Sunday, July 29, 2007

Our World Champions Paglaum Girls

An Inspiring Story from Paglaum girls of Bacolod
Written by: Rina Jimenez David (Philippine Daily Inquirer)

NOW for a bit of good, positive news for a change. Paying a courtesy call Thursday on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at Malacanang were the members of the victorious Bacolod team that emerged as champions in the recent World Series Junior Girls Softball championship in Kirkland, Washington, United States. After the girls showed her their victory banner and presented her with an honorary team jacket, the President handed the girls from Paglaum (a village on the outskirts of Bacolod) a check for one million pesos, an incentive for their winning performance.

A newspaper report says the team's 2-0 victory over Puerto Rico in the title match "gave the Philippines its first World Series crown since 1992 when a team from Zamboanga was stripped of the crown it won in Pennsylvania" on allegations of fielding over-aged and unqualified players. The girls' victory, then, was not just a great honor for the country, but also a vindication of Filipino honor and pride. Beyond that, though, the team's victory is a real "Cinderella" story, a fascinating tale of how girls from a small town overcame the odds and showed the world what they're made of.

THE GIRLS, from 12 to 14 years of age, come from Paglaum, a small village on the outskirts of Bacolod, and belong to farming families, their parents working in the sugar cane fields or else engaged in fishing and rice and coconut farming. Rufino Ignacio, one of the Filipino-Americans in Washington who played host to the team, says the girls brought pictures of their nipa huts and the dilapidated premises of the Paglaum Village National High School.

As Ignacio tells it, the team almost didn't make the trip for lack of money for their plane fare. Funds raised by their sponsors, including Little League Philippines and politicians and business people in Negros, were not enough for their needs. So as a last ditch effort, the team's coach and the school principal took out a loan for 100,000 pesos, though perhaps the President's check should now ease their anxieties somewhat.

Upon arrival in the US, the girls and their coach stayed with a host family, the Shannons, all of them crowded into the Shannons' modest home, although once the tournament began, the USA Little League housed them in a hotel. But they faced more than logistical challenges. Ignacio describes the Paglaum girls as the "smallest" among all the players in the tournament, who were "heftier and taller and from their looks, stronger." Despite their physical disadvantages, however, the young Pinays became the "darling of the crowd," racking up a "very impressive record" and winning everyone's admiration for their "discipline and decorum." THE STORY of the Paglaum girls, though, is also the story of how the entire Filipino-American community in the area came together to lend their moral, physical and financial support for the plucky team. Fil-Ams from as far as Oregon and British Columbia came in droves to cheer on the Paglaum girls.

The Ilonggos Northwest Association, the Filipino Community of Seattle, and a regional Fil-Am association, the FACSPS, combined resources to make the girls feel welcome. The FACSPS, headed by Ignacio, gathered used clothing, shoes, toiletries, canned goods and other items and packed them in balikbayan boxes for the girls to take home to their families. "As the team is not used to eating bread in the hotel, the Ilonggos and FACSPS prepared food for them, potluck style, and the team heartily ate with other Filipinos after each game," recounts Ignacio. "The girls said they had the best meals in their young lives during the tournament."

Ignacio notes that the Paglaum girls left the Philippines with "no money, hardly noticed, and thinking perhaps they had no chance of winning." But now, they have returned as heroes, or rather, as young heroines. Everyone loves an underdog, but victorious underdogs are loved even more. This is one "Cinderella story" that deserves to be told and retold. Its only when you share your life to
others that life begins to have a meaning and purpose ... the time you touch the life of others is the time you really live.

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