Tennis sizzles this summer

Johnny Arcilla is in Cebu. He’s the No.1 tennis player of our nation’s 7,107 islands. PJ Tierro, the No. 2 player and Johnny’s nemesis, is 6-foot-1 tall. He’s also in town. The duo are joined by several others from Manila, all holding either Babolat or Wilson or Prince or Head racquets, all swinging volleys, firing aces, spinning backhands. They’re here for the Mayor Jonas Cortes Men’s Open tournament which started yesterday and continues until Sunday at the Mandaue Tennis Complex (beside the Sports Complex).

It’s Wimbledon in Cebu. For this is a major. Rarely do we witness top-class tennis action and so, if you’re a fan of Roger or Rafa or Roddick, watch the closest international-caliber games you can at the Mandaue Reclamation.

Thanks to Atty. Lito Pascual (a huge tennis buff who plays each morning and is the city’s top sports official), Jun Saberon (the organizer) and, of course, Mayor Jonas Cortes, for this French Open-like event (both have similar clay-court surfaces). A big Congratulations-In-Advance also goes to Jess Lagman, the father of Jacob (one of RP’s top junior netters), who is the Regional Vice-President of the Philippine Tennis Association (Philta) in Cebu.

Games start 8 in the morning and last until the early evening. Please drop-by and watch. That’s today until Sunday.

LHUILLIER. Next month, from May 23 to 30, another huge spectacle will tennis-smash Cebu. It’s the 3rd Cebuana Lhuillier Men’s Open and expect Johnny and PJ plus even more of RP’s best to participate. This event will be, like it’s been the past two years, at the Baseline Recreation Center’s twin courts.

What’s new about the Lhuillier Games are the club-level, age-category events that will transpire before the Men’s Open. There will be categories for the 35-, 40-, and 45-years-and-older. This, I’m sure, will excite Cebuano players. Watch for this and join!

AGE-GROUP. Apart from these twin Professional Men’s events, there are at least six consecutive junior tournaments this summer in Cebu.

The Head-Smart Age Group event kicked it off in Lapu-Lapu City last week. This was followed by another Head-Smart netfest at the Cebu Country Club. These will be followed, starting today, by the Palawan Pawnshop Junior event, the Prince Age-Group, the 15th Gullas Cup and the Milo Tennis Eliminations. Six contests, one-after-the-other.

Categorized as Tennis

Archery targets the bullseye in Cebu

Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, lands in our cinema screens this May 14. But, prior to the movie’s blockbuster arrival, we can all watch real-life, in-the-flesh Robin Hoods in action.

It’s called the 1st Cebu Archery Open and, from Thursday until Sunday, we’ll all be witnesses to this skillful art of propelling arrows with the use of bows.

Archery, as we’ve seen in archaic movies, has been around forever. The earliest use of a bow, according to Wikipedia, dates back to 10,000 B.C. Fast forward to Robin Hood, who’s become the poster boy and heroic figure shooting a bow-and-arrow.

Here in Cebu this weekend, thousands of arrows will stab the Mandaue skyline as the tournament unravels at the Aboitiz Sports Field.

How big is this contest? It’s the largest of its kind in Cebu.. in the province.. in Region VII.. in the entire country. “Yes, it looks like the biggest event in Archery ever… in the Philippines. We did not expect it to get so big, but it shows a high level of interest plus the drawing power of Cebu.”

Who spoke those words? Gordon Alan P. Joseph. Known to everyone as Dondi, he’s the president of the Cebu Archery Club. Dondi is influential and prominent in our land. Apart from being the owner (and wine connoisseur) of Darras + Bowler and the CEO of Philinsure, he’s often on these newspaper pages as the president of the Cebu Business Club. (As to his looks, according to my wife Jasmin, he resembles Pete Sampras.)

Dondi started archery with his son in 2004. Does his studying in La Salle, there from elementary until college, influence his passion for archery (thanks to the La Salle Green Archers)? “Of course that had an effect! The interest was always there,” said Dondi, a former president of the local alumni chapter of De La Salle University.

