Their moment in time
IT IS both difficult and easy to understand why some sports don’t receive the same attention as others.
For example, the UAAP women’s basketball tournament is ongoing at the Blue Eagle Gym in Loyola Heights. Unlike in the male side of the tournament there are no TV cameras save for a few for the technical side of the game and for teams that want to “study film” (an antiquated term but still generally used in basketball when referring to video watching).
I am probably not catching the women’s tournament at its best. Playoff and championship matches will attract a lot more supporters. Unfortunately, the women’s games are scheduled on the same Wednesday afternoon that the men’s teams are playing at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. The hype and hoopla of the men’s game has been a magnet for school communities long before television brought it to another level.
The old Katipunan venue is empty save for the participants and about a hundred of their friends, family or schoolmates. Volleyball was once like this when the sport was not the big deal it is today. When I was a student manager in high school, only a handful would cheer for our volleyball team and I knew most of the people.
I arrive in the middle of the first quarter of the University of Santo Tomas-University of the East game. It is a spirited, feisty encounter with UST darting out in front early but with UE playing catchup quickly. UST has good players in Kristine Siapoc, Maica Cortes, Lore Rivera and Jen Angeles. Together, they net 53 points to lead the Tigresses to a 69-53 win.
There are turnovers galore and UST forced UE to commit 39 while having 23 of their own. The ball handling can be either sharp or sloppy at times and teams in the women’s game often resort to trapping defenses to score on leak outs and quick transition baskets.
Noticeable in this game is UE’s player No. 12, Marife Sampaga. You quickly spot that she does not have a right hand but it does not dampen her spirit. She scored seven points and even nailed two out of four free throws with a form she most likely fashioned on her own. Chino Trinidad texts me that Sampaga is from Nasugbu, Batangas. Polio took away her right hand but not her love of the game.
The same is true for the rest of the field in tournaments on school calendars that do not get as much media or fan attention. The value and joy of school sports should be measured only in terms of the benefits they provide those who play passionately.
Just like Marife Sampaga, the athletes are just thrilled to be playing their game for their schools. This is their big time, even if there are not that many people in the stands. They have no postcollegiate games to look forward to unless they play for military teams or if a visionary decides to organize a league of their own some day.
Until that time, the games that will matter for these unheralded athletes will be those that they play in front of the empty chairs.
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