MANILA, Philippines - It’s been a few days since the tournament and I am still reeling from my weekend high. It seemed insurmountable, less than three weeks to stage. But I guess nothing is impossible, so says the sage. It held true here, for this squash tournament was pegged on a day that marks my last weekend as a Squash Rackets Association of the Philippines board member.
After hosting five prior celebrity squash tournaments, I convinced myself we possessed a template for organizing another one. Still, it wasn’t going to be easy. Time constraints, you see. It surely cast doubts in me if we could pull it off at all. Dear God, help me.
Buzzing about it was first order of the day. Hear ye, hear ye! A celeb squash tournament in play! Friends not only lent an ear but likewise extended a hand. A royal reception resulted from such trumpeted proclamation. Swift confirmations of participation, genuine offers of assistance and support, strong words of encouragement and enthusiasm took the plans to a higher plane. Things started rolling in no time. The ease by which everything was falling into place sealed my optimism, lifting that veil which clouds one’s better judgment and vision.
And so the Adidas Celebrity Squash Challenge came to be a tournament among a happy, gorgeous mix of hardcore squashers, friendly club players, famous top-level athletes, and fabulously fun TV, media and fashion personalities — all so game and ebullient in sharing in the mission to propagate sports and camaraderie. Oh, and that undeniable competitive spirit, disclosed during each practice game, when friends jestingly check out one another’s skill level to evaluate their competition.
Dynamic lawyer and TV host Karen Jimeno, a first-time squasher who nevertheless showed great strokes, was watchful over her opponents, the fun-loving celeb squash alums Phem Baranda, Baba Parma and Rissa Trillo. Her adorable Instagram post of her practice session with the caption “because there’s no such thing as friendly competition! Just kidding!” had me in stitches. Sporty Spice Rhett Eala, always in fashionable fitness garb, put in some secret training hours but announced it in Instagram anyway, with a nice shot of his great form — to intimidate his competitors Keren Pascual, Tim Yap and Apples Aberin, who by the way were unperturbed. Bubbles Paraiso, fresh from her yoga teacher training in Bali, was demonstrating fierce headstands inside the courts, sending a spine-tingling message to all players about her indisputable strength and a fitness level that was just too enviable.
On the days leading up to tournament day, excitement was reaching fever pitch. Friends didn’t stop checking if everything had been arranged and if there was anything more they could do to help. The lineup was still growing as more personalities wanted to come in, making this the Celebrity Squash Tournament with the most number of players and with the greatest amount of support. And by the eve of the tournament, over light dinner and some wine with the hub, I thought to myself, it just couldn’t be any better.
The day of the tournament came and I arrived hours early in the venue. Jovie Vilar, a co-director on the SRAP board, and who arrived a few minutes later, had made sure everything was in order with the club from the night before.
Players started filling up the courts for practice games. Brothers Phil and James Younghusband sent guests and bystanders swooning. They displayed such prowess with the racquet despite being virgins to the sport. Sporting hunks Anton del Rosario, Aly Borromeo and Ben Wintle’s natural athleticism kept everyone in awe with their ridiculously good court performances after asking about the rules of the game. Patrice Diaz, my design and squash inspiration (she has a beautiful backhand) still has her A-game despite being squash-free since the last celeb tourney two years ago. With hearty banter echoing in the hallways, the competition remained in full squash swing inside the courts all through the afternoon.
Twenty-eight players, segregated into four teams, vied for the trophy and some bragging rights in this team tourney, each one amazing me with their heartful support. And for their generous spirit, each and everyone most definitely deserved an award from the heart.
Though Team Crazylight, composed of Randy Precilla, Peter Hager, Ben Wintle, Phil Younghusband, Margot Garcia, Rhett Eala and Phem Baranda, bagged the top spot, everyone including Team Boost, Team Springblade and Team Supernova went home with a trophy, a hefty loot bag and the board’s sincerest gratitude.
A few more gifts were raffled off sending the weary but wired crew off in a happy, frenzied fluster and ending the evening with Bubbles Paraiso winning a weekend drive with a posh BMW. As we closed the long and fruitful day, our soft-spoken and utterly principled outgoing president Atty. Alan Tantoco reiterated our appreciation to all those involved in this successful and meaningful project, which benefits the IcanServe Foundation, Inc.
Special mention was given to our tournament officials Ricky Espinola, Ed Aguilando, Arnel Begornia, Mac Begornia and Jun Almaida. We are likewise grateful for our ties with Adidas, BMW, Summit Media, FinCap Securities, Inc., Unilever, Havaianas, Gatorade, Saga Events, Solaire Resorts and Casino, Peak Form Manila, Fresh Papaya, Jing Monis Salon and Raintree Restaurants, all of whom kept the participants feeling full, fit and merry. And so with this little party, where friends showed mutual respect for one another no matter the team affinity, I bid the association adieu, wherein I served with honorable, dedicated individuals whose kind hearts I will always and forever treasure. Hats off and big applause to you Alan Tantoco, Duane Santos, Boyong Deles, Tet Mañalac, Jovie Vilar and Romy Ribaño. Take a rest and take a bow. There was much I learned from you.