Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fair Play: Big Jack and the Don Bosco sweep

IT’S been a while since I last saw a local football match and I finally got to end that streak when I caught a few matches in the Milo Little Olympics.

And the first thing that came to mind during the games? My former boss Jack Biantan, who was both figuratively and literally a huge presence in local football.

Back when I was still starting as a sports reporter and whenever I wanted to get the names of the players who scored or who I wanted to include my stories, I always turned to Jack, the walking local football encyclopedia.

My first introduction to Jack was about two weeks into the job, when I saw this behemoth of a man step on the field to stop a brawl. It was a heated Men’s Open match featuring Mabolo de Sopicones and one other team I’ve forgotten when two players got rather intimate and were doing a poor version of Tyson vs. Holyfield.

Then, from out of nowhere, you could hear a booming voice. “UNSA MAN MO DIRA? MGA ISUG MO? DALI MO DIRI, SUKOL MO NAKO?”

And when Jack yells, he can really yell. But that’s not why I was reminded of Jack.

Back then, whenever I asked him about a player, he always had a tidbit to share “Sus, sa una pa gyud na sya si-aw muduwa” since he’d seen most of the Cebuano footballers develop from youth division players to Men’s Open regulars.

“Gagmay pa ni sila sa una, karun, gagmay ra gyapun,” was his standard line.

And when I saw Don Bosco whip USC in the high school semifinals, I recognized some of the players I covered since they were routing their foes in elementary, guys like Valentino Calvo, Junjay Arizabal and Christian Agot. It was easy to spot Calvo during their elementary days because of his hair, now it’s even easier as he is the tallest guy on the team.

Like Jack, I’ve seen them grow from elementary players to the skilled young players they are now. But fortunately, unlike Jack, I’ve stayed on the south side of 200 pounds.

When I covered them in elementary, I think two or three other schools could give them a run for their money, but in the Milo Little Olympics? They were simply a class above. They didn’t just boot out the other top teams, they simply outclassed them, winning 8-0, against Mandaue Technical Institute, a team made up of the pioneer Canduman boys, and 4-1 against Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu, which booted out Paref-Springdale in its first game.

Though like the other top teams, DBC got excellent coaches, it is in its student population that it has the advantage. While Paref-Springdale coach Mario Ceniza had to deal with manpower problems as most of his high school squad left for the World Youth Day, in a set up like DBC’s, such shortage could be filled up easily.

Eric Nacorda, a DBC supporter, told me in an earlier conversation that it’s because “football is embedded in the PE curriculum and that gives the program a large base of players to develop and discover. Football basics are introduced in Grade 1, futsal is included in the PE subjects, and the football intramurals is year-round.”

And the 6-1 victory of DBC’s elementary team over Canduman punctuated that gradual development of the youngsters.

Yep, I’m sure Big Jack, an avid DBC supporter, would have been elated by the two teams’ success. But I’m also pretty sure he’d be happy that Francis Ramirez’s Abellana National School and Jun Santillan’s Canduman Elementary School made it to the finals, too.

ANS and CES don’t enjoy the same support as DBC has and I think without the two coaches, they won’t have any football programs at all.

But despite those obstacles, they are still competing with schools like DBC, Springdale and Sacred Heart.

Congratulations, of course, to DBC for sweeping the Visayas titles and I wish it does the same in the national finals in October. Of course, congratulations too, to Big Jack for turning 44 and I wish him more birthdays to come.

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