When will Cebu host the Palaro again?

It’s been two decades and one year since Cebu City last hosted the Palarong Pambansa. The nation’s premier sports meet that gathers the top elementary and high school athletes under one tournament, the Palaro was last hosted by Cebu 21 summers ago.

Joy Augustus Young was the architect of the 1994 Palaro. Here’s an article I wrote entitled, “Young and restless, his comeback brings joy.” This was dated March 2009.

“The most significant contribution of Joy Young? It happened 15 Aprils ago. Cities like Bacolod (which had the backing of Monico Puentevella), Dumaguete (with the support of now-Governor Emilio Macias II) and several more submitted bids to host the 1994 Palarong Pambansa. As we Cebuanos very well know today—with the all-out support of Mayor Tommy Osmeña and Congressman Raul del Mar (who even helped in the presentation to convince the Palaro decision-makers)—we organized the Palaro, the only time in history that we hosted RP’s largest annual sporting event.

“Joy Young, backed by Mayor Tom, was Cebu City’s team captain. He was our Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. He presided over the meetings. He assigned the venues. He organized the marketing. Planned the billeting of athletes. Studied the events. I should know. Together with my dad Bunny, we ran the tennis event at the now-defunct Cebu Tennis Club where the Cebuanos (led by Jun-Jun Cabrera) emerged champions.

“Out of the ’94 Palaro also emerged the single largest sports infrastructure of this island: the Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC). To ensure that the complex would be RP’s best, then-Councilor Young visited plenty of facilities: the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex and ULTRA; he even flew to Singapore to inspect a world-class track oval there. And because of the painstaking research that was conducted, our Sports Center emerged as the nation’s most productive facility. Athletic meets, football tournaments, PRISAA and CVIRAA events, national track-and-field contests, Earth, Wind & Fire concerts, Z Gorres boxing spectacles and—how can we forget—the Sinulog, are all held at the Abellana grounds.”

Joy Young considers the Palaro as “the proudest moment for all of us in Cebu.” That 1994 hosting achieved many firsts. It was the first Palaro in the country to be professionally-managed by a marketing team.

“After our Palaro, all the succeeding Palaros had sponsors,” Joy said, “though they couldn’t do it the same way we did it.” The previous Palaro hostings relied on the host cities to spend their own government funds. In Cebu, led by the business-minded Young, we involved the private sector.

“The sponsors subsidized much of our expenses, especially the food,” he said. “Whatever money we raised from ticket sales were given to NGOs such as the Boy Scouts, the Abellana HS PTA, TB Pavilion (which purchased a new Xray machine), among others. This was another first.”

Prior to 1994, the athletes and coaches were not given much freebies. “Cebu was also the first Palaro where all the delegates were given free food (3 meals a day) and free drinking water (Nature’s Spring),” said Joy. “To this day, DepEd sports coordinators and coaches who were in Cebu would always say that there’s no better Palaro than our hosting.”

Another “first” for Cebu was moving the schedule from January/February to summertime. “This was significant because nobody believed that it was better,” said Joy. “This was my argument, that Jan./Feb. was a bad time because everybody was busy for the end of the semester and graduation. If we held It in summer, everybody would be free and family members would come along. Again, the rest was history. The Palaro is now more attended because of its summer schedule. Everybody just loved it. With one stroke, we managed to move the Palaro to summer.”

Well done, Joy. Now, the question: When will Cebu do a repeat? Isn’t it embarrassing that a land as illustrious as ours hasn’t hosted again? This May 3 to 9, Tagum City will host the Palaro. Next year, it’s Luzon turn. But for 2017 when the Visayas hosts, I propose we bring the Palaro back to Cebu.

He walks the talk

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Ed Hayco, PSC Commissioner Jolly Gomez, Mayor Mike Rama, PSC Chairman Richie Garcia, Dondon Sombrio, John Pages and Ricky Ballesteros

Wearing one’s black leather shoes while hiking the track oval of the Cebu City Sports Center is disallowed. So is strolling along the maroon-colored rubberized surface wearing long pants. Worse, if you wear long-sleeves — even if the brand is Lacoste — that’s unacceptable attire to be worn while circling the Abellana oval.

One man did that two Sundays ago. And, no, he wasn’t reprimanded or asked to change to sleeveless running wear. In fact, right beside him was the Sports Center manager, Ricky Ballesteros.

How was this possible?     Because that man was our city’s chief executive officer. And he was walking the entire circle not to exercise or sweat but to give instructions on the upliftment of the CCSC.

Mayor Mike Rama, two weekends ago, was inside our sports complex together with our nation’s top sports leaders: PSC Chairman Richie Garcia and PSC Commissioner Jolly Gomez. Part of the group was Edward Hayco, the “Guinness World Record” man who is our city’s sports honcho.

After the formal turn-over of the gymnastics equipment from the PSC to the CCSC and after speeches were delivered by Garcia, Rama and Hayco, that’s when we stepped out to the track oval.

The Cebu Sports Museum is one of the major projects of our city’s sports commission. As the past president of the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC), now headed by Rico Navarro, I volunteered to help develop the museum.

