The team has gone a long way from the quiet town of Maitum, Sarangani Province; more known for 2,000 year old anthropomorphic burial jars and water tubing through the Pangi River.
Coaches Ken Naval and Jumar Valera (elementary school teachers at Malalag Central Elementary School, Maitum, Sarangani Province) had consistently produced a championship baseball team that represented Sarangani Province in the SOCCSKSARGEN Regional Athletic Association (SRAA). From quarterfinals qualifier, to a bronze, then two silvers in the annual regional games; this years' team copped the Gold and earned the right to represent the region in the Palarong Pambansa.
At the Palarong Pambansa in Albay, the kids from SRAA won against all of their Bracket B opponents. They faced Cagayan Valley Regional Athletic Association (CAVRAA) 5-4, Western Visayas Regional Athletic Association (WVRAA) 8-2, Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Regional Athletic Association (ARMMRAA) 12 -2, and MiMaRoPa 7- 0.
During the Quarterfinals, they beat Central Visayas 21-2, and Central Luzon in the Semifinals 6-4. Last April 15, they faced CAVRAA in the Championships, and got the gold at 5-2.
After winning the gold, the kids joked that they beat their opponents because they were so smelly. They did not have any chance of having their uniforms properly washed, because they only had one set of uniforms, that would take a whole day to dry; and they had to play a game every day. “Nabangsit nga uniform!” the kids laughingly remarked in Ilocano.
News about the team’s progress in Albay was shared through social media and texting. Parents back in Maitum kept praying for the team in Albay. The kids had their share of health challenges, since they were new to the place, and had to adjust to the water. Having the municipal doctor just a text away helped the coaches and the parents who were with the team, treat health problems quickly.
The team got augmented by Kenn Benedict Vergonia and Dhynn Hurter Balanan both from the Municipality of Tupi, South Cotabato. Kenn Vergonia was awarded the Best Pitcher, while Dhynn Hurter made the most Home Runs in the games.
Reaching the Palarong Pambansa is in every school coach's dream. Most especially for those in small towns all over the country. The sense of accomplishment and the pride to represent your region in the national games is a feat in itself; considering the constraints that small town athletes face.
The lack of equipment is made up by the courage and determination of the kids and their parents. When they won the gold in the regional games John Rey Boniog had that smile of triumph in his face, but thought about how they could get to the games in Albay. They only had one set of uniforms, 2 bats and worn out balls to practice on.
Twins Cyrex and Cyrus could only smile when asked to explain how they trained for the national games. “Dyan kami nag practice sa may mga mangga” (We practiced near the mango trees, throwing and catching balls). “Takbo din paakyat sa may dumpsite, tapos pa balik dito sa school” (We would run up to the dumpsite and back to school).
For their practice games, Coaches Ken and Jumar, brought together the older kids who saw action in the previous editions of the regional games. There is no other baseball team in town, except this team and the kids who played in the previous years.
They would play baseball at the athletic field of Edenton Mission College at another part of town. The field at the elementary school was over grown with weeds, and had rocks all over. The field only got cleared and cleaned up when the town hosted the Regional Games last February.
Malalag Central Elementary School Principal Pacita Ramos revealed that the school had practically no budget for athletics, much more baseball equipment. The parents, led by the PTCA President Celico Durano raised funds from the community, and they plan to do the same in preparation for the Asia Pacific games in Pampanga.
The 12 boys who make up the team come from four different places. The Pitcher and Catcher are from Tupi, South Cotabato. The rest of the team are from Maitum and Kiamba, Sarangani Province and Koronadal, South Cotabato.
Practicing as a team for the Asia Pacific Little League Games can only happen when they are all brought together. Coach Ken Naval stated that this will most likely happen two weeks before the games, when they will all head to Pampanga.
The team will start training next week for the Asia Pacific Little League World Series games in Pampanga with 2 bats and 15 worn out baseballs and a lot of heart . . . and they will represent the Philippines this July! (Patrick Jerome Guasa for SARANGANI INFORMATION OFFICE)