Friday, December 30, 2011

Fair Play: A few of my favorite 2011 stories

(This is a draft of my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Dec. 31 issue)
TWO of my most favorite athletes did well in 2011 and I couldn’t be more happy for them. Knowing how hard these folks work to get to where they are, I’m glad that their hard work resulted to big pay days for them.

One of my most favorite boxers of all time is Donnie Nietes and  this year the guy who’s used to be known for bringing his pet snake with him on the ring finally accomplished a rare feat—winning his second world title in a second world division.

What I like most about Donnie is not just his skills on the ring, it’s his demeanor off it. This humble former janitor turned world champion doesn’t have the air that some athletes sadly develop once they get to the limelight and I hope Donnie continues that way.

My favorite Nietes tale happened in 2007, hours after he won his first world title with a unanimous decision win over Pornsawan Porpramook on Sept. 30 at the Waterfront Hotel and Casino in Lahug.

And during a post-match gathering, I saw ALA himself, sporting a grin that mirrors that of a lotto winner, approaching Donnie. He held Donnie’s face with both hands, and the two were lost in a conversation only they could hear amidst a gathering of supporters and family, and the boxing patriarch hugged his boxing ward the way any proud father would his son.

It was also at that time that I learned Donnie was a former janitor and I thought at that moment if Donnie ever dreamed of getting to that point when he traded his cleaning tools for boxing gloves.

To Donnie and ALA, stay foolish, stay humble.

Back in 2009,  I got to interview the winner of the Sinulog 21K.

She was small, I tell you but one thing I noticed about Mary Grace delos Santos in the Sinulog run, and in the previous four runs she joined in Cebu, was how she blew away the competition.

I wrote a few running stories before that and I always noticed how the top three in the women’s division never changed but when she came along? They couldn’t keep up with her.

In that Sinulog Run, it was only because of the generosity of a foreigner that Grace got to join the event. I remember her saying that the foreigner paid for her and coach Sherwin Managuil’s boatfare from Cagayan, so they could join the Sinulog Run.

Now, the former new face in the Cebu running scene is the latest toast in the national circuit, having won the elite women’s division of the Milo Marathon national finals.

I hope that earns Grace a spot in the Philippine team and I hope she gets to hear the national anthem played when she competes for the country, abroad.

Of course, I can’t end this year without my favorite football story and it involves my friends Graeme Mackinnon and Dan Palami.

At the tail-end of 2010, Graeme was on the outside looking in the Philippine football scene, while Dan was reaping the fruits of a year’s sacrifice for the Azkals.

And just last Feb. 9, Graeme had the worst time of his life in his best time of his life—enduring 120 minutes on his injured knees to cheer for the Azkals at the Panaad Park and Stadium.

Graeme also served as Dan’s escort when the manager was our presidential awardee in the Sportswriters Association of Cebu, and a few months later, I was nursing a hangover when Dan told Graeme:

“I want you to coach Global, Graeme.”

That woke me up and when Dan left for his usual pre-match routine—he doesn’t eat anything on the day of a match—I asked Graeme, “Is he serious?”

Just recently, Graeme also got himself an assistant. Dan fractured his foot and because he can no longer suit up, he will now concentrate as the Global assistant coach.

To Dan and Graeme, I hope 2012 would be a good one for Global, and of course, I hope it will be a great one for all Philippine footie fans.

QOUTE OF THE YEAR. “We are at Plantation Bay!” members of the Philippine national team moments after checking in at Plantation Bay, which had a huge “Welcome Philippine Azkals” sign but whose staff told Sun.Star Cebu, which was denied entry in the hotel, that they were under instructions kuno not to reveal where the Azkals were staying.

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