TOKYO — The Philippine men's volleyball squad bonded with hundreds of Japanese kids and made them smile through a short volleyball clinic on Thursday at the Ejimi Gym.
In the afternoon, the national team got off a two-hour bus ride from Hotel Route Inn Sagamihara to the venue, unfazed after dropping their first tune-up match against Saitama Azalea in the 16-day training camp made possible by Larong Volleyball Sa Pilipinas Inc., Philippine Sports Commission, and Rebisco.
After wearing their jerseys and doing some stretching exercises in the dugout, the Filipino spikers were unexpectedly welcomed by local elementary and high school students on the court, waiting for their basic volleyball lessons.
"Pagdating namin dito, hindi naman namin alam na may tuturuan pa," said Marck Espejo, a former import of Japan V Premier League's Oita Miyoshi last year. "Pero masarap sa feeling talaga na nabibigay mo 'yung mga alam mo sa volleyball sa mga ibang bata."
Ranran Abdilla seconded Espejo's statements, as he knew that the Japanese had a memorable experience with the Pinoys.
"Nag-enjoy naman kami kasi 'yung mga bata nag-e-enjoy sa amin. (Kahit) 'yung iba halos hindi masyado nakakapag-English, puro lang kami sign language. Ang maganda naman sa kanila nakikinig sila."
The kids went through basic tossing and digging drills under Espejo, Abdilla, Johnvic De Guzman, Ish Polvorosa, Mark Alfafara, Joshua Umandal, Jessie Lopez, Joshua Retamar, Kim Malabunga, Francis Saura, Rex Intal, Ricky Marcos, Jack Kalingking, Joey Dela Vega, Jeff Malabanan, Peter Torres, and Fauzi Ismail.
Each player — accompanied by coaches Dante Alinsunurin, Dong Dela Cruz and Sherwin Meneses — had a great time sharing their skills and knowledge of the sport to the Japanese kids, who were fully supported by their parents.
"It was humbling. It was quite an experience kasi a lot of the kids learned how to play the sport exceptionally," said Polvorosa. "So, at that kind of age siyempre magugulat ka rin, and usually sa atin sa Pilipinas sobrang mabibilang mo lang 'yung dami ng kids in that same age bracket na nakita natin kanina nung nagturo kami na ganun na ka-runong sa paglalaro ng volleyball."
The five-time UAAP best setter was even more impressed when the kids asked him to hit the ball harder during the digging part. No wonder, he thought, Japan is an Asian powerhouse and world-class contender in volleyball.
"Nagpapalakas sila ng palo. Tsaka marunong na sila lahat ng basic, hindi 'yung tuturuan mo pa. Talagang marunong na sila," Polvorosa shared.
He added, "It reflects how this country has been focusing on its program when it comes to volleyball, kasi makikita mo na ang gagaling nila tsaka ang ku-cute nila. Talagang gustong-gusto nila 'yung sport. Talagang pinaglalaanan nila ng pansin ng oras at siyempre 'yung parents nila and families nandun to support, 'yun 'yung magandang nakita namin."
Espejo agreed with his playmaker, pointing out that this is the kind of grassroots development that their own country needs to improve on volleyball.
"Sa Pilipinas sana maging ganito rin, habang bata pa lang natuturuan na para 'yung level pwedeng magamit mula grade school hanggang high school, hanggang national team," Espejo said.
The Japanese kids, along with their parents, expressed gratitude to the Filipino players by giving high fives, hugs and tokens. They also posed for selfies, and even watched the tune-up between the Philippines and their very own Saitama Azalea.
When the national team left the dugout and rode the bus, some of the young volleyball aspirants also rushed out to wave and say "Sayonara" with a smile.