By Reuben Terrado
Senior Staff Writer
The youth and is hope of the nation.
It's cliche in this generation of the computers and the social media, but our national hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal could not have said it better more than a hundred years ago.
It's also a challenge that each Filipino youth tries to live by each and every day, from then and now.
Laying the groundwork to the future of Philippine sports is exactly what the MVP Sports Foundation has been giving the youth-- providing opportunities for them to excel in their chosen sporting fields, day in and out.
Sports teaches the youth a lot. It is important for them to sustain interest in their chosen fields from the time they started young until they grow old.
For them to rise, a grassroots program is important in nurturing the youth's talent to build them as better athletes, become the next sports heroes of the country, and as champions.
Over the years, the MVP Sports Foundation has given grassroots programs shots in the arm, especially in disciplines where the country has a great chance of success in the international arena.
But the MVP Sports Foundation does not limit itself to the more popular sports like basketball and boxing.
Instead, the foundation formed through the efforts of Manny V. Pangilinan, extends its support to other emerging sports deserving its care.
Among the sports the MVP Sports Foundation has helped over the years are triathlon and rugby. Though not as popular as basketball and boxing, their success proved the potential of Filipino athletes in these fields.
The recent 2015 Southeast Asian Games could attest to their successes.
In triathlon, the Philippines swept the competition with Nikko Huelgas and Claire Adorna ruling the men’s and women’s divisions of the event respectively. Kim Mangrobang also won the silver medal behind Adorna, stamping the country's class in the sport.
Rugby players also proved they, too, can win in international events.
The Philippine Volcanoes captured the gold medal in the SEA Games, one of many accomplishments the men’s national team already has in its name.
The women’s team, meantime, didn’t go home without a medal as the Lady Volcanoes collected a bronze in the competition.
Other sports like badminton and figure skating have also molded young athletes with the MVP Sports Foundation also there lending a hand and making sure the future of our youth is secured through sports.
MVPSF Coaches Convention
Nurturing future triathletes
Triathlon in the Philippines can be traced sometime in the late 1980s when the emergence of the sport led to the formation of the Triathlon Association of the Philippines, the national sports association recognized by the International Triathlon Union.
Since then, several races have been conducted to meet the needs of not only the athletes in the competitive level, but also people who compete for leisure.
With triathlon's growth, the MVP Sports Foundation partnered with Unilab to support the Tri United Race Series, one of the most prestigious events in the local scene.
Admittedly, the MVPSF member companies saw the commercial value in the sport due to the growing number of competitors joining triathlon events that has one of the most diverse and marketable to advertise in. But MVPSF primarily saw the need to help the future of the sport through its support to the event.
Through the support of the MVPSF, the Tri United Race Series has also opened its doors to competitors as young as 14 years, providing an avenue for up-and-coming to triathletes to test their skills against their age-level.
The MVPSF has, in fact, gave P10,000 each to the best young male and female competitor after each race, opening doors to potential triathletes for the national team and other development programs.
Through Tri United, several athletes have been discovered like Lauren Plaza, who placed first in the female 15-17 year old category, and Lucian Antonio Alejo, who topped the male 15-17 category. For their achievements, Plaza and Alejo received the MVP Sports Foundation Youth Triathlete award last February of 2016.
Their performance gave them the opportunity to be tapped for the Philippine developmental team.
“I decided to take up triathlon because of my brother,” said Plaza in a recent magazine interview. “My swim coach at school actually introduced my older brother to the sport. In the house, I saw that he had several bikes and sports gear. I became envious, that’s why I tried it. I eventually liked it, and now I love triathlon.”
As members of the Philippine developmental team, they are getting further training to someday bring home gold medals for the country.
Developing rugby in the youth level
Like triathlon, rugby is also fast becoming an emerging young people's sport following the accomplishments of the national team in international play.
Since the sport’s humble beginnings in 1999, rugby slowly began to take shape in the country that culminated with the formation of a national team called the Philippine Volcanoes.
The Volcanoes started competing in the Southeast Asian Games in 2005 as an exhibition event where they won the gold in front of Filipino fans.
“It really started to take off in 2005,” said Philippine Rugby Football Union head of national teams Jake Letts.
Rugby later became an official event in the SEA Games where the Volcanoes won a silver medal in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand in 2007, before finally taking the gold medal in the 2015 edition in Singapore.
The MVP Sports Foundation gave the sport its backing by partnering with the PRFU in 2014. To sustain the squad’s lofty showing in international events, the MVP Sports Foundation decided to support the youth teams of the Volcanoes.
For a start, the MVP Sports Foundation came in to support the Under-19 team in 2014.
“Our Under-18 team is basically a talent identification program. It is basically the first platform for the players to represent the Philippines in the men’s level,” said Letts.
