discontinued under the Aquino administration.
“Actually, the PSC declined, Pagcor declined, PCSO, they all declined. They are saying they don’t have the budget for it. But that’s understandable because, right now, PSC’s policy is to support the national men’s and women’s teams of all national sports associations,” Dizer said.
Exposure for future
The youth team, which will compete in the 16-18 age group, is separate from the national women’s softball team, a.k.a. the Blu Girls, which has players ages 19 and up, the coach said. The latter team is training for a regional tournament this weekend.
“But isn’t the youth the future? They’ll eventually become the national team and this is the exposure they need. This is the World Series. This is the highest tournament level for softball for age 18 and under,” he explained.
Despite the uncertainties, the team has been training for the Michigan games by making do with mended, worn-out balls and using old tires for batting practice. Whenever other athletes use the field at Rizal Memorial, the girls do their runs on concrete under the glaring sun.
“It’s hard because (the foreign teams) are big and strong. But once we get ahead of them, we’re OK,” said Cindy Carol Banay, the shortstop from Bacolod and also an Adamson scholar.
“We’ve been practicing really hard even on weekends, even if some of us have classes. We wake up at 4:30 a.m. every Saturday to run along Manila Bay,” said 18-year-old Laura Victoria Lehmann, who also played in the International Little League of Manila.
For the flag
To stay focused, the girls said, they try to keep their minds off the team’s financial problem—and instead look at it as part of their motivation to bring home the title against all odds.
“I told my kids, ‘Look, what we’ll do is prove them wrong,’” Dizer said. “We return home as World Series champions, and they’ll start taking care of us.”
Lehmann shared her coach’s confidence: “The Philippine team has been a runner-up in tournaments before so I think we really have a good chance this year.
“And it’s a shame that we can’t get as much funding as we’d like to. If we did, we’d be able to make the country proud. We’re not playing for ourselves. We have the flag on our jersey,” she said.
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