WHILE most girls her age played with dolls or tea sets in their front yards, Chezka Centeno found enjoyment in playing with balls and a cue stick on a green table at the family home in Zamboanga City.
"Yon po kasi ang nakikita ko sa bahay noong bata pa ako," said the soft-spoken 13-year old, adding she started playing billiards at the age of five only because she could not find any other toy she liked inside the house.
The Centenos own a billiards hall back home, and Chezka's mom Lota said their child took to the game as naturally as a duck to water.
"May bilyaran kasi kami sa bahay, negosyo namin. Walang nagturo sa kanya," shared Lota. "Siya lang nag sarili, laro-laro lang siya. Tapos ayun hinahayaan lang namin siya."
At a time when most kids were just learning how to use a spoon and fork, Chezka had become good enough at maneuvering the multi-colored balls on the table to join pocket tournaments in the family-owned pool hall.
By the time she reached 11, her parents decided to enter her in the pool competition of the Philippine National Games in Bacolod, where she placed third.
"Kapag nagpapa-tournament kami sa amin pinapasok namin siya," said Lota. "Siguro through experience kaya gumaling kasi wala din 'yan formal training eh."
"Walang kaba nga yan pag naglalaro, kasi bata pa kaya di pa sineseryoso," she added.
Since then, Centeno has proven that her Bacolod breakthrough was no fluke. She reached the Last 16 of the Yalin Women’s World 10-Ball Championship held at Robinsons Galleria in August last year.
On Thursday, she barely fell short in her bid to land gold in the PNG competitions, twice beating former world 10-ball champion Rubilen Amit before losing to Irish Ranola, 7-9, in the gold-medal match.
Now what started as play stuff is turning into something way bigger for Centeno, who nonetheless still views billiards not as a future career but a source of fun and enjoyment.
"Mula po noong bata ako nagustuhan ko na po (ang billiards)," she said, "kaya eto na po ang gusto kong gawin paglaki ko."