Of archery in Cebu, “We incorporated four years ago and just kind of chugged along till Dondon Sombrio became the mainstay of the Philippine Compound Bow Team,” he said. “The archers have been quietly practicing in the open space of Holiday Gym & Spa in Banilad, who kindly lent us the space. Dondon called a meeting earlier this year on his idea to set up a tournament and get it accredited by the National Archery Assoc. of the Phils. as one of its qualification events for the RP team. Our intention was that this would be ‘practice’ for a full blown international tournament next year. We planned on 100 archers.”

One hundred participants? That figure has ballooned to 175 archers and the event has become the biggest in the Philippines. “We have participants from Tagbilaran, UP Los Banos, Liloan, Mandaue, Dapitan, Bacolod, Cordilleras, Manila, CDO, Dumaguete, Mandaue, Talisay, Cebu City,” said Joanna Fajardo-Salazar, who’s one of the key organizers.

“Archery is one of the top eight sports that the POC and the PSC are focusing on to develop medal winners,” adds Dondi. “Archery is important to the Philippines and if you are committed and good enough, it is one of the best ways to be an RP athlete. Can this sport give our nation its first-ever Olympic gold medal? “It can be, provided we can set-up the right range facilities,” said Dondi. “The Cebu Archery Club is working on this. We want to develop top Filipino archers.”

Dondon Sombrio is the spirit behind this tournament, says Dondi. A member of the RP Team, Dondon is the tournament director. And, to provide “celebrity status” to the event, “Actor, businessman and archer Marvin Agustin will be competing,” said Dondon, whose event is backed by San Miguel Beer, Gandiva, ScubaWorld, Simon Enterprises, Philpacific Insurance Brokers, SunStar Daily, RCTV, Boysen Paints, Metro Ayala, Islands Souvenirs, D+B Wines, Laserwriter, Aboitiz Land, Mr. Builders Construction, Benedicto College, Aboitiz Sports Field and Maya Restaurant.

When I asked if he purposely chose this weekend to nearly-match the Robin Hood film, Dondi replied, “Hahahaha! Purely coincidental but great nonetheless!”

Categorized as Archery

In Hong Kong, what’s kicking is football

Each time I visit a foreign land, apart from snapping an estimated 585 photos, tasting eccentric local delicacies and absorbing each waking minute of the strange territory, I do one more act: I read the local newspaper.

While in Hong Kong for over a week until yesterday, I read two dailies: the South China Morning Post (which dates back to 1903 and should be Hong Kong’s top journal) and The Standard.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) is huge. While our Sun.Star is suitably-sized for a metropolis like Cebu and, in comparison, both the Phil. Daily Inquirer and Phil. Star are bigger because they’re national, the SCMP is giant-sized. It covers stories not just of the seven-million-strong Hong Kong residents, but of China’s 1.324-billion population. It’s XL-size for a XXXL nation.

You need not ask which section I devour the most. The front page, obviously, I scan first, but within a minute of browsing, I flip the gray pages open to find the back, sports section. What did I uncover in Hong Kong? Plenty. One: that sports is aplenty. On Sundays, they devote a whopping eight pages to everything about the NBA playoffs, Rafa Nadal, the New York Yankees, etc.

Horse racing? Ah, of course. Last Wednesday, they devoted 12 pages (yes, one dozen!) to a sport I’d rather term as “gambling”… RACING. But, above all, one sport outkicks everybody else: Soccer. Maybe because the World Cup is just 46 days away or because Hong Kong was under British rule (and aren’t they a football-crazy people) for about 156 years. Hong Kong is Soccer Crazy.

Scanning yesterday’s South China Morning Post, the headline read: Ronaldo confident Real will win league title. “The Portuguese forward,” it read, “signed from Manchester United last summer, has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the sparkling form of Barca’s Leo Messi, but he feels that it will be Real who will come out on top in the fight for the title.”

