Leyte kids relive football dream 2 years after ‘Yolanda’
JULIUS Coringcoting struggled for words as he described the scene before him.
There he was, just a few days removed from one of the most memorable moments he had playing the sport that he loved, staring at the trail of devastation.
Walking back to his village, the 11-year-old saw a couple of bodies washed away by raging waters, homes destroyed and almost everyone in a state of panic after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) lashed his hometown, Tacloban City.
The most destructive typhoon on record struck on Nov. 8, 2013, obliterating towns in Leyte province, which took the brunt of the devastation. Over 6,300 people died and more than 1,000 people remain missing.
A day before the typhoon hit, Julius was on an emotional high as his San Jose Elementary School team prevailed in its first game in the football competitions of the Tacloban City Meet.
San Jose had earned a reputation as one of the strongest youth teams in the city and Julius and his teammates were hoping to live up to the billing in the tournament.
But everything was brought to a halt as Yolanda struck.
Battle of survival
All of a sudden, football didn’t seem to matter and Julius’ dream of pursuing a career in the sport on hold.
His life, like that of the rest of Taclobanons, was reduced to a battle of survival as Julius and his family salvaged what was left of their lives.
“Everyone was looking forward to winning the city meet,” football coach Divino Regis said. “But Yolanda happened. The players survived but almost everything was gone.”
Jared Troy Regis harbors dreams of playing for the national team. He joined forces with Julius as they led San Jose to victory in their debut in the city meet.
But a pall of gloom descended on the Regis family as they lost their home at the height of the storm surge, leaving Jared traumatized.
Messi his idol
“He swallowed a lot of floodwater,” Regis said of Jared, his nephew. “He got so sick that he had the symptoms of polio. We thought that he wouldn’t be able to walk again.”
Jared had shown immense potential as the team captain. Everyday he practiced the moves of his idol, Lionel Messi, but he had more important things to worry about after Yolanda struck.
As Taclobanons picked up the pieces of their lives, Jared, Julius and the rest of their teammates also turned to the sport they loved, bringing back some normality to their lives.
The Beautiful Game became a sanctuary.
Last weekend, the team—now called Team RTR Leyte All-Stars—finally got to strut their wares at a bigger, more competitive stage in the Alaska Cup, one of the biggest age-group football tournaments in the country.
Team RTR is fielding two teams in the 13-Under and 14-Under divisions—an idea that was even far-fetched when Yolanda struck. So when the Under-14 team stepped on the pitch at Alabang Country Club the other day, they already felt like winners.
“It’s my first time in Manila and we just want to do our best here,” Coringcoting said in Filipino.
The team showed its worth by finishing ninth out of 36 teams as it went unbeaten. The RTR All-Stars toppled a team from Brent International School and drew with Ateneo de Manila and Ateneo de Cebu, an impressive feat considering what the squad had gone through the past two years.
It took three months for Jared to walk again as he recovered from his mysterious illness.
“I felt alive again because of football. That’s why I really love the sport,” said Jared, who also idolizes Azkals defender Daisuke Sato.
The building blocks of the team that saw action in the Alaska Cup started when Remedios Trinidad Romualdez (RTR) Foundation began conducting football clinics as part of Mission Tacloban six months after the storm.
The football festival and clinic drew players from eight municipalities in Leyte as RTR partnered with Team Socceroo Football Club.
The best players from the camp, including Julius and Jared, were also given a rare chance to participate in the Cebu leg of the FC Barcelona Escola clinic, which had coaches from one of the world’s most accomplished clubs sharing their knowledge about the game.
Coping with trauma
Jared and Julius turned to the sport to cope with the trauma brought about by the tragedy. Their story was even featured in a documentary titled “Fields of Hope.”
“These children were broken by the storm,” said Ginggay Hontiveros, the mission director of the RTR Foundation.
“By giving them purpose, we help them on the road toward healing.”
Support has poured in for the team, making their Alaska Cup stint possible. The Inquirer Foundation was the latest to help by providing the team with football boots for the tournament, in partnership with Kidsports.
The Inquirer president and CEO, Sandy Prieto-Romualdez, personally turned over the 30 new pairs of shoes to the children on Thursday.
The players’ faces lit up as they received their shoes in the Inquirer boardroom.
“Before they were using only shoes bought from the ukay-ukay (used clothing stalls), so this is a big thing for the kids,” Regis said. “These will go a long way to their playing. They will be inspired to play.”
Some of the players will be playing in new pairs of boots for the first time in their lives.
“They’ve gone through so much and it’s wonderful that they have this program and have many people supporting them,” Romualdez said. “We will be able to help them develop their skills and experience things they would never have experienced otherwise.”
Bringing back the joys
Romualdez said she was impressed on seeing the team play in one of her visits to Tacloban a few months ago.
“I saw that they did not have proper equipment that’s why I asked the Inquirer Foundation if we could support them,” Romualdez said. “In terms of a sport you can see the joy it brings after what they had to go through. It’s nice that they have football and have this program to be able to help them.”
Romualdez added: “They’re very talented so it’s nice to give them an opportunity like other kids have.”
She said the team was actually the first sports team that the foundation had supported.
“I believe that sports can help someone through healing and enjoyment and through meeting other people,” she said. “Working as a team, you learn so much from sports and sports knows no background. It’s more of having the ability.”
A second life
Julius, now 13, said football had given him and his teammates “a second life.”
“That’s why we always give our best when we play,” he said.
Regis said the tragedy had strengthened his team’s resolve that would come in handy as they face challenges on and off the pitch.
“Football saved us. It’s the opportunity that counts for these players,” Regis said. “They have a second chance. What matters now is how they make the most out of it.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.