By Reuben Terrado
Senior Staff Writer
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.