PDI story kicks off Philippine softbelles’ bid to win World Little League titleBy Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Until a week ago, the Philippine national girls softball was struggling to raise the almost $50,000 they needed to buy airplane tickets for 12 players, four coaches and two sport officials.
Completely cut off from government support, the team, a consistent placer in the World Series, was uncertain about making it to this year’s tournament in Kalamazoo where they are confident they can improve on their runner-up finish last year.
They will represent Asia-pacific in the Little League World Series Championships in the United States from August 4 to 10.
Their luck changed on Thursday as private citizens and corporate donors came forward to pledge financial support after reading their story in the Inquirer that day.
Some of the firms that vowed to help were Maynilad, Smart and a list of private individuals who called the Inquirer offices on Thursday.
But even before the team’s story went public, various business people have been paying for plane tickets, and coach Randy Dizer wanted their names mentioned: Edwin Galvez and Mikee Romero of Harbour Centre, Raffy Garcia of Mega Data Corp. and Cebuana Lhuiller’s Jean Henri Lhuiller.
And while the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) could not provide official funding, Dizer said PSC Commissioner Jolly Gomez had paid for one ticket (almost $2,000).
He said the PSC has adopted a policy of focusing funds on the national men’s and women’s teams which, in the case of softball, is the Blu Girls (aged 19 and above) team.
“Our hopes were revived. We will do our best to show our appreciation for the support we were given,” said 18-year-old pitcher Glesyl Opjer, an automechanic’s daughter who is on an education scholarship at the Adamson University.
“They’re all happy. When I informed them [of the financial support], they told me “Game na, sir!” said Dizer.
There they were huddling in the next field as frantic cheering filled the Rizal Memorial Football stadium where the Azkals were fighting their losing World Cup bid against the Kuwaitis on Thursday night.
“We could hear the cheering for the team. We want that for ourselves someday,” said Laura Lehmann, one of the 12 members of the Philippine national girls’ softball team.
“We are very happy. We are very motivated because we know that people now know our story. We have to try our hardest and live up to expectations,” said Lehmann, 18, speaking for her teammates, warriors in a sport still somewhat remote from the consciousness of Filipino sport fans.
Finally relieved of money worries, the team arrived in the US on Saturday, bent on taking home the World Series title to prove they are worth the support they have been getting.
This year’s Asia Pacific champions for the 16-18 bracket, the Manila Little League girls’ softball team flew to the US on Friday night in hopes of taking the championship in the Little League World Series in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a fight they almost missed for lack of money to buy air tickets for themselves.
“During my talk with the team, I felt that they had higher morale and that they will give their 100 percent. We will use our hearts in this fight,” said coach Ana Santiago in an interview just before the team boarded their 10 p.m. Philippine Airlines flight on Friday.
“I told them that our primary reason for going there is to play and concentrate on the game. They should set their mind and heart on the game, not on other things,” Santiago said.
The Little League girls’ team is composed mainly of Bacolod-bred teeners counting on the sport to enable them to continue with their college studies in Manila, through softball scholarships. The team also includes players from the International Little League of Manila.
The team is due to make a two-day stop in Chicago for tune-up doubleheaders while adjusting to the time zone, Dizer said.
They will then make the three-hour road trip to Michigan on August 2, two days ahead of the World Series opener on August 4. The team is expected to face doubleheader matches in the first three days against regional teams, including the USA Southwest, Central, East and West teams, Canada, the Europe-Middle East-Africa regional team and Latin America.
The championship match is slated for August 10.
Whatever the result of the games, Santiago said Adamson University alumni based in Los Angeles have pledged to host the girls in a four-day tour of the city after the World Series.