Below the all-football-page was Soccer on TV Today which showed the full schedules of the world’s most popular sport. Another article was about David Beckham and how he reigns as world’s highest-earning footballer, pocketing US$40 million per year, mainly from sponsors like Giorgio Armani, Motorola and Adidas. The No. 2 top-earner is Cristiano Ronaldo at $30 million/year… “Ronaldo, the 2008 Fifa Player of the Year, became the highest-paid soccer player in the world in June when Real Madrid bought the 25-year-old winger from Manchester United for $130 million.”

With my compatriots—their columnists—I read two: Alvin Sallay and Jason Dasey (both of whom are terrific, as expected of a paper with this high-quality). Their columns? About football, of course.

From last Friday’s SCMP was the story on Mario Balotelli. In the article, I’ll be special: Balotelli, the 19-year-old Inter Milan sensation was quoted as saying, “Psychologically I am as I was before. I’m ready to become the best in the world.” Wow, what bravado from the teenager.

Forbes ranks United richest team in world was another piece that said, “English champions Manchester United have been ranked the most valuable sports team by Forbes magazine for the sixth year in a row.” How much was ManU valued? A whopping $1.8 billion. The second placer is the Dallas Cowboys (remember where Manny Pacquiao last fought, in their stadium?) with $1.65B followed by the New York Yankees at $1.5B.

Finally, from last week, a feature on North Korea and how, after 44 years, it’s going back to the World Cup. “In less than two months’ time, it is hard to imagine the footballers from the one of the world’s most closed nations being granted any greater freedom when they turn up in South Africa for the World Cup,” said one paragraph. The passion for the sport in North Korea is unparalleled, a status which owes much to the success of the team that represented the country at the 1966 old Cup finals.”
Soccer in Hong Kong, I’ve learned, is their sports counterpart of the Peking Duck.

Categorized as Football

Rugged and revered, Rugby tackles Cebu

Football is the world’s most popular sport. That we know. And, in 49 days’ time, we’ll be witnesses to the World Cup in South Africa, the single biggest event (more than the Olympics) on this planet.

Rugby? Ever heard of it? Sure you have. Maybe you’ve seen those muscular, rugged Spartans jumping on each other in ESPN. That’s rugby. As defined by, Rugby is “a form of football, played between two teams… that differs from soccer in freedom to carry the ball, block with the hands and arms, and tackle, and is characterized chiefly by continuous action and prohibition against the use of substitute players.”

That’s rugby. Worldwide, it’s huge. In fact, the Rugby World Cup (also held every four years) is, based on estimates, the world’s third largest sporting tournament, behind only soccer’s World Cup and the Olympic Games.

In Cebu? Yes it’s gaining a loyal following. Thanks to Damien Allison, a friend whom I’ve known the past year and who’s the team captain of our local squad, the Cebu Low Flying Dragons.

Damien, who’s British but has resided in Cebu the past five years (13 total in the Philippines), talked about his sport in our land. “Cebuanos definitely have a future in rugby,” he said. “The Cebu Dragons were founded fewer than five years ago. Since then, 13 players have gone on to represent the Philippine Men’s National team. Cebu’s ladies team, the Pink Dragons, are the reigning National Champions and a number of players are expected to be selected for the Philippine National Ladies team for the Asian Championships in China later this year. Many Philippine National team players will be on show this Saturday representing Cebu and Manila. The sport continues to grow, especially with the recent announcement that Rugby 7s has been included as an Olympic Sport.”

That’s terrific news. But here’s an even better announcement: Two days from now, this Saturday (April 24), a major event is happening nearby. At the Cebu International School (CIS) grounds in Talamban, over 100 rugby players will fly into Cebu to compete in a major tournament: the 2010 ML Kwarta Padala Cebu 10s Rugby Festival.

“This Saturday,” said Damien, “we start at 9 a.m. with the final concluded by 4 p.m. There will be plenty of fast, full contact action.”

Full contact action. If you’ve watched rugby on TV, yes, that’s what we see: brawny men, without padding or helmets, sprinting to the end goal-line, tackling and blocking.

