Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Going Home

I. Homeward Bound
After seven months of living in airport terminals and a fire station, footballer Ayi Nii Aryee was finally cleared to leave last January 10 on board an Emirates flight EK 335 bound for Dubai. From there, Aryee switched flights for the last leg home to Accra International Airport in Ghana.

Ayi was contracted to try out for a pro football club Sporting Afrique in Singapore’s S-League some nine months ago, but a bad deal and a devious agent left the aspiring football player without a team and without any money. But the worst was yet to come to the 19-year old Ghanaian player. A voided working permit and an expired passport found him stranded at first in Clark International Airport then at NAIA where he was confined to quarters since July of last year.

But all ends well. With the help of local football club Union FC, Ayi was finally able to leave. Partially because of our efforts to publicize Ayi’s plight, Sporting Afrique was banned from further competition in Singapore. It turns out that Ayi wasn’t the only player being taken advantage of. The rest of the team has not been paid the previously agreed salaries promised them and S-League authorities shut down the club while its management is purportedly under investigation. In the meantime, the team’s players who are all from Africa have been dispersed to other clubs or have been sent back home.

II. A Sort of Homecoming
Last Tuesday, January 9, I received an invitation to conduct a seminar on sports writing for grade school kids from 14 different Metro Manila-based schools. The seminar/workshop was last Saturday, January 13, at my alma mater, Ateneo De Manila. Almost as soon as I said yes to the Ateneo Grade School Vice Principal Jonni Salvador, who is an old classmate of mine, I immediately regretted it.

I previously gave similar seminars in the Ateneo College and at Immaculate Conception Academy but the participants were either of the secondary or tertiary level and thereby more mature and with an idea of what they want to do in life. I wasn’t sure if these kids who were in either grade six or seven had a clue of what they wanted to pursue let alone writing being a career for them (like Janice Hardy, Michael Jordan’s old elementary teacher, I told them to go into math because that’s where the money was --- hahaha). Wasn’t this the age where Playstation games occupied their attention more than reading sports pages or what? Wasn’t this the age where they began to notice members of the opposite sex? Despite my apprehensions, I still pushed through with it. About 15 minutes into the sessions, I was so glad that I took part in it. It turned out to be a fabulous experience that brought me back to my Tulong Dunong days teaching poor kids in Marikina. And it wasn’t even imparting what knowledge I had. I think that I too learned much from them. That and being inside a grade school classroom I was last in since 1981.

The last thing I had my students do was to write about their fond memories with regards to sports and other matters (some of my students were editors of their own school newspapers but weren’t necessarily into sports). One of the participants was a Grade 7 kid named Jan who was playing for the Ateneo Grade School basketball team. Jan wrote of the difficulties of playing with more senior and better players who seemed to bully him at every opportunity. He avoided practice and wanted to quit. But good ole fatherly advice got him back on track. He’s once more practicing with the team and still faces the same challenges day in and out. Only this time, it’s with a different perspective on things. He asked me afterwards why his teammates constantly get on his case. I said that they probably ride him because they know he has so much more to give. They are pushing and probing him because of his potential. I said that if they didn’t feel he had anything to contribute they wouldn’t even bother him. After all, he’d be eating into their playing time.

Jan’s story wasn’t the only one that was inspiring. The kids from Marist, Claret, Holy Spirit and others all had wonderful and touching tales to tell. I thank the Lord for the exuberance and eternal optimism of youth. A dose of it augurs well for tired and jaded souls like ours who are tired of corruption and a world that doesn’t really care. I told Jonni that while I’m still on Philippine soil, he has me hooked up for next year’s seminar.

III. UAAP sports
It’s Monday as you read this but I spent yesterday – Sunday – watching my school team compete in various UAAP sports. I watched the Ateneo team play baseball defending champs UP at Rizal (Ateneo won 9-3). Zipped over to Loyola Heights where I had lunch with PFF’s Johnny Romualdez, NCRAA’s Poch Borromeo, Ateneo’s Jun Jun Capistrano and Ricky Palou, Adidas officials, and STI’s Mhel Garrido. Watched the women’s football team tie UST 1-1. And after I file this report, I’m off to Blue Eagle Gym to watch volleyball. Ah, the life of a sports junkie.

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