Mayor Mike gave us tips. One of the most passionate and energetic of men that you can find — always on-the-go, forever smiling and chatting, endlessly hopping from one project to another — Michael Rama was his usual charismatic self when he talked to Ed Hayco, Ricky Ballesteros, Dondon Sombrio (our bemedalled archer and architect of the museum), volleyball’s Eric Licain, and myself.

“Let’s call it ‘Walk and Run with the Sports Heroes,’” said the mayor. Originally, we wanted the sports museum to be confined inside the building complex.

Why don’t we include the outside, the oval, the entire complex? the mayor suggested. Excellent point. With thousands of joggers and people who exercise around the track oval, why not let them be witnesses to the museum?

Like Hong Kong’s Walk of Fame boardwalk where, along the breathtaking view beside the water, you walk amidst heroic men and women who’ve made Hong Kong popular, we can do something similar in Cebu — for sports.

“We can place Flash Elorde’s statue here,” said the mayor, pointing to a spot at the oval’s first bend. Then, several meters later, he pointed to another vacant area. “If Manny Pacquiao is okay, we can ask that he be included here and we can place Manny’s life-size figure here.”

Brilliant. Under the 11 a.m. morning heat — when Mr. Sun’s rays beamed brightly upon us — and with Rama wearing a red-striped Lacoste, he toured us not on a halfway walk of the 400-meter oval — but the entire turn, pointing at a possible idea there, excitedly and animatedly expressing his views at another spot there.

Along the way, he shook hands with athletes. We spotted the UC football team (my UP classmate Tirso Roa, who helps the squad, was there). About to play next on the soccer field, Mayor Mike shook hands with them. Then, he did another unexpected act: with long-sleeves shirt and cowboy-style jeans, he borrowed a football and dribbled it. He did a cross-dribble that delighted the UC players. They clapped.

In the oval’s final bend, we spotted an oasis with a huge grass area. Like a little boy who found a playground, he said, “We can make this the Sports Garden!”

In our entire tour, one word described the experience: Passion. This man has it. Finally, as we reached the exit and as his white Toyota Hi-Ace with the “MAYOR” plate number was waiting, we chatted for a few final moments.

Ed Hayco, applauded repeatedly by Mayor Mike (the day before was the Dancesport Championship at the Waterfront Hotel), ended our talk with these words: “Mayor, your passion comes from here,” said Ed, pointing to the heart.

Track oval reopens as PRISAA opens

FR. VIC UY. When I spoke to him yesterday morning, he sounded buoyant and enthusiastic. Fr. Vic Uy, SVD, is a familiar name and face to Cebuanos. For many years prior to his transfer to Bohol, he was a senior official of the University of San Carlos. He also headed the local chapter of the Phil. Sports Commission.

Today, Fr. Vic is the national president of the PRISAA. And, today, the national PRISAA Games unfold right here in Cebu City.

“We’re all ready,” said Fr. Vic. “All the physical preparations are set. And we’ve very lucky. The PRISAA is the first event that will use the new track oval of the Cebu City Sports Center.”

An estimated 6,000 athletes and officials were expected to arrive this weekend. Unfortunately, some teams backed out—including the strongest contingent, from the NCR.

“They could not decide which teams to send… the UAAP or the NCAA champions. Sayang that NCR couldn’t join us,” said Fr. Vic. But with or without Manila, the Cebu games continue.

Today’s activities begin with an activity that Fr. Vic cherishes the most: Holy mass. “We start this 2 P.M. at the Sto. Rosario Church,” he said. “The parade follows at 3:30 and the opening before 5 P.M.”

Back to the CCSC track oval—isn’t the reopening a perfect timing this weekend?

If you recall, it was 18 years ago when the CCSC was built. That was in 1994. Now, we’re April 2012. While we previously criticized our city government for taking too long on the CCSC rehabilitation (the oval has a targeted lifespan of 10 years; so it became “obsolete” in 2004)), we welcome this good news and say, “Finally!”

Who worked hardest for this latest repair? We give credit where credit is due: Vice Mayor Joy Augustus Young. It was he, back in 1994 and heading the city’s Committee on Sports, who pushed for the construction of CCSC.

Fast forward to two years ago, after Joy assumed his position as the city’s No. 2, he convened a team to deliberate on the reconstruction. Together with Ricky Ballesteros, Dr. Danny Villadolid, Nimrod Quiñones and a few others, I was part of the Technical Working Group (TWG) team tasked to study the various options and bidders.

VM Joy spearheaded our weekly meetings. We scrutinized the various presentations. We deliberated on the cons and pros of each surface. Finally…. it’s done.

Yesterday, I also called Ricky Ballesteros, the manager of our CCSC, and, like Fr. Vic, he was upbeat and excited.

“The oval looks great!” boasted Ricky. “The workmanship is excellent. We had a former Olympian who came over to inspect the grounds and, compared to the likes of Cagayan de Oro and Baguio, this one is excellent.”

Ricky is used to working under intense, maximum pressure. As the head of the Sinulog festivities, each January, he is subjected to excessive tension and stress. Like the CCSC reopening, they finished it right on schedule.