Who are expected to join this weekend? The 2009 winners, the Manila Nomads. So will the contingent from Hong Kong, the Tequila Mockingbirds, who will be fielding two teams. From Manila, there are two squads: the Alabang Eagles and the all-Japanese (and aptly-named) Manila Hapons. From Cebu, we have the Gustavian Cebu Dragons, Overgaard-CALT Low Flying Dragons and PimeSoft-PrimeLine Komodo Dragons.

“Entrance is free,” said Damien, whose Cebu Dragons team is supported by ML Kwarta Padala, Overgaard, The Gustavian, Calt Asia, PrimeSoft, PrimeLine, Rudy Project, POW Designs, Radical Ads, Philinsure, The Sports Exchange. “Food and drink will be available on sale throughout the day, catered by the Gustavian. Rugby always generates a fantastic atmosphere and is a brilliant spectacle, especially for those who have not seen the sport before. Support your local rugby club and witness some bone-jarring hits, ferocious tackling and plenty of lightning fast scores.”

This Saturday’s festivities actually begin tomorrow. “The ML Kwarta Padala Cebu 10s will start at the official Meet & Greet on Friday from 7 p.m.” he said. “The party will be at the Sports Exchange Bar & Grill on the top floor of Mango Square Mall. Free parking is available on the top deck. The Awards Ceremony will be held on the Saturday after the final from 5 p.m. at the Tap Room Pub in The Gustavian Banilad. There will be a beach party going on with curry buffet dinner and DJs playing into the night. All spectators are welcome to join and meet the players at both venues.”

Categorized as Rugby

Mark Garcia reviews the NBA Playoffs

He putts on the Cebu Country Club golf course and swings a tennis forehand but ask Mark Garcia which game he loves most and his reply will echo as loudly as the slogan… I Love This Game!

The NBA. And, yes, after five months, we’ve reached the Final 16 (of the total 30) as the playoffs started last Saturday. “I think the Cavs and the Lakers will meet in the finals with Cleveland winning,” said Mark. “The Cavs have loaded up their team with Shaq and Jamison. They also have a deeper bench. The Lakers also have been banged up this year, which is a concern. The advantage of the Lakers is their experience being defending champs and that they have the best closer, Kobe. But I think that this is going to be Cleveland’s year.”

Mark Garcia has, like millions of us worldwide, followed the NBA for decades. But what few of us have experienced is watching an NBA game. Live. Mark’s done that five times. “The first one was Game 2 of the 1992 playoffs between Detroit and New York in Madison Square Garden. Detroit had Isiah, Dumars, Rodman, Laimbeer (The Bad Boys); Knicks had Ewing, Mark Jackson, Kenny Walker and were coached by Pat Riley.”

In 1996, Mark saw three games. On one occasion, together with his cousin Chris Aldeguer and best friend Quinito Moras, he saw Chicago vs. the Clippers in LA. “The Bulls lineup were composed of Jordan, Pippen, Rodman.. and MJ scored 40 points. That was the game when he closed his eyes for one free throw,” he said. “We were six rows from the court and Jack Nicholson was across us.”

Mark Garcia (right) with Chris Aldeguer

(All photos by Mark G.)

Last year, Mark watched the pre-season game in Las Vegas between the Lakers and Kings and saw top rookie, Tyreke Evans, plus, said Mark, “Kobe who played 30 minutes and put on a show with three dunks.”

KB24? Yes. “My favorite players are Kobe and Lebron. Kobe because of his work ethic and will to win attitude like Jordan. He’s also worked hard to make himself the best clutch shooter. He came into the league as a pure scorer but learned how to play the team game (like Jordan).

“LeBron came as the most hyped NBA player but he exceeded all expectations. Like Kobe, LeBron has gotten better every year. His jump shot and defense have improved every season. LeBron’s understanding of the game at a very young age is amazing. Plus, both have great charisma.”

