Southpaw

Prisaa: The maverick turns 60

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TIME was when the Bureau of Public Schools Interscholastic Athletics Association, along with the Private Schools Athletic Association sowed the seeds of grassroots sports development in the country.

The BPSIAA has been dead as a doornail for years, its departure from the sporting scene giving rise to the Palarong Pambansa, now the unofficial national games.

What about the Prisaa, the maverick, younger sibling? Well, it is still around, thank you, and doing things as it pleases.

This year, the association follows its current countrywide president, lawyer Gonzalo Duque, honcho of Dagupan City’s Lyceum Northwestern University, home to the 60th edition of its own national games.

Up to 5,000 collegiate athletes—and for the first time in a long time, high school standouts—from 17 regional delegations will compete for medals, the proverbial 15 minutes of fame and gems of memory from Feb. 10 to 16.

Main venue for 19 individual and team events is Lingayen City’s well-maintained Narciso Ramos Memorial Sports Complex, soon to be the site of the country’s first provincial sports academy with an initial budget of P15 million.

The guest list for the opening ceremony at the Ramos complex on Monday includes Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino Jr., Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Prisaa stalwarts led by Duque and national chair Dr. Emmanuel Angeles and the mayors of Lingayen and Dagupan.

Espino’s presence at the event is meant to show that the capitol in Lingayen hasn’t groaned to a halt. That despite plunder charges against the sports-conscious governor by a former political ally turned archenemy, the provincial government is running as usual.

Conspicuously absent are officials of the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission who feel that the Prisaa is a bit too bitter to their taste.

“The Prisaa games are not coordinated with the national sports calendar,” POC first vice president Joey Romasanta reiterated. Romasanta said for “reasons of talent identification” (for the national athletes’ pool), the Prisaa nationals are off the radar screen since they don’t stick with the program.

But Dagupan native and Prisaa regional director Phil Celi spins the talent search business differently.

“Our games are not only held to foster competition among our member schools,” says Celi. “They are heavily scouted by the big private schools that recruit our talents.”

Among the standout Prisaa alumni through the years are tracksters Lydia de Vega and Elma Muros and basketeers Jerry Codiñera and Marlou Aquino.

Celi credits his home province for opening the doors of the Ramos complex for free, although Pangasinan stands to reap the economic windfall from sports tourism during the weeklong games.

Hinting of a spat between his organization and the country’s sports brass, Celi recalled that in 2011, the Prisaa nationals were penciled at Manila’s Rizal Memorial Sports Complex but were moved to Zamboanga City because it turned out the RMSC was only available for a hefty fee.

Under a pilot program this year, the Prisaa’s center stage returns to its past to welcome back high school athletes. This is in pursuit of the country’s ideal goal of discovering talents soonest, according to Celi.

“We look at the Prisaa beyond the trickle-down effect of the Palarong Pambansa we hosted last March,” says Orpheus Velasco, the governor’s spokesperson. “The meet promotes healthy living and proves Pangasinan’s position as an epicenter for sports.”

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