Ref treasures his SEAG bronze and nat’l team uniforms

ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 13, 2017 11:02 AM
Ref treasures his SEAG bronze and nat’l team uniforms
Bob Malenab whistling as second referee for Game 1 of the Air Force-Cignal Tv best-of-three finals in the men’s division of the Premier Volleyball League. (Photo by Azcharey Cabrera)

Ignore his beer belly and just take in the uncommon height of national volleyball referee Bob Malenab. At 49 and six feet and 2 ½ inches, he is as straight-backed as our men in uniform.

The immediate assumption that comes to mind is that he must have been an athlete in a sport where height is a premium commodity.

Yes, sir, referee Malenab had been a volleyball player for nearly two decades, a many-time medalist and a well-travelled athlete at that, having won three UAAP championships for the Far Eastern University Tamaraws and worn the national tricolors at least 15 times from 1986 to 1997.

The same cannot be said of the male national volleyball athletes of the present generation who will be extremely lucky if, after vying in the Southeast Asia Games, they will have another one international competition lined up in a given year.

At the Malenabs’ house, the patriarch’s trophies and medals are proudly on display. Occupying pride of place are a bronze medal won in the 1987 SEA Games in Indonesia, and a gold won in the tough Horn Bill Cup in 1987 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Like a true-blue collector, Malenab has also kept all the red-white-and blue-uniforms he had worn playing for flag and country in the Asian Youth Championship in 1986 and on through six SEA Games ending in 1997, at least six Fukuoka Cups in Japan, and two Horn Bill Cups.

Altogether, the prized uniforms, he says, could easily fill two large suitcases.

“I was able to collect so many national team uniforms because during our time,” he explains in Filipino, “we were sent to many international competitions abroad primarily because we had a chance to land in the medal.”

The bronze medal he won in the SEA Games in Indonesia in 1987 still stands as the highest finish ever by any Philippine team in the biennial regional multi-event competition.

How does he assess the capabilities of the present crop of male volleyball players who have been performing under his watch as a referee from the disbanded V League to the new Premier Volleyball League, another trailblazing event organized by Sports Vision in cooperation with Asics as official league partner and Mikasa as official game ball?

He answers it as straightforwardly as he can.

“The volleyball players we have now have the height, but they will have to learn to play using their brains more. They have to show ‘street-smarts’ on the court, so to speak.”


Rousing debut

After finishing high school from the Isabela State University, the fourth and only boy among seven children of a cop took the FEU sporting community by storm when as a rookie he helped, in a team-up with setter Nes Pamilar, who now coaches the Power Smashers, the Tamaraws to the 1986 UAAP crown, as well as made the national team, his first, that flew to Singapore for the Asian Youth championships.

He brought home a bronze medal from his first foray in an international competition. On that trip, Malenab remembers buying himself a gold necklace.

The next two years saw him win two more UAAP championships to complete a three-peat and the treasured bronze in the 1987 SEA Games  in his first ever inclusion on the national senior team.

Too good to be denied a place on the succeeding Philippine squads, Malenab continued playing in international tournaments up till 1997, his last year in the SEA Games as a beach volleyball player this time in tandem with Elvis Pabilonia, a great player from Bicol.

Malenab had tried his hands at international beach volleyball five years earlier. “I did the Asian Beach Volleyball circuit in 1993 when a team could field four players at the same time. We won a bronze medal in one leg of the circuit.”

For one his age, he has incredible memory. For this interview, he rattled off the names of the international tournaments he had competed in and the results of the national participation there without pause.

He even provided this trivia.

“Coach Tai (Bundit of Creamline and the Ateneo Lady Blue Eagles) was a member of the Thai squad when we played in the 1991 SEA Games here in Manila. He was benched throughout our match.” 

The only son in a family of seven children has fathered five daughters, none of whom has followed in his footsteps as a top-caliber volleyball player.

“My mother,” he says, his voice tinged with sadness, “is so overprotective of my children that she has forbidden all of them to play volleyball or any sport for that matter.”

Had the daughters involved themselves competitively in any sport, they would have appreciated more or grasped the full significance of their fathers’ medals and trophies and piles of national team uniforms.

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