From there, the MVP Sports Foundation started supporting much younger level of teams by supporting the Under-14, Under-16, and Under-18 teams.
“If you think about it, if you have a chance to represent the Under-14, Under-16, Under-18, and Under-19, which is all covered by the MVPSF, that launches them into the men’s national program which is the Philippine Volcanoes,” said Letts.
The PRFU culls players not just from different schools, but also in tournaments joined in by different charitable foundations with rugby programs jumpstarted by the PRFU in a year-round talent identification campaign for the youth squad.
“We have programs throughout the Philippines, most evidently in Luzon and Visayas. What we do run monthly tournaments every February to November with out foundation teams. We also identify players in the Philippine schools league that is held from November to January. From there, the national team is picked,” said Letts.
Among the schools and organizations that have partnered with PRFU are the following: Brent International School, International School Manila, British School Manila, Faith Academy, King's School Manila, Haven For Children, Kaingin 1 Quezon City, Tuloy Foundation, Don Bosco College, SOS Manila, SOS Davao, SOS Cebu, Ateneo de Cebu, Willing Heart Orphanage, Don Hilarion G Gonzaga Memorial High School, Miriam College, Quezon City Polytechnic University, University of Makati, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Muntinlupa
This early, the novel program has produced two players who could well form part of the national team come 2017 in Jonel Madrona and Lito Ramirez.
Madrona was taken in from Bahay Bata Foundation, while Ramirez was from Tuloy Foundation in Muntinlupa, two teams supported by the programs of PRFU and sponsored by the MVP Sports Foundation.
“They are trying out for the team for 2017,” said Letts. “They are probably the most evident among the youth teams who came from the program.”
The ultimate goal for the Philippine Volcanoes is to make it to the 2020 Olympics, which the PRFU believes is attainable via the youth programs the MVP Sports Foundation is supporting.
“We have a strategic plan for the next four years. Our goal is to form our best national teams in all programs. The national youth team is the foundation of the national team. We ensure the development of rugby is in line with our strategic plan. The MVP Sports Foundation plays a huge role in our program,” said Letts.
A juniors championship for badminton
Badminton had a sudden rise in popularity in the 2000s, and the MVP Sports Foundation is making sure that young athletes will continue to play the sport through the years through more tournaments for the youth.
The MVP Sports Foundation has given badminton a boost with its support to the MVP Juniors National Championship, one of the main tournaments of the sport in the country sanctioned by the Philippine Badminton Association.
To maximize participation, the MVP Juniors National Championship has three qualifying events, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, where the champions in each area in different events will earn a chance to compete in the national finals.
In 2016, the culminating event was held in Cebu City.
The tournament also led to the formation of an outreach program named MVP Jrs. Cares to help the youth 13-years and below to be introduced to the sport. The program hopes to continue to reinvigorate the sport through the grassroots level, supporting the goals of the PBA.
It also gives aspiring badminton players a chance to earn ranking points as the tournament is part of the Philippine National Ranking System (PNRS) that will pave the way for their entry in the national team.
Through the MVP Juniors National Championship, the MVP Sports Foundation is keen on producing top-rated badminton players that will hopefully compete in world competitions dominated by our neighbors in Southeast Asia.
Rewarding an Olympian
With the construction of several skating rinks in the country, some kids chose ice skating as a leisure activity. But a few more, however, have pursued the sports despite the Philippines being a tropical country.
Climate didn’t stop the MVP Sports Foundation to also support figure skating, where it has also provided incentives to inspire a young athlete to pursue bigger achievements in the international scene.
Such was the case of figure skater Michael Christian Martinez, who was rewarded by the MVP Sports Foundation $10,000 for competing in the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in 2014 at very young 17.
The very first athlete from Southeast Asia to compete in the Winter Olympic Games, Martinez, under the watchful eye of renowned Russian coach Viktor Kudriavtsev, finished 19th place in the short program, not bad for a first-time Olympian from tropical Philippines.
Prior to the Winter Olympic Games, the MVP Sports Foundation has already been supporting Martinez, who was also given P500,000 for his overseas training.
The Winter Olympic Games was a culmination of a dream for Martinez, who started skating at the age of nine.
In 2010, he began competing internationally through the ISU Junior Grand Prix in 2010. After sustaining several injuries, Martinez finally won an international competition at the 2012 Crystal Skate of Romania. His rise continued when he finished fifth in the 2013 World Junior Figure Skating Championship.
The MVP Sports Foundation sees its support to Martinez as a way to motivate other young athletes to work even harder to reach greater heights, and provide the country future sports superstars.
For the MVP Sports Foundation, there's no stopping its search for Filipino champions.