“The line markings were just completed yesterday, right on schedule,” said Ricky. “We had everything programmed to finish on time and we did it.”

Ricky was impressed with the work ethic of the Malaysians, who supervised the construction of the new red rubberized track oval. “They’d work under the extreme sun, no stop. We’re also blessed with good weather and no rain so there was nonstop construction. I, personally, watched their work and asked the help of Danny Villadolid and our other coaches. We’re all set for the PRISAA opening.”

Today is a proud day for Cebu sports.

CCSC Track Oval to open

Ricky Ballesteros is the man at the helm of the Cebu City Sports Center renovations. Here’s Ricky’s update:

We have finished overlaying the final red rubber last Saturday. Markings started yesterday and will take 3-4 days… Blessing will be on April 22 at 3:30 pm before the opening parade of the national Prisaa… The good thing with the rubber now is that we don’t have to wait for 2 weeks for the curing period. We can use the track the day after we put the rubber; drying only takes 5 minutes.

We are now on the finishing touches; fencing and putting of a wider gate… We also transferred the triple long jump to the D section; we have a wider cemented area for volleyball, sepak takraw, martial arts practices… The football field is under rehabilitation, greening will take another 3-6 months.

Cost of rubber track including civil works is P26M; previous track was only 13mm, the new rubber is 15mm thick.. Football field, civil works (fencing and cementing) P7M… After Prisaa, the track will be open to the public except the football field.

CVIRAA in Dumaguete

DUMAGUETE—Since Sunday, I’ve been here in the “City of Gentle People.” True enough, from the hotel staff in Bethel to the waiters in Mamia’s and Sans Rival to the ordinary folks, people here in the Negros Oriental capital city are gentler and kinder.

I’m here for the Central Visayas Regional Athletic Association (CVIRAA) sports meet. My daughter Jana, a Grade 6 student of Bright Academy, qualified to represent Cebu City in this weeklong event involving 5,000 athletes. Jana played tennis and won her three matches (8-0, 8-0, 8-6) and, win or lose in today’s Championship Game, will represent Region VII for the Palarong Pambansa in Dapitan City this April.

Vice Mayor Joy Augustus Young was here for the Opening. At breakfast last Monday, we talked about the rehabilitation of our Cebu City Sports Center track oval—which will be repaired immediately after the Sinulog. Joy and I toured the Dumaguete rubberized track—built four years ago. It looks good. Surrounded by bleachers all around, it looks more massive—with better air quality and an open-air feel—than our CCSC. But, what troubled our vice mayor were the small patches of leaking water that sprinkled around the oval. We met their sports head at the track oval and VM Joy gave specific advice on their drainage system—the cause of the problem.

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.

Track oval is finally on track

Mayor Tommy Osmeña, last Feb. 15, sent this text message to my father, Bunny: “Pls pass to ur son john on his email. He appeals to repair CCSC track oval. Thank him for his concern. I have been looking into this on and off the past 3 years. Estimates run as high as $1M for the same quality, approved by IOC etc. There are cheaper rubberized tracks but u get what u pay for: low life like other cities have. Unfortunately, the contractor who did a fine job with ours cannot be located. We will do continuing research bcuz rubber tracks can be a major source of graft bcuz of the wide variance of prices and quality. Worse case is we pay a lot for crap. Also at exchange rate of P50 or P50m, it frankly won’t rank in the top ten priorities of the city.”

Mayor Osmeña, as we all know, is candid, straightforward, frank. And, frankly speaking, when I received that SMS, I thought the push to fix our Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC) track oval was dead. But, no. Days after, the mayor—then in Houston, Texas—commanded his allies that included Joy Young, Bimbo Fernandez and Ricky Ballesteros to accelerate the search for contractors.

Within two weeks, former congressman Joy Young listened to the presentations of two suppliers. And, to make matters better, when Acting Mayor Mike Rama received the P348-million SRP payment from Filinvest, guess what project he promised they’d fund first? The CCSC oval. Finally, reported in page 8 last Wednesday, this headline story: OSMENA OKAYS REPAIR OF CCSC TRACK.

Young and restless, his comeback brings joy

Antonio Aldeguer. Ricky Ballesteros. Michel Lhuillier. Edward and Eleanor Hayco. Jonathan Guardo. Yayoy Alcoseba. Jack Jakosalem. The late Dodong Aquino. Koko Holganza. Ask me to name, in the 23 years that I’ve resided in Cebu City, the names of sportsmen whom I admire the most and these people rate the highest. There is one more. In fact, of all, he is one of the most action-oriented, no-nonsense, results-focused, restless.

A long while back, he launched the Milo Little Olympics. I recall, in those early meetings when I was the Tournament Manager for Tennis, listening to him explain this new Cebu-wide tournament. Same with the Cebu City Olympics. Same with the Inter-barangay events that spanned 80 barangays.

Remember the Tri-City Run? Where a field of internationally-known runners joined the Mactan-Mandaue-Cebu trek? That 25K run existed for seven wonderful years. And, would you believe, only one RP race was accredited by the international books: his Tri-City Run. The author of the event? Of so many events?

J.A.Y. For long, that’s Joy Augustus Young.