MANILA, JUNE 24, 2010
(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson - A total of 58 teams from all over the country participated in the recent Batang PBA tournament that went from seven regional eliminations to the finals in Metro Manila. That means close to 870 kids from nine to 12 years old savored what it’s like playing in the PBA – even if just a little taste.

The Batang PBA concept was hatched in 2004 during commissioner Noli Eala’s tenure and is now an institution, a milestone event in the league’s annual calendar. The idea was to reach out to the youth and fortify the PBA’s fan base, addressing the problem of tomorrow by securing the future today.

At the start, Batang PBA was strictly a Metro Manila affair where the 10 PBA franchises adopted cities and municipalities to form a league. Last year, commissioner Sonny Barrios decided to go nationwide, taking off from the success of the Metro Manila formula. Aside from the eliminations in Metro Manila, Batang PBA held regional qualifiers in Luzon with Baguio as host, Visayas with Bacolod as host and Mindanao with Cagayan de Oro as host.

The Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao winners were then flown in by the PBA to join the Metro Manila qualifiers in the national finals. Batang Talk ‘N’ Text-Quezon City took the first-ever national championship, beating Burlington Bacolod in the finals.

This year, Barrios brought Batang PBA a step further as regional eliminations were held in Bacolod, Cebu, Davao, Zamboanga, Baguio and Batangas aside from Metro Manila. The expansion was inevitable as more and more kids clamored to participate in the event.

“Every year, kids wait for the chance to play in the Batang PBA,” said PBA media affairs bureau chief and special assistant to the commissioner Willie Marcial. “We’re on our seventh year and we keep getting bigger. We try to simulate the PBA experience in the national finals so the kids can live their dream of playing like they’re in the PBA. There’s a barker. We play the same music during the games. We use PBA referees. The parents are just as excited as the kids and the night before a game, nobody can go to sleep.”

Marcial said the teams from Visayas and Mindanao were flown in to play in the finals.

“It’s an all-expense-paid tournament,” said Marcial. “We don’t want the teams to worry about paying for airfare or food or accommodations or transportation. This year, we put up the teams in a hotel near the Araneta Coliseum for a week. Commissioner Barrios brought the team to a tour of the Manila Ocean Park. Every meal was hosted. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Coca-Cola and Powerade. PBA governor J. B. Baylon of Coca-Cola gave his all-out support to the project. The kids will never forget this opportunity the rest of their lives.”

Three playing days were set for the national finals. Games were held at the Cuneta Astrodome, Ninoy Aquino Stadium and San Juan Arena. The championship game and playoff for third place would’ve been at the Big Dome last June 6 but venue officials said the hardcourt couldn’t be cleared for the morning schedule because of maintenance work due to a show the previous night.

As a way to somewhat level the playing field, each team of 15 kids was required to enlist up to four nine-year-olds (one in the reserve list) and three 12-year-olds.

In Metro Manila, 10 teams competed in the Coca-Cola Batang PBA Summer League from where Talk ‘N’ Text-Quezon City and B-Meg-Caloocan City advanced to the national finals. Other squads were Coca-Cola-Marikina, Rain Or Shine-San Juan, Air21-Taytay, San Miguel-Muntinlupa, Alaska-Antipolo, Ginebra-Cainta, Sta. Lucia Realty-Pasig and Barako Energy-Manila.

Among the hotshots from Metro Manila were Talk ‘N’ Text’s Jolo Mendoza (an Ateneo sixth grader and 12-year-old son of former Shell assistant coach Jigs Mendoza), John Vincent Gallego, Fran Yu, Jay Prince Adalem, Carl Bautista and Anton Sto. Domingo, B-Meg’s Aljun Melecio (a Bukidnon Faith Christian sixth grader), Junel Nacpil and Patrick Cagara, Air21’s Alberto Bordeos, San Miguel’s Prince Carlos and Juan Miguel Ponce, Rain Or Shine’s Tyler Tio and Michelle Ong, Alaska’s Justine Eustaquio, Ginebra’s Dominic Datu and Mark Daniel Villegas, Sta. Lucia’s Michael Abalos and Carlos Cumpas, Barako Energy’s Jezzrell Andaya and Coca-Cola’s John Adolph Salinas who scored 47 points in a game.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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