Travel through sports
BLEACHER TALK - Rico S. Navarro (The Freeman) - November 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Pototan, Iloilo - Travelling is one of the most sought activities when people need to take a break, get to discover other parts of the country (or the world), or simply go on vacation. Going outside one’s comfort zone always brings a lot of new lessons learned and a widening of one’s experience. There’s so much one can learn from travelling, isn’t there? And the good news is that travelling is also a normal thing in sports. We see it mostly in the professional scene as we follow our favorites leagues worldwide. The NBA and various pro football leagues are the best examples here.

But did you know that this is also common in youth sports? Ongoing yesterday and today in Pototan, Iloilo, is the Visayas Regional Finals of the 34th SBP Passerelle Twin Tournament backed by Milo and supported by the local government under Mayor Adi Lazaro. The weekend tournament brings together the SBP and Passerelle champions of Cebu, Roxas, Bacolod and Iloilo together to determine who will move on to the national finals of the tournament managed by the BEST Center of former national team and PBA coach Nic Jorge. Jorge, who focused on conducting basketball clinics to teach the basics of the sport to the youth, envisioned (along with his family) the staging of a nationwide tournament for the age group/grassroots segment. This is on top of the clinics that are also held nationwide.

The Small Basketeers Philippines division is for the Under 12 age group while the Passerelle division is for the Under 15 players. Now on its 34th season, the tournament has an annual regional finals held in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao where different local champions travel to a designated place for a weekend tournament. For 2019, the Luzon finals was held in Baguio while the Mindanao finals was played in Davao.

Metro Manila is the fourth region of the tournament, with their champions travelling to the national finals, too. The Luzon finals drew teams from Pangasinan, Pampanga, Lucena and Baguio, while the Mindanao finals had champions from Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga and Davao.  The regional champions of Luzon, Visayas, Mindnao and Metro Manila then travel to Roxas City for the national finals November 23-24. Bottom line is that all this is for free.

Trips like these are one of the most cherished by young student-athletes, some of who get a taste of travelling for sports for the first time. I can still recall vividly how we accompanied a UV SBP team to a regional finals a few years ago. For some of them, it was the first time to travel outside Cebu and get a chance to ride a plane to the host city for the tournament. They had the times of their lives and got to play the sport that they love in a two-day tournament. Although it was not a tourism type of travel, they still had loads of fun, something they’ll surely remember for a long time. It all starts with the travel per se. The teams take a plane then get on either a bus or a van that shuttles them to the host city and where they’ll stay. Hotels and dorms are the norm for accommodations and meals. All teams sleep together on bunk beds in air-conditioned dorm-type rooms, and they also eat and spend their free time together at either the venue of the games or the hotel or dorm.

When Cebu hosted the national finals in 2017, the teams stayed in Sugbutel (free plug for them here) where a big room could host 72 persons. Imagine having young kids roaming around Sugbutel, chatting with players from other areas and exchanging notes when not on the court. New friends were discovered. New adventures were experienced. And meeting people from other areas opened up new horizons for all. Case in point was how the Bisaya-speaking teams from Vismin were really tested with their Pilipino when conversing with the teams from Luzon. For some, it was learning to speak straight English and vice-versa: the English-speaking forced to speak in Pilipino.

Part of the experience are the house rules for all. These are established with the goal of helping them grow up to be well-rounded persons. A dress code is implemented especially for the time when the players are in common activities such as meals, the venue of the games or when asked to gather in a common area. They are not allowed to walk around in sleeveless shirts, slippers or tattered shirts. All are required to dispose of their plates in a designated bin after meals and practice “CAYGO,” Clean As You Go. In sum, they are asked to represent their schools and cities or provinces with pride and a sense of professionalism. A schedule is followed very strictly since the tournament will have eight games on a Saturday and another eight (or less) on a Sunday. Officials and players spend the whole day at the venue with teams getting all the rest they can in this compact tournament.

And before I forget, they do play in a tournament. The four teams of each division play in a round-robin classification phase, with the top two teams at the end of the team standings playing for the championship. Here in Pototan, the games have drawn an instant weekend boom of sorts with the supporters of all teams spending their time (and money) here. All hotels are booked. The supermarket, convenience and sari-sari stores get instant sales. Restaurants and carinderias gain new customers. Even the provincial hospital got additional patients who sustained injuries. The tricycles have gained new customers.

At the end of the day, it’s a win-win scenario for all: the teams’ players, coaches and officials; the economy of a host town or city and its LGU; the local fans; the supporters of all teams; and the weekend growth of experience for the youngest members of the basketball age group family. All these thanks to the BEST Center, Milo and Pototan Mayor Adi Lazaro for making it happen.

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