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.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Work, travel, basketball: Life on the road with Aga Drabik

Aga Drabik showing her Filoil referees uniform. Pic by Tomasz Kawa.

This appears in the Monday, May 23, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

Work, travel, basketball: Life on the road with Aga Drabik
by rick olivares

Half of the Filoil Flying V Centre was alternating between intermittent cheers and gnashing of teeth. One side in green (for La Salle) and the other side in red (for San Beda). In recent years, this battle has been eagerly anticipated as it has turned somewhat chippy beginning with a national title followed by last summer’s pre-season championship match between the two.

As the arena rocked and rolled, a petite blonde, standing five-foot-five, smiled broadly, squatted nearly the first aid station and took the whole ambiance in. “I’m in a country to feed my passion,” declares 28-year old Agnieszka “Aga” Drabik from Bielsko-Biala, a city near Krakow, Poland known for being a industrial and tourist hub.

What’s a lass from Poland doing over six thousand miles away from her homeland?

“I work for Philip Morris International in the Human Resources division. I’m here on a temporary assignment for six months,” she confesses. “I will be here until August of this year. But you’ll never know."

Even before coming over to the Philippines, she heard of the passion, the mania, and the zest for basketball here. “What football is to Poland, basketball is to the Philippines,” she compared of the world’s two most popular sports. “You have the strongest league in Asia, the Olympic Qualifiers will be held here so in Asia, the Philippines is basketball heaven for me. I know that basketball is crazy here so I wanted to be a part of it. I asked the federation here (the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas) if I can do some refereeing here. They gave me a test, I was accepted, and I passed it.”

Aga’s first match in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup was a high school match between Emilio Aguinaldo College and La Salle Greenhills last Thursday, May 19. “Not such a big crowd,” she notes of the match (she also officiates in the Dickies Cup, a women’s basketball tournament). 

She is surprised though when told that it’s just the pre-season but when the college game is in full swing come June and September, it gets really crazy. “I hope I am still around to witness that,” she wishes. 

Outside work, she goes out of town with her husband. “We’ve been around. But I like Bohol and Palawan. Bohol especially. I hope to see more of this country.”

“I try to find a balance between work, travel, and basketball,” she says. “I think I have done it."

Basketball, or at least the women’s game thrives in Poland. “In Poland, compared to Europe, women’s basktball is stronger and more popular. However, I prefer the men’s game because of the intensity of the play,” she admits. “Men like football. My husband (Tomasz) loves football but he too enjoys basketball. We have a local league, the Euro league, and keep track of what goes on in the NBA. Because of the time difference, we usually find out the result when we wake up. But we follow the NBA.”

Aga’s path to officiating basketball began nine years ago in Poland. “My father was an influence on me. He is and still is a referee in Poland. Over there in Europe, it isn’t so unusual to have ladies as referees. Here it is as widespread. In Poland though, it is not easy for women referees because with guys, they give the trust immediately. With a woman, the trust is zero and you have to earn it."

Joey Guillermo, tournament director for the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup is happy with Drabik’s performance. “She impressed everyone,” he says. “She called it very smart and was very decisive. No one protested any call. I think that’s good, right? But after the match, players and officials all had their picture taken with her.”

The pictures are something that still perplexes Aga. “Even when I am walking on the street, people stop to ask if they can have their picture taken with me,” she wonders. “I am not sure if it is because I am a woman with blue eyes."

She dismisses the assertion of the fan selfies because of her looks. “I think Philippine women are beautiful too.”
Aga called her second match of the tournament, once more a high school match between EAC and National University where she once more impressed. As a reward for her impressive performances, she will be calling the match between La Salle and Letran next Sunday, the 29th of May. “People think that because I am here I am a national or FIBA referee. No, I am not yet at that level,” she admits. 

When asked if she was nervous because it’s a big game, she professes, “I’m excited because I get to be a part of some of the best basketball played in the world.”

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