But who, among the two, is No.1? “Last year, Kobe and LeBron were about the same level,” he said. “Both of them were dominant offensive players and made the all defensive first team. This year has been different. LeBron has been amazing in almost every category and will surely win his second straight MVP with the second place far behind. LeBron is the better player now and will be for many years.”

Cleveland will win, assures Mark. “I love the Lakers but I think the Cavs’ defeat last year against Orlando will be enough to motivate LeBron and Co. It’s like the Lakers when they lost to the Celtics during the ‘07-’08 finals.”

How about the Boston Celtics? “I think this is going to be their last run at a championship with the Big 3 (Garnett, Pierce and Allen). If healthy, they might be able to get to the conference finals because of their experience but I don’t see them going to the finals. They haven’t played consistently.”

For the best first round playoff match-ups, Mark lists three:  Celtics vs. Heat (“A good one since the Heat closed the season on a high note winning 12 of their last 13 games), Dallas vs. San antonio, and Denver vs. Utah.

As to which teams might surprise us, “I think Dallas has a chance since they have an experienced lineup with Kidd and Dirk. They also pulled off the best trade this season with Butler and Haywood. San Antonio, now healthy, can also do well. Orlando has also gained experience from last year’s finals plus they have Vince Carter.”

Mark’s final words: “This year’s Playoffs will be great since there’s no clear-cut favorite. Whichever team gets hot in the next month could win, like Miami in 2006. A lot of the playoff seedings were determined on the last day of the regular season which shows how close the teams were.”

Comments on the Palarong Pambansa

Four (4) responses I received yesterday from the Palaro article….

Joy Augustus Young, BOPK vice mayor candidate for Cebu City and the main proponent of the 1994 Palaro Games in Cebu City: “As long as somebody else is interested to bid and host the Palaro, we will never bid. We will offer to give the opportunity to others who have not yet hosted. That’s our policy and the reason why…”

Graeme Mackinnon, Cebu Hall of Fame awardee, now residing in Australia: “Good morning John. Interesting article. Does the renovation of the sports center complex track also include the football field as well. Hopefully if it does they will do it correctly this time with underground drainage as well as a the proper foundation that will give the grass a chance to grow correctly. Of course with the heavy traffic that the ground gets it will always suffer. Is the football ground still used for the cadet training or has playing soldiers been scrapped.

“Any way you would expect that if the Palaro was to be held in Cebu football would be played at the Aboitiz fields. Incidentally John in all the number of Palaro’s has any city hosted on multiple occasions? Let’s hope that this promise of the long overdue renovation of the rubberized track is not a vote catcher (why am I so skeptical of political promises) and that it will indeed push through.

“On another note, TV ads are beginning to appear here now for Roland Garros which trumpets the beginning of the European Grand Slams (French and Wimbledon). At this early stage picking a winner is like trying to pick the winning numbers of the Lotto. There are just too many combinations. Nobody is dominating at the moment which would through up a first choice favorite for the title. Even among the women’s I think it will a choice of many with Kim and Serena most probably the frontrunners.

“It all means that the Slams are going to be throwing up “unexpected” results maybe in some instances in the very early rounds. Are you salivating at the prospect John? It is going to be very interesting. Too bad the games here are televised so late LIVE. Oh well I can always catch up with the re-plays during the daylight hours. Catch you later mate. Graeme”

John Henry Osmeña, former Senator of the Philippines: “PALARO will come to Cebu City when I am Mayor. We will build a new Cebu City Sports Center at the SRP with both track oval and basketball coliseum, athlete’s accommodations, sports academy and a parking facility for both buses and cars. Cebu City will be a sports MECA. PBA will play here twice monthly.”

Atty. Mike Yu, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) – Cebu City chapter: “Hi John. The purpose of holding Palaro alternatively Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and not in the same province is to expand the exposure of sports nationwide. Other provinces need also modern facilities in the hope that it will sustain the sports program in that locality after the Palaro. Just like in Cebu City after the Palaro in 1994, I have not seen any upward surge in sports involvement. Not in my time from 1983 to 1985. Let us support the national program the Palaro was intended for. Our city has grown. Perhaps we can host our own premiere sport to rival the Palaro… the Cebu City Games which can be held a week after Palaro so that the players are still in peak form. Start toying with this idea.

