Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fair Play: Billiards get a push from DepEd

ABOUT eight years ago, during a press conference for the Sun.Star Superbalita 9-Ball Challenge, top Pinoy pool players Warren Kiamco, Francisco Bustamante and Dodong Andam said the Philippines has lost its edge in the sport and they were hoping one government agency would help in regaining it.

What was the agency?

Not the Philippine Olympic Committee or the Philippine Sports Commission, but the Department of Education. Yep, DepED.

And the players pointed at Chinese Taipei, which at that time, was having quite a run in major tournaments, even having the youngest world 9-Ball champion in the then 15-year-old Wu Chi Ching.  Ching, who eventually moved to China, beat countryman Po Cheng Kou in an all Taiwanese final, heralding the rise of the country as a pool powerhouse.

They said the secret to Taiwan’s success was the inclusion of billiards in their public school system, making the learning of the sport systematic.

In the case of the Philippines, players who learn billiards at a young age are those who skip school a lot, and normally, those who become good at it are those who are no longer at school.

It is something, they wanted to change, hence their hope for billiards to be offered as one of the PE subjects in school, and eventually, to be included in the calendar of events for school meets.

Just imagine, being a varsity billiards player subject to academic requirements?  That changes everything.

However, it was an idea that didn’t go well with the old guards that run school sports.

A few months after that, I asked the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Inc., in another press conference, if they’d be willing to add billiards to their calendar, they actually scoffed at the suggestion and shot it down. Billiards, for them, is better left in the pool halls where delinquent students gamble away their time, allowance and future.

They didn’t realize that they had an opportunity to change that.

A few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised that those in Manila are not as short-sighted and started a tournament for college players, hoping to discover the next pool legends.  You see, there’s an Efren Reyes wannabe in every pool hall, what these guys lack is an avenue to showcase their skills, the college league wanted to change that.

And now, there’s even a greater development.  Billiards, like futsal, is now a demonstration sport in the Palarong Pambansa, a tournament run by DepED. I hope this is the start.

The negative things that has been associated with the sport can be removed once its included in a school-based tournament.

Before, those who want to play it gets admonished, “stop going to the pool halls and stay in school,” with this development it’s now, “If you want to continue playing, do well in school!”

This is a great move by DepEd (and this, I think, is the first time I’ve praised them).

Entities like Cesafi and those who don’t see the potential of billiards should listen to what Alex Pagulayan said in 2005, the time he became the world champion.

A year before, Pagulayan lost in the final to Thorsten Hohmman and he said that was because he didn’t treat it seriously.  He stayed up all night, drinking and was even hung over in the day of the final—the usual stuff we think of pool players.

A year later, he got his acts together and stayed sober and slept early and became a world champion.

And what is that one advice the Lion has for aspiring pool players?

The jokester suddenly turned serious and told Sun.Star Cebu in a 2005 interview, “To focus in this sport is important, but they should never forget that being in school and having the knowledge is more important because it is something that no one else can take away from you.”

Stay in school, play pool.

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