Celebrating No. 20

The date was “September 21, 1994.” That’s 20 years ago today. That’s when my first ever sports column appeared on printed paper. I started with The Freeman. Then, my sole focus was writing about this game that involved Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf. As simply as can be put, the title of my column read: “Tennis Is My Game.”

My first piece? I wrote about Jun-Jun Cabrera, Lino Suico, Joseph Lizardo and Robert Angelo — names that, in the 1990s, were tennis-famous. I entitled that initial article, “A first for Cebu tennis.”

I was only 22 then. How fast time passes. How did I get into sports-writing? I was never a writer. I’d rather stand in front of an audience and speak. In La Salle Bacolod during my 7th grade, I applied for that plum “Editor in Chief” spot of our school paper and wasn’t picked. Putting thoughts into paper was never a strength.

Not a natural writer, what I was was this: a sports fanatic. The author Valerie Sherwood once said, “Don’t write what you know—what you know may bore you, and thus bore your readers. Write about what interests you—and interests you deeply—and your readers will catch fire at your words.”

I was passionate — and still am, every waking hour of each day — about sports. I not only write about sports… I do sports, read sports, watch sports.

My stint with newspaper-writing started two decades ago one morning in Jollibee – Mango Ave. We were there for the launching of the 1994 Cebu City Olympics and I was then in-charge of organizing the tennis competition.

Huddled among other sportsmen, we listened to Joy Augustus Young, then the chairman of the Cebu City Sports Commission and a top city councilor. I sat beside Nimrod Quiñones. My former schoolmate from UP Cebu, Nimrod is a fellow sports addict.

“Are you interested in writing a column about tennis?” he asked. I was startled. I’ll think about it, I said. Weeks passed and, one day, I was at The Freeman office to shake hands with The Freeman owner, Jiji Gullas.

I started pounding on the keyboard using a two-inch-thick and super-heavy Toshiba Satellite laptop. After completing a piece, I’d print it on paper and fax it to Nimrod, our sports editor. Then, email was nonexistent. And, via fax transmission, someone from TF office would retype the whole piece and we’d often have wrongly-spelled words because the fax print-out wasn’t clear.

From “Tennis Is My Game,” I changed the column name to “Tennis Shorts.” Then, it evolved into “Gut Feel” (I still like that name; “gut” also means “tennis string.”). Soon after I started, others followed, each one an expert: Graeme Mackinnon for football, Chris Tio for basketball, Dr. JV Araneta for cycling, Raffy Uytiepo for running.

My every-Wednesday column for The Freeman came to an end after eight years. I needed a break. My final article read, “Game, Set and Match.” After a year’s rest, I came back to write for Sun.Star Cebu.

Through the months and years, I’ve had the most amazing ride chronicling hundreds of sporting events and featuring dozens of athletes and sportsmen. I’m still reminded of shaking hands with Pete Sampras and standing beside Roger Federer in Kuala Lumpur. That was in 2007 and Jasmin and I were there with (my boss and editor) Michelle So, Chinggay Utzurrum and Dr. Ronnie and Steph Medalle.

With tennis, I’ve recorded plenty of smashes: from our gold medal-winning SEA Games campaign in 2005 to our Davis Cup forays here at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa.

Watching my daughter Jana transform into a junior champion and, at times, writing a feature on her, ranks as a major fulfillment, especially with my role as a dad.

One highlight was the Olympics of 2008 that Jasmin and I watched. For 10 days without miss, I wrote a story about our exploits in Beijing. From witnessing Lin Dan in badminton to Rafael Nadal’s winning gold to the disappointing exit of boxer Harry Tanamor.

On this 20th anniversary, I look forward to the next 20. And, like Beijing, to the nearby Tokyo Games. I like that year and number: 2020.

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