Iriga City mayor wants to raise volleyball interest among Bicolanos

Danny Santillan on Jun 27, 2016 02:50 PM
Iriga City mayor wants to raise volleyball interest in Bicol
With all of Iriga now 100% electrified, you have Mayor Madel Alfelor-Gazmen to thank. (Photo by Nante Azures)

A sports-loving elected mayor of a progressive city in the countryside has forged a partnership with a well-decorated sports hero to revive interest in volleyball among Bicolanos and eventually restore the region’s image as a rich breeding ground of national  players in the sport that is now attracting  sustained record crowd support and primetime television coverage. 

Long before she sits again as chief executive of the progressive City of Iriga, located about 400kms southeast of Manila, Mayor Madel Alfelor-Gazmen sought out many-time national volleyball player Elvis Pabilonia and found the former Phil. Navy chief petty officer enjoying his retirement years with his wife, five children, and grandchildren in Brgy Pantao, Libon, Albay.

Together, they discussed for immediate implementation a continuing volleyball development program for the youths of Iriga. A pivotal part of this is the city’s first ever appearance in the ongoing Shakey’s V-League Season 13-Open Conference.      

On Monday, May 30, the world stopped in the many-time Cleanest and Greenest City awardee in the region as the Iriga folk collectively watched ABS CBN Sports + Action channel begin airing live at 6:30 p.m. Iriga’s opening match against the veteran-studded Laoag Power Smashers.

A day earlier, a band of 25 supporters, both students and employees, had rented a van and left the city at 8:30 p.m., arrived in Manila early Monday morning, had a few hours’ rest elsewhere, and trooped to the San Juan Arena to root for their team, then travelled back to where they came from for another 12-hour trip.        

“I hope that when my young constituents see their team on national TV playing in a big-time tournament such as the Shakey’s V-League against the more seasoned and famous players from teams based in Metro Manila, they will have something  to aspire for,” says Mayor Alfelor-Gazmen.

“Through our participation in the V-League, we hope to spark fresh interest in volleyball in Bicol generally, as well as inspire our existing young players to strive for excellence in the sport where the Bicolanos were a power to reckon with early on until the 70s,” she added.     

Mayor Gazmen, says Pabilonia, is an active sports enthusiast. “She plays many sports both for fun and competition, but she’s a huge volleyball fan first and foremost so it is initially in this sport  that she decided to involve her young constituents to provide them  means of spending  their free time constructively. Talks of volleyball really animate her. We even seriously discussed setting up a volleyball academy in Iriga that would benefit all of Bicol.”  

A famous alumnus of Naga College Foundation, Pabilonia says he was so inspired by Mayor Alfelor-Gazmen’s volleyball program for her city that he immediately set out to scout for talents all over the region to form Iriga’s first ever team for the V-League.

Last December he started training a pool of players aged 15 to 25 from Sorsogon, Daraga, Legaspi, Naga and CamSur. Not the tallest of players, though, but Pabilonia has three standing at five-foot-nine inches. Youngest on the team is 15-year-old Janeca Janine Lana, incoming Grade 9 student of the University of St. Anthony in Iriga.    

Save for setter Shyra Cabriana, who was recruited from Perpetual Help College in Las Pinas, and Shola May Luna Alvarez, 18, on loan from Jose Rizal University but who traces her roots in Masbate, all of the Lady Oragons played their first ever game in Manila last Monday which was nationally telecast live by the ABS CBN Sports + Action channel.

They dropped their opening game against the Laoag Power Smashers, 10-25, 23-25, 25-20, 15-25, but their folk back home must have given them a thumbs-up for  extending the veterans-heavy team to four sets.  

Grazielle Bombita, a Financial Accounting graduate of the University of Nueva Caceres in Naga and a daughter of a barangay kagawad in Tamban, CamSur, top-scored for the Lady Oragons with 16 points on 11 attacks, three blocks and two aces. Alvarez followed with 13 and Lana chipped in four. 

Two days later they returned to the court and gave Iriga City three reasons to celebrate.  Apart from turning back the challenge of the Baguio Summer Spikers in straight sets, 25-22, 25-17, 26-24, in one hour and 11 minutes, Mayor Gazmen played most of the closing set, and Bombita was interviewed on national TV as Player of the Game with 15 points, 13 of them on spikes. For the second straight game, Alvarez was her team’s second best scorer with 11.

Mayor Alfelor-Gazmen individually congratulated her players no sooner than the last point had been scored for Iriga, her intelligent face understandably lighting up with a mother’s pride for her achieving wards that Wednesday afternoon. Even non-Bicolanos among the crowd applauded the Lady Oragons.    

With all of Iriga now 100% electrified, you can be sure that even the city folk in the mountain and river districts had seen their players on TV post a match win in a big-time tournament being staged in Manila on live TV, and given them a well-deserved standing ovation.

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