PTA making strides in finding prodigies

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Tennis Academy (PTA) is gaining ground in discovering prodigies as it now has over 150 players from the age of 8 polishing their skills in seven training centers all over the country with several prospects farmed out to varsity teams in top Philippine and US schools.

Tennis patrons Jean Henri Lhuillier and Rommie Chan began searching for young talent over six years ago but formalized the PTA only in 2011 to harness the resources of other benefactors Oscar Hilado, Hanky Lee, Felix Barrientos, Raymond Suarez, Tonico Climent, Joey Torres and Fr. Fernando Suarez. The PTA has a working budget of P9 to 10 Million a year to support overseas travel of players and the operations of training centers in Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Isulan in Sultan Kudarat, La Carlota, Bacolod, Bais and Cebu. Training centers in Subic and San Pablo City will open soon.

“It all began with Nino Alcantara in 2008,” said PTA executive director Andy Maglipon. “Now that Nino has graduated from Pepperdine University, he’s ready to be more active in the pro circuit and play for the national team. Our budget for each training center is about P200,000 a year. La Carlota has the largest group with 40 players in the 8-14 age range. The goal is to find young players and give them proper training. For those who excel, we want to give the gifted players a chance in life by exposing them to high-level competition and bringing them to first-class schools where they can earn a good education. If we can bring our players to the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament, it will be quite an accomplishment. If other Asians can do it, why not Filipinos?”

Aside from Alcantara, the PTA has taken several players to major schools. Cagayan de Oro’s Roxanne Resma, 16, was recently awarded a full scholarship at the University of Hawaii. Tami Nguyen of Alabang is with the San Diego State varsity. Davao’s Joel Cabusas, 18, and Abdul Tariga, 16, are playing for UST while Cagayan de Oro’s Elbert Bacong, 17, is with Perpetual Help. Bukidnon’s Bryan Otico, 15, Cebu’s Iggy Pantino, 12, and Iligan’s Khim Iglupas, 15, are enrolled at the La Salle Zobel Night School.

“The young kids stay in Rommie’s guest house in Alabang, study at the Zobel Night School and play at the Alabang Country Club,” said Maglipon. “Their training is supervised by head coach Jun Toledo, coaches Ken Salva and Rolly Litang and conditioning coach Romel Openiano. Occasionally, top pros like 8-time PCA Open champion Johnny Arcilla come over to train with us and help the kids out. Our program runs parallel with the efforts of Philta (Philippine Tennis Association). We hope our young players reach the level where they can represent our country in international competitions with Philta’s blessings.”

An example of a player whom the PTA discovered and brought to a UAAP school is Cabusas. “Joel was a ball boy from Davao,” said Maglipon. “He knew how to play but when we found him, he had no tennis shoes and played with a borrowed racket. We’re happy that he’s now enrolled at UST. Felix and Roland (So) showed the way when they were tennis scholars at Louisiana State University. From our satellite centers, we hope to find prospects whom we can place in US or Philippine schools on tennis scholarships.”

Maglipon said the PTA plans to open a training center and dormitory in Metro Manila. “Right now, we’re relying on Rommie to house our players in Alabang but eventually, we’ll need a permanent home once our numbers grow,” he said. “As more and more players come in, we’ll need a lot more support to expand. It takes $2,500 for a player and a coach to participate in an Asian competition. We want to expose our most promising players to more international tournaments. Khim has played at the Junior Federation Cup in Korea and Malaysia and is now ranked No. 278 in the world juniors. She should be ready for the next Australian Open. Hopefully, Bryan will qualify for the next Junior Davis Cup. Iggy is No. 2 in the Asian U14 rankings.”

Maglipon said the PTA is now reaching out to corporate sponsors . “This is about giving our talented young tennis players a break in life, to give them an education through sports,” he said. “The PTA can only do so much without assistance from the PSC. It can do so much more with the support of corporate sponsors.”

Another organization, the Tennis Academy of the Philippines Foundation (TAPF), is involved in the same effort through president Romy Jalosjos and executive director Manny Tecson. The TAPF supports outstanding prospects including Alberto (AJ) Lim, Jr., 15, and Maika Tanpoco, 18. It used to support Jeson Patrombon, 21, once ranked No. 9 in the world juniors.  











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