Every year, the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) hosts its awards night, an event that honors the top athletic performers of the previous year. The Athlete of the Year trophy serves as the evening’s highlight—BMX racer and Asian Games gold medalist Daniel Caluag won, rightfully, the plum—and the past winners of that award are now Hall of Fame heroes in the Philippines’ sports pantheon.
Manny Pacquiao. Anthony Villanueva. Lydia de Vega-Mercado. Efren “Bata” Reyes. Paeng Nepomuceno. These are just some of the greats who have received the PSA Athlete of the Year trophy, which celebrates the achievements of sports heroes who are at the pinnacle of their careers.
But there’s another trophy to which, we feel, sports officials should pay particular attention. The PSA gives the Tony Siddayao Award trophy to a young athlete who has not only made an impact in his/her sport but also showed potential to become a world-class competitor.
From the list of athletes who have brought home the Tony Siddayao trophy, a number have emerged to make their mark on the international stage. Wesley So, recently poached by the US chess federation, is a fast-rising chess superstar who people believe has a shot at becoming world champion in the future. Michael Martinez became the first Asian to compete in the Winter Olympics’ marquee event, figure skating. And Princess Superal, an awardee this year as the best female golfer, is dominant in the international girls’ circuit and last year became the first Filipino to win the US Junior Girls crown.
Before these three made it to the world stage, they took the stage in the annual gala banquet of the PSA as Tony Siddayao awardees.
This year, the award went to chess player Paulo Bersamina, golfer Mikhaela Fortuna, swimmer Kyle Soguilon and karters Zachary David and Gabriel Tayao Cabrera. It is too early for us to tell whether these kids, all not older than 15, will turn out to be future Sos, Martinezes, or Superals. But for sports officials, what they are now shouldn’t be as important as what they have the potential to be tomorrow.
Sports officials should take notice because the PSA, made up of journalists whose daily grind includes covering these young athletes, saw something in these kids worth honoring with a trophy named after one of their own, the late sports editor generally acknowledged as the dean of Philippine sportswriting.
Bersamina can become the next Wesley So, whose defection to a foreign chess federation is an indictment of how Philippine sports officials can mishandle a once-in-a-blue-moon talent. And who knows what Fortuna’s ceiling might just be? We haven’t had a world beater in golf since Jennifer Rosales and Dorothy Delasin—both past Athlete of the Year awardees—dominated the fairways with regularity. Soguilon might be the savior for swimming, a sport whose recent claim to newspaper headlines has been divisiveness and controversy.
We admit that there were a number of Tony Siddayao awardees who fulfilled just half of the trophy’s meaning: that they had a good year. And the other half? The growing into an international star part? Yes, that was left hanging. But then maybe those kids failed to meet their potential because of neglect.
Many of the sporting heroes who went on to bag the PSA’s crown jewel are products of proper grassroots programs. De Vega-Mercado rose from the elite Gintong Alay blueprint that tapped athletes with potential and spared no expense in honing their skills. Rosales emerged from a jungolf program that continues up until now. Long jumper Marestella Torres and boxer Onyok Velasco are also products of their respective associations’ grassroots efforts.
Sports officials should continue pushing such efforts because this is how world champions are made. World champions do not pop from out of nowhere to bring honor to the country. They are the result of proper talent identification, appropriate support and meticulous training.
The PSA has done its share in pushing these young athletes into the spotlight, the better for sports officials to see them. It is now up to these officials to make sure that the next time these Tony Siddayao awardees climb the stage during the PSA annual awards, it will be to receive the Athlete of the Year trophy and join the Pacquiaos, Reyeses and Nepomucenos in the exclusive list of sporting greats.
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