I WENT off to Baguio City last week together with my sister Corie, my wife Marissa, daughter Jemi, and “apo” Livi for a working break though honestly, it was more of a break than work definitely.
The work part was the Football For A Better Life ( FFABL ) 8th leg in its nation-wide grassroots football development program sponsored by Pru Life UK for the second straight year, the break part was visiting the attractions that this mountain top city has to offer, not that I have not been here before but then I wanted to bring my grand daughter and enjoy the cold weather the city offers.
We drove there last Thursday morning, checked in at GM Apartelle near Camp John Hay, and the following morning, drove again and made it to the sprawling Benguet State University in La Trinidad, about 20 minutes from downtown Baguio, and just in time for the opening ceremonies of the free football clinic scheduled that morning, the second part of course was the pocket football tournament, 7 to a side, featuring different age groups that attracted close to 50 schools in the region.
And Cordillera region Football Association President Frael Aquino delivered on his promise to series organizer Albert Almendralejo that he would have at least a thousand kids just for the football clinic, and even went beyond it he estimated the huge field of participants as close to 1300 boys and girls, all excited at the prospect of being taught the basics of the game by current Philippine Azkals Simone Rota, still recuperating from an ACL operation a month ago, and Ashley Flores, former Azkal Reffix Cuaresma, UFL’s best goalkeeper and Baguio native ,Nelson Gasic, and Fil- Briton Graham Caygill, Pru Life’s football ambassador, and assisted by 30 other local coaches.
The fact is this leg will set the record so far for the most number of participants, estimated to reach 2000 kids when you count the tournament participants, and with still two legs to go, cumulative total already for the year will exceed last year’s total of around 8 000 kids, according to Aquino, in Benguet alone, there are about 1500 kids in grassroots football and that the game is very popular in the region together with basketball and volleyball. CRFA conducts three coaching courses every year and holds 4 to 6 football festivals a year among club and school-based teams.
Presently, the region has two national players , Junuell Fianza in the U - 16 and Junell Bautista in the U- 23, while Gasic, who also spoke to the kids at the opening ceremonies, has already made a name for himself in the UFL.
I also had a chance to chat with Simone, Graham, and Reffix, and all three were amazed at the turnout of kids for the football clinic, all enthusiastic and will follow anything that the instructors tell them to do, of course there would always be the endless photo ops for the kids with their football idols.
Simone says football can really change lives for the better as it did for him, Graham was enjoying the adulation of the kids as they followed him everywhere, he described the huge field as the perfect venue with mountains as backdrop and the weather cooperating that morning. For Reffix, he says this is the way to promote football among kids by starting them young, though a lot of them he added, knew already their positions and wanted to work on their skills.
While there, we also talked with Gizelle Camua, Pru Life AVP for Brand and she shared that this year, the company will enter FFABL in the annual Anvil awards as a CSR program, she also talked about the financial literacy program that Pru Life has started and will be introduced in the FFABL’s last leg for football kids when the program culminates either at ULTRA or at the Rizal Memorial football field. She says the program’s objective is to teach financial skills to kids anchored on the Earn-Save - Spend-Donate module and that it is already in 100 schools nationwide.
She cited education and sports as the pillars of Pru Life’s CSR program and it was but natural that they end up partnering with Gawad Kalinga as the last leg of the FFABL will feature different GK communities who will engage in friendly inter-community football competition aside from the football clinic.
Albert says that as early as now, Pru Life is already looking forward to next year after seeing the big response of kids and different LGU’s nation-wide.
After the football clinic, me and my family went to the strawberry farm just across BSU , only to learn that that harvest time will still be next year, and we ended up buying the usual Baguio products and souvenirs, a few minutes later, the FFABL delegation from Manila also dropped by the farm prior to going down that same afternoon, me, I stayed until Sunday morning and brought my “apo” to Burnham Park, Wright Park, Mines View, Camp John Hay, my wife drew the line at bringing Livi to the haunted house of Baguio, I think the Laperal mansion.
Next year I plan to return and stay at the Baguio Country Club, courtesy of my friend, former PBA player Mike Advani, good to have friends like him, believe me.