“We should not forget the purpose. Palaro is the grassroots sports program. A program followed from other countries. It starts from the Unit Meet, the winners advance to the Provincial Meet, then advance to the Regional Level. The best of the best fight it out in the Palarong Pambansa, the national meet. The best of the Palaro are recruited by Gintong Alay to represent our country in international competition. It’s simple… daghan lang buaya!”

Categorized as Cebu City

When will Cebu City host the Palaro?

The last time our city organized the “National Games,” as the Palarong Pambansa are called, the president was Fidel V. Ramos, our track oval at the Abellana grounds was brand-new and named the Cebu City Sports Center, and Alvin Garcia and Tommy Osmeña were best friends as vice mayor and mayor.

That was 1994. Since then, cities like Naga, Iloilo, Lingayen, Bacolod, Tacloban, Puerto Princesa and, just concluded yesterday, Tarlac, among others, have hosted one of the largest sports meets of the Philippines.

In fact, when I researched the history of The Palaro, which was restarted in 1974 after a brief hiatus during Martial Law (it was previously named the Bureau of Public Schools-Interscholastic Athletics Association or BPISAA Games), a total of 27 Palarong Pambansa hostings were organized and, lo and behold, Cebu City hosted it only once. Yes. This Queen City of the South, the land preferred by athletes and officials because of our Cebuano hospitality, our showmanship (“Pit Senyor!”), our SM City mall and Ayala Center restaurants, our location at the center of the archipelago—yes, despite all these advantages, we’ve only hosted one Palaro the past 27 times.

Unbelievable. Preposterous. Sure, there are dozens of other cities spanning Batanes to Tawi-Tawi that can host these every-summer-Games, but, if a survey were to be conducted with the question, posed to competitors and sports leaders nationwide, “Which city would you want to go to next?” I bet the query would yield an answer that has four letters.

For Cebu has proven itself. Just look at the Milo Little Olympics. Last year, the first-ever nationwide competition (it used to be divided among the Luz-Vis-Min regions) were held at our backyard. Guess what? We electrified the 1,223 participants. During the Opening and Closing Ceremonies—thanks in large part to the overall architect, Ricky Ballesteros—fireworks brightened the black night ceiling, Dancesport Team Cebu City shakers and movers enthralled the audiences, the venues were well-manicured and prepared—everybody was impressed. At the event’s conclusion, my ears opened wide to listen to the comments from our NCR and Mindanao neighbors and, if a rating were to be made, we scored an A+.

For we are Cebu. And when Cebuanos host, we host not a mediocre, so-so banquet but an awe-inspiring party. For here’s the shortcut for the name Cebu: Celebration.

The Palarong Pambansa? The event that’s called The Olympics for the elementary and high school students? Why, I ask, after 27 stagings, have we hosted it only once and, in the past 15 years, have we not hosted any?

The answer, I realized, is elementary. It’s our Sports Center. It’s rotten. It’s oval surface, which used to be called rubber, is now soft clay. It’s decomposing, it’s soft, it has formed corrugated snake lines, it’s crumbling. (In one incident not long ago, a spectator during the Sinulog couldn’t stand up after her pants got glued to the ground’s rubbery surface.)

Ka uwaw. That’s sad. For, like hosting visitors at home, how can we invite guests over if our house is broken? Not for long. Thanks to the P40,000,000 that has been allocated by the city, the oval will finally—after it was built in time for the 1994 Palaro Games—be fixed.

When? Supposedly, now. But, because of the ban on construction projects nearing the elections, our officials have scheduled it after May 10. Which means one beautiful realization: By year’s end, we should have a new Cebu City Sports Center.

Next year’s Palarong Pambansa hosting?     Ha-ha. That’s too soon. Two years from now? Yes. That’s perfect. London hosts the Olympics. Cebu, the 2012 Palaro.