Stars are born
Veruel Verdadero wasn’t contended with simply being the fastest in the recent Palarong Pambansa in San Jose, Antique. He wanted to exceed himself.
In the end, ambition propelled the wiry 15-year-old from Dasmariñas City, Cavite, to the forefront and landed him five gold medals—the only runner to amass that many in track and field.
Cebu’s 14-year-old gymnastics darling Daniella Reggie dela Pisa showed the same intensity during the competition, using her victory over ovarian cancer as motivation to come away with a bravura performance.
Parallel stories about perseverance and hard work also abounded in the swimming pool with Maurice Sacho Ilustre validating his status as the biggest star of the national games for elementary and high school student athletes.
Two weeks after the Palaro’s 60th edition came to a close, the government and the games’ organizers are now making sure that the success of Verdadero, Dela Pisa and Ilustre will translate into medals in the international arena in the near future.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones says her office will work closely with the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and the national sports associations (NSAs) to help strengthen the national pool of athletes with prodigious talents from the Palaro.
Noting the “alarming decline” in the number of school children who take up sports, Briones says the department will ensure that the Palaro becomes a substantial source of athletes for the national training pool.
“We are not attracting enough learners who seriously get into sports,” she says. “We hope that the Palaro will encourage them not only to play in these games, but to take up sports as a particular specialization and profession in the future. Sports is an honorable profession because you give glory to the country.”
Briones points out that in a recent Department of Education study, only 3,125 of the country’s 1.5 million Grade 11 students are into sports or are serious athletes. To encourage more students to take up sports, she has asked Education Assistant Secretary Tonisito Umali to head the quest to produce sports icons from the Palaro.
Remember tracksters Lydia De Vega and Elma Muros-Posadas and swimmer Eric Buhain? They belonged to an era when the Palaro produced fine athletes in significant numbers. Now the talent spring is slowly drying up with only a sprinkling of international-caliber boys and girls emerging from the Palaro in the last four decades.
“The law provides that we should engage the PSC, the NSAs and the LGUs (local government units) so that we can clearly identify the talents,” says Umali. “We’re synchronizing our efforts because we really need to draw a blueprint in order to create a gold medalist in the Olympics.”
The cooperation among the three parties is already taking shape with the PSC strengthening its grassroots programs in the provinces through the agency’s Philippine Sports Institute.
“There should be a commitment,” adds Umali. “We want to leave a lasting legacy, a real sports grassroots development program that is responsive and relevant.”
This commitment will be tested on Verdadero, Ilustre and Dela Pisa, as well as the other top performers of the Palaro in Antique, where 12,000 delegates, including 7,000 athletes from the country’s 18 regions, saw action.
A bronze medalist in the century dash of the recent Southeast Asian Youth Athletics Championships in Ilagan, Isabela, Verdadero achieved a sprint double with victories in the secondary boys’ 100 meters and 200m.
The incoming ninth grader from Cavite’s Immaculate Concepcion Academy also topped the 400m and powered two Southern Tagalog quartets to the gold in the 4x100m and 4x400m relays in Antique’s Binirayan Sports Complex.
At the adjacent Evelio B. Javier gymnasium, Dela Pisa hogged the limelight with three gold medals in the hoop, ball and rope events in secondary girls’ rhythmic gymnastics. The pretty and petite teenager from University of Visayas also picked up two bronze medals in the clubs and individual all-around for good measure.
Already the 2016 Palaro’s most bemedalled athlete with seven golds in Albay, Ilustre duplicated the feat with a couple of record-breaking performances in the pool to boot. The 17-year-old from De La Salle-Zobel ruled the 200m freestyle and helped National Capital Region win the 400m freestyle relay on the final day of competitions.
A top prospect for the Philippine swimming team in the coming Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Ilustre also won the gold in the 400m butterfly, 100m fly and 400m medley while erasing his previous Palaro records in the 200m fly (2:04.88) and 100m free (52.97 seconds) on the way to victory.
Swimmers Jerald Jacinto and Nicole Pamintuan also shattered several records, helping NCR collect 98 gold, 66 silver and 45 bronze medals for its 13th straight overall championship.
In all, Jacinto—an incoming 10th grader from University of the East-Caloocan—broke seven Palaro records while Pamintuan smashed the existing standards in the secondary girls’ 200m free, 100m backstroke and 100m free.
The Palaro’s biggest performers are supposed to inherit the mantle of the likes of De Vega, Muros and Buhain. With the country’s sports grassroots program finally humming with greater activity through the sports institute, these rising stars have given themselves a chance to reach their full potentials.