NBA
The Aguilas’ first homestand
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2014 - 12:00am

After getting their first taste of international competition with a rushed entry into a World Cup qualifier against established Asian juggernaut Japan, the Philippine Aguilas are taking on a powerhouse team from Australia to strengthen their program and gain more game experience. On Aug. 16, the Aguilas will defend their territory against the Western Australian Raiders at the Emperador Stadium at McKinley Hill in Bonifacio Global City. This will be the first international friendly by the American Tackle Football Association of the Philippines (ATFAP), the national sports association (NSA) for tackle football recognized by the Philippine Olympic Committee and Philippine Sports Commission.

“It is with great pride and pleasure that the WA Raiders prepare for the first cross cultural game between an Australian and a Filipino-American Football team. This is a true milestone in the evolution of the sport in the region and bodes well for a long and successful relationship between our Associations,” says Raiders head coach Craig Wilson to confirm their arrival. “We believe that cooperation between our Associations will allow the sport to prosper and grow in both countries and demonstrates the potential for greater cooperation in the region. Indeed an ongoing reciprocal game is planned to occur with home and away games played over a two-year period with a return visit by the Aguilas to Perth scheduled for 2015.”

The Raiders are representing Gridiron West, a member of the State Sporting Association (SSA) which governs both tackle and flag football in that part of the country since 1988. They are also a member of the national governing body Gridiron Australia. This current team includes players from all over the Gridiron West landscape, and has been a dominant force for more than a decade. The Raiders were national champion in 2001 and 2012, and have finished third place nationally four times in that span. This means the Aguilas will be up for a rugged match in their maiden home defense. But that’s what the home boys want. They’ll be in it for the experience, as well.

“We’re very excited to have the Australian team come over for a friendly,” says ATFAP head Dodi Palma, who has worked in the background for years to get local and international recognition for tackle football in the Philippines. “For most of them, this will be their first taste of Filipino hospitality. But we plan to pull a few surprises on them on the football field, as well.”

Among the ATFAP’s plans are another friendly with South Korea in February, and invitations for home and away games with Kuwait, too. Palma will be traveling there for the sport’s convention in the hopes of getting more support for the sport, which is in its infancy here. So far, the Aguilas players, like many of their counterparts abroad, have been spending their own money just to be able to play the sport. For the World Cup match in Japan, each player and coach covered his own airfare, as the host country takes care of other expenses when visiting teams land. It was an eye-opening journey for them to see what is possible here in Southeast Asia. The upside is tremendous.

Despite having the bigger and more experienced players, the Australians are in a similar situation, but are very optimistic that this friendly will give the sport a boost to the next level of acceptance in the Philippines and back in Australia.

“We are excited by the game and look forward to the positive effect that will cascade from it,” Wilson adds. “Our traveling squad of coaches and players love the game and pay to play it funding their own playing and travel costs. We at Gridiron West look forward to building a strong partnership with the Philippines that will enable us to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of our teams and thank you for your support of this history-making venture.”

The Raiders are hoping to also play a flag football friendly, the variant of the sport which is growing rapidly in Australia but has been active in the Philippines longer. The visitors are hoping to maximize their time in the country by also visiting our world-famous beaches after the match. Although it’s cumbersome to bring a delegation of about 50 people from one country to another, it also makes for a high-spirited adventure. On Aug. 17th – the day after the game – the Raiders coaches and players will be conducting an open clinic for those who would like to learn the sport, and for children looking for advice on how to improve their game. This will be a very rare opportunity for casual players to get coaching from some of the best tackle football players and coaches from this part of the world. There are still some misconceptions about the sport in the Philippines, but also a growing number of flag football participants who are looking for a more action-packed, higher-contact version of the sport.

The current Aguilas are a mix of Filipinos who played high school football growing up in the US, and former mixed martial artists, basketball players and flag football practitioners, with a few newcomers thrown in. They’ve been practicing in Spartan conditions at the University of the Philippines for close to a year. But sponsors are slowly becoming aware of the sport and its potential. The PSC and Skippy’s Bar and Restaurant have already come aboard to support the friendly with the Raiders. 

In the short term, the ATFAP is doing clinics and running tournaments to help grow the sport. Flag football is also growing, and will provide another feeder system for the tackle team. In the medium term, they are drawing up plans to form a Southeast Asian federation, as a couple of our ASEAN neighbors have already asked for advice on how to set up the sport in their countries.

For inquiries about sponsorship for the Aguilas, e-mail this writer at billvelasco2006@gmail.com.

 

 

AGUILAS AMERICAN TACKLE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION OF THE PHILIPPINES BAR AND RESTAURANT BONIFACIO GLOBAL CITY FOOTBALL GRIDIRON WEST ON AUG PLAYERS RAIDERS SPORT
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