By Airnel T. Abarra, Ateneo de Davao University
Being inside a Jesuit University, we at the Ateneo de Davao University Athletics office are always reminded by our University President Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ to follow the request of His Holiness Pope Francis to go in the “Peripheries.” In the sport that I am coaching, it is known how Athletics or Track and Field is the sport that is given less attention in the Philippines as far as funding, media exposure, and crowd following are concerned. Compared with ball sports in our country, there are a few events in our country that showcase the talents of our Track and Field athletes. That’s why when I learned about the 2015 Philippine National Open Athletics Championships, I rushed to the Laguna Sports Complex in Sta. Cruz, Laguna to network with athletes, coaches, and officials in Philippine Athletics. This is also the best time to gauge how an Athletics meet is done on a national scale and what lessons one can learn in doing such programs.
I went to Sta. Cruz as an independent media, being also a blogger of www.pinoyathletics.info. Upon getting my ID, I went to do the coverage of the said event. During the whole tournament, I’ve seen how Fil-Heritage athletes, commonly known as Fil-Ams, excelled, such as thrower Caleb Stuart, who won all his events in throwing. In Running, Isang Smith, Jessica Barnard, and Brandon Thomas all excelled in their respective track events, while Donovan Grant had the same fate in Long Jump. It is clearly seen how our homegrown athletes are challenged by those who were born, raised, and trained in first-world countries like the United States.
The influx of Fil-Heritage athletes in our country is a reflection on how our state and our society look Track and Field as a sport. Few people choose this sport for their children and only those who prefer it are coming from the provinces with humble socio-economic status. We can count only with our fingers the events and tournaments that are solely for Athletics: Palarong Pambansa, Philippine National Games, and National Open. They have been institutions in the sport program, but given their classical structure, they do not cater much to all those who want participate especially those in the grassroots level, because they just happen once every year.
Comparing on what the structure of track and field programs in first world countries, they excel because they have more localized meets, which are joined by athletes from different clubs and organizations. Those localized meets serve as the base of higher events that will lead to the selection of players. The National Open that I witnessed in Laguna still needs to be promoted further. There should be meets in different cities which are sustainable and doesn’t depend on the bureaucracy in order to run.
Still during the National Open, I have seen local athletes that have continued the legacy of our track stars, such as Lydia De Vega-Mercado and Elma Muros-Posadas. Marestella Torres and Katherine Khay Santos could be a great start towards our aspirations to get Philippines back on Asian Athletics map. I’ve talked to Khay Santos and told her about the monthly track meet and other events in Ateneo de Davao. Seeing this lady’s talent and good character, she can be the rising star and poster girl in Philippine Athletics. One thing that Philippine Athletics needs is character athletes and coaches. I am hopeful that by bringing these athletes closer to different groups and providing them avenues of learning experience outside their field, they can represent the sport more. Promising athletes, such as 100-meter juniors winner Eloiza Luzon from Bukidnon and Sonny Wagdos from Davao, can be trained further and better if we create an extensive program for our homegrown athletes.
After the tournament, I had a good conversation with Isang Smith and opened the possibilities of collaboration for a sustainable localized Athletics meet in Davao. This in relation in the vision of making athletes empowered by communicating to them and exploring possibilities for collaborations.
To wrap-up my experience in the National Open, it is clearly seen that in order to raise the standards in Philippine Athletics, we must give better learning opportunities for our homegrown athletes and coaches. Expatriate athletes are also needed so that they can really boost the level of competition. In order to do that, Philippine Athletics events should be scattered to different parts of the Philippines, localize meets, and leaders and policy makers should really go to the peripheries.
AIRNEL T. ABARRA is the Head of the Track and Field Program at Ateneo de Davao University. He is formerly from UP College of Human Kinetics and also a sport sociologist.