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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Alegria Em Coração Do Merida

A Alegria Em Coração Do Merida
(The Joy in Merida’s Life)
words by rick olivares pic by scott kho

Arnulfo “Ompong” Merida has been walking the streets of the Ateneo campus for 24 years now. Sometimes he drives around in his motorbike, sometimes in his car. And on occasion, he wonders to himself, “How lucky can I be?

More than three decades ago, the only “Ateneo” he knew of was the name of a street back in his native Romblon. He never even heard of the school until he arrived in Manila to study at play at Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP).

He first played basketball and was a high jumper in athletics before he eventually gravitated towards football. “It was a matter of time,” he figures. “Because in the south, everyone plays football, because of the Spanish influence, and maybe because of all these fields.”

Yet Merida wasn’t even sure what field to enter later in his life. All he thought was to enjoy the moment and that meant playing football.

The sport was kind to him and it was while in the Palarong Pambansa that schools from Metro Manila noticed him. Universities like UST and UP tried to recruit him but he chose PUP simply because most of his friends from the province were there. He knew that would make the transition from the province to Manila easier and battle the homesickness. The club and national teams then came yet while he was having fun; he wondered how he could stay in the game.

It took the late Ateneo Football Program Head Chris Monfort to bring him over to Loyola Heights first as a guest player for the blue and white team that played in a commercial league before coming in as a physical education instructor and as a coach for various Ateneo squads. He remembers first seeing the sprawling lawn and the tree-lined roads and how excited he was.

Football has been good for me,” he says with earnestness. “It is because of the sport that I got all these opportunities.”

Believe it or not, the championships are fine and are a treasured memory. The silverware is proof and a testament to time but what he holds close to his heart is being a part of the high school faculty and being given an opportunity to help mold the lives of all the boys who go through him. He remembers all his players and wishes he could have done better. “We make mistakes and it is only through growing older do we realize things,” he says. “But that’s life. Tomorrow’s another day.”

How lucky can I be?” he wondered as he recounted meeting his footballing heroes like Brazil’s Carlos Alberto and Didi during one of the many coaching seminars he's attended abroad. "I cried. I couldn't help it when I met them, " he now laughs.

He's gone to two World Cups and can't remember a more electric feeling. “I’m just from Romblon. Kung nasabi mo that I’d be able to visit a lot of countries and coach championship teams noon pa, hindi ako maniniwala.”

And the boy who went to Brazil came away truly convinced that the world game is life.

There are three great loves in Merida’s life; the first of which is football. He’d eventually meet and marry his wife who would be the third and as much as he loves the game, sometimes it takes a toll on his family time. As a compromise, dates are sometimes held on the pitch of Loyola Heights.

But the second great love, as he professes, was going to Ateneo. Yes that was once simply the name of a road (he now lives in a village called Ateneoville) but became his path to his dream and goal.

How lucky can one person get?

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