GMA, NCAA team up to fulfill athletes’ dreams

KAPUSO DAY - Angel Javier Cruz - The Philippine Star
GMA, NCAA team up to fulfill athletes� dreams
Arellano University’s Carl Lewis Rendon

In a basketball-obsessed country like the Philippines, the opening of the 96th season of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which aired on GTV earlier this month, was one event that millions of Filipinos had been looking forward to. The pandemic halted all contact sports and large-scale events last year, forcing the NCAA to forego the season altogether.

Now that it’s airing on its new home, GMA Network, basketball and all sports fans have a reason to rejoice. Following health and safety protocols, Rise Up Stronger: NCAA Season 96 showcases the world-class talent of young Filipino student-athletes from the 10-member schools led by this season’s host, Colegio de San Juan de Letran. The latter is joined by Arellano University, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, Emilio Aguinaldo College, Jose Rizal University, Lyceum of the Philippines University, Mapua University, San Beda University, San Sebastian College-Recoletos and University of Perpetual Help System DALTA.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic shut us down last year, the NCAA — the Philippines’ first and longest-running collegiate athletic competition — has resolved to move forward and to carry the good fight, for our love of the game,” said Season 96 Policy Board president Fr. Rector Clarence Victor Marquez, OP of Colegio de San Juan de Letran.

Colegio de San Juan de Letran’s Jeo Ambohot

GMA Network is ready, willing and able to handle the task at hand. “After months of preparation, we are finally unfolding NCAA Season 96. We are excited to start the next phase of our partnership with NCAA,” said GMA Regional TV and Synergy first VP and head Oliver Victor Amoroso.

At the opening ceremonies last June 13, Lani Misalucha led the singing of the Philippine National Anthem. It was followed by performances from some of the country’s most promising singers including Aicelle Santos, singer-actress Kyline Alcantara, The Clash Seasons 2 and 3 Grand Champions Jeremiah Tiangco and Jessica Villarubin, Kapuso OST Princess Hannah Precillas, and The Clash alumni Anthony Rosaldo, Thea Astley and Sheemee Buenaobra.

We talked to student-athletes from the 10 participating schools on how the pandemic has affected their lives and why they think it’s important to safely push through with Season 96.

“The pandemic really affected our sport training performance,” said Arellano University’s Carl Lewis Rendon. The track and field athlete spent a “long time adjusting.” Despite this, he is all for Season 96.

“This is very important, especially for us athletes and sportsmen, because here we can express ourselves, our passion, our love for what we do, our dreams, the sacrifice and hard work in our training, and our lives,” said Rendon.

De La Salle-College of St. Benilde’s Loralee Natividad

Colegio de San Juan de Letran cager Jeo Ambohot felt strongly for this season by saying, “Continuing NCAA will be beneficial for all: The athletes, students and GMA Network. Everybody is excited because it’s been almost a year since the season was halted. Since first time magko-cover ng NCAA and GMA, everybody is excited din kung anong bago sa GMA.”

Loralee Natividad of De La Salle-College of St. Benilde’s Taekwondo team appreciated the efforts made by the NCAA. “An athlete’s playing year will be put to waste if NCAA did not push through this year. That is why it is a blessing that amidst the pandemic, the association created a new venue to make it happen.”

Emilio Aguinaldo College cager Marwin Taywan put up a small food business with the help of his wife, a culinary graduate, to augment their family income.

“I’m a COVID survivor, I tested positive for COVID last June 2020,” said Taywan. “Halos half of our family tested positive. Takot at stress ang naramdaman namin that day pero we remained strong because we knew that God would protect us and not forsake us. At dahil athlete nga ako, mild symptoms lang ang tumama sa akin.” He added that playing in the NCAA is one of his dreams come true as it is “one of the most prestigious leagues in the country.”

Jose Rizal University’s Edcarlou Sabellano

Edcarlou Sabellano of Jose Rizal University’s track and field team chose the sport to continue his father’s legacy. “As a student-athlete, I am grateful to the NCAA for doing this. I am also thankful to Jose Rizal University for its continued support in providing us good education and athletic development via online,” said Sabellano.

Weak lungs inspired Jasmine Joie “Haj” Gonzaga of Lyceum of the Philippines University to take up swimming.

“My parents thought that I could strengthen my lungs through swimming,” said Gonzaga. “When I was in the water, I was a different child. I was not the same child who was always exhausted and trying to catch her breath. In the water, I felt I was invincible.”

Her coach signed her up for numerous swim meets where she ended up with over a hundred medals. That’s when she knew that was the sport she wanted to pursue. “It is very important to continue with the NCAA despite the pandemic. For me, this is not only about sports. It is a statement of how Filipinos, as represented by athletes, are brave, resilient, strong and determined people. We cannot be crippled by an unknown disease. We should continue to live our lives and we will survive through all these. We might have been slowed down by COVID, but we never stopped, really,” added Gonzaga.

Daryl Mark Talento, a member of Mapua University’s table tennis team, said the pandemic and its restrictions affected him physically and emotionally. “I think sports are important. It is not only about the eagerness to play but more importantly to gather as one for change,” said Talento.

Mapua University’s Daryl Talento

San Beda University cager Franz Jonathan Abuda appreciated time spent with family during the lockdown but missed playing basketball and spending time with teammates.

“From training with them almost every day to just seeing them only via Zoom really affected my mental health since they have also become like a family to me,” said Abuda. “For me, it’s more than just playing basketball. Sports have the ability to unite people and inspire them. I believe this is what our country needs right now, and I am very eager to unite and inspire (them), and ease their worries for a little while by watching the games. Continuing the NCAA will also open job opportunities for a lot of people which will surely help in the economic growth of the country,” added he.

Kendrick Rieken Abarquez, who plays for San Sebastian College-Recoletos’ basketball team, said that the pandemic taught him lessons about life and being an athlete. He is raring to play again and believes the NCAA’s aim is “to fulfill the dream of young athletes.”

The pandemic, like everything in life, happened for a reason. That’s the takeaway of Razel Paula Aldea of the University of Perpetual Help System DALTA.

The BS Psychology major and volleyball player said, “The COVID-19 pandemic really had a huge impact in my life physically, mentally, and spiritually. A lot of times I battled with my mental health and even got paranoid about having a healthy lifestyle. Sports is life. For athletes, coaches and all people who play sports… it is one reason for them to live.”

Lyceum of the Philippines University’s Jasmine ‘Haj’ Gonzaga

In this extraordinary time of our lives, sports is not just a physical activity for the young student-athletes. It’s their passion, outlet for mental healing and most important, means in pursuing their dreams. Fortunately, the NCAA and GMA Network are working together to help fulfill the dreams of these student-athletes.

Rise Up Stronger: NCAA Season 96 airs weekdays at 3 p.m., Saturdays at 4:30 p.m., and Sundays at 5:05 p.m. on GTV. Overseas NCAA fans can catch all the action via GMA Pinoy TV and GMA News TV.

Emilio Aguinaldo College’s Marwin Taywan
San Sebastian College-Recoletos’ Kendrick Abarquez
San Beda University’s Franz Abuda
University of Perpetual Help System DALTA’s Razel Aldea

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