by Jaq Eroles
Every young athlete dreams of making it to the big leagues someday. For most of them, the Palarong Pambansa is “where the future begins”.
Fifteen thousand young Filipino athletes will meet once again, eager to earn the pride and honor of being hailed as the country’s best of the best, in the biggest sporting event in the country – the Palarong Pambansa.
Palarong Pambansa or the National Games is an annual multi-sport event organized by the Department of Education (DepEd). Athletes from public and private elementary and secondary schools join the event to represent their respective regions in various sporting events.
Launch pad to greatness
All athletes know that dreams do come true in the Palaro.
The epic stories of some of the national athletes start from the battles in Palarong Pambansa and the rest was history. While it is true that greatness start from small school competitions, it is still what you bring into the Palaro field that propels an athlete to the big arena of sports.
According to DepEd, some of the most famous Palaro talents are Elma Muros and Lydia de Vega for Athletics; Diane Castillejo for Tennis; Joper Esqueta and Gabriel Magnaye for Badminton; Violito Paylo for Boxing; Enchong Dee and Akiko Thomson for Swimming; Joan Chan for Archery; and Mark Paragua for Chess.
Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) players such as Danny Ildefonso, Marlou Aquino, Willie Miller, Samboy Lim, and Kirby Raymundo also used to be mainstays in the Palaro. AZKALs’ Chiefy Caligdong and Christopher Camcam also made their names by gaining titles in the said event.
Current collegiate stars were Palaro standouts before they were recruited into the University Athletic Association in the Philippines (UAAP) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Ara Galang, one of the lethal weapons of DLSU Lady Spikers was recruited by Coach Ramil de Jesus when she was still a 2nd year high school student playing for the Central Luzon squad. Now FEU track star Marylyn Avila caught the attention of the sports community as the kid from NCR who stumbled twice in the 100-meter race and coming back days after to grab the Gold and Bronze in the 400- and 800-meter runs in the Palarong Pambansa.
The list can go on forever telling the story of thousands of athletes discovered through Palarong Pambansa and advancing into collegiate, national, and even international competitions. A lot is at stake this year as young athletes are eyeing to gain their ticket to compete in the upcoming 6th ASEAN schools games to be held in the Marikina, Philippines on December 2014.
Where the best meet and compete
While young athletes seek to compete in the Palarong Pambansa to achieve something greater, getting qualified in the Palaro is already a big achievement in itself.
The Palarong Pambansa pools in the best athletes that each region has to offer. The long journey to the Palaro starts from local school intramurals, followed by district, division, and regional athletic meets. Only those who underwent these preliminary battles and proven to be the best in the region are fielded into the Palaro.
There are 25 sporting events for the elementary level and 29 for the secondary. Both levels have competitions for Arnis, Athletics, Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Chess, Football, Gymnastics, Sepak, Softball, Swimming, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Tennis, and Volleyball, while Boxing and Archery are for secondary level only. This year, Wushu, Billiards and Wrestling were added to discover new young talents in the said sports.
Challenging the NCR dominance
For decades now, the National Capital Region (NCRAA) exhibited overpowering dominance over sixteen other regions that compete every year. In the last nine years alone, NCR grabbed an average of 618 points while its closest consistent competitor, the Western Visayas (WVAA) won only about 447 in the average. In the medal tally since 2011, NCR averages to about 102 while the second placer only scores medals at 59 on the average.
The immense advantage of NCR over other regions may be attributed to the high concentration of students and its capacity to spend for competitive sports program.
NCR has the highest concentration of public and private schools in the whole country. Millions of students study in this region and therefore has a wide array of student athletes to select from. A number of student athletes who live in Central Luzon or Southern Tagalog goes to an NCR school, as such, they represent NCR in the Palaro and not their home regions.
NCR is also composed of relatively wealthier cities that are able to finance sports program better and can participate in more events compared to other regions. On top of this, the region has top private schools that implement excellent sports program for its student-athletes, among these are University of Sto. Tomas, De La Salle Zobel, Xavier School, and Hope Christian Academy.
Despite this, long time competitor, Western Visayas, vows to snatch the General Championship and dethrone NCR this year. They admit that the recent shift from point system to medal system will be a disadvantage but they keep their spirits high, confident that their squads have prepared to bring action in the Palaro.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Visayas will be sending fewer delegates this year as the region still has not recovered from the devastation of typhoon Yolanda. No preliminary meets were conducted in the said region.
Laguna as host
Known before as the Bureau of Public Schools-Interscholastic Athletics Association Games or BPISAA, the Palaro was first held in Manila in 1948. This year, the 57th Palarong Pambansa will be hosted by the province of Laguna.
The province of Laguna is said to have spent P70 million to bid for the hosting of Palaro while spending P1 billion for the improvement of infrastructure such as the sports complex and classrooms. Meanwhile, DepEd will spend around P120 million for the event.
Most of the sports events will be held in Sta. Cruz and Los Banos while the billeting of regional delegation will be in classrooms at different public schools in Laguna.
Behold as dreams are made true in the coming days. Watch out as the country’s future sports heroes may be one of the kids stepping into the courts and battling it out this year at the Palarong Pambansa.
The Palarong Pambansa excitement, action, and inspiration will start on May 4 and conclude on May 10.