By BERNARDO M. VILLEGAS
The brand Alaska in the Philippines is more frequently associated with basketball. The Alaska Milk Corporation owns one of the most popular and successful basketball teams in the country. Alaska Aces have won 14 championships in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and they have been around since 1986. They were the runner-up in the last PBA season. Not as well known all over the country is the very important role that the Alaska Milk Corporation has been playing in promoting football as a national sport at the grassroot level, involving thousands of children as young as six years old, especially among the economically less-privileged families. In 1996, Alaska Milk Corporation and the Makati Football Club forged a partnership that was meant to promote and develop youth football and to create an opportunity for young players from all walks of life, including kids from the poorer households who share the same love for the beautiful game, to come together in one venue in order to gain knowledge and respect for each other as they are taught how to play the sport. The birth of the Alaska Football Cup opened the door to the removal of class prejudices and fostered camaraderie among children and youth from different social backgrounds.
The first edition of the Alaska Football Club was held with just 25 teams, 5 football fields, and 375 participants, mainly from the National Capital Region. The venue was at the Alabang Country Club in Muntinlupa City. Since its inception in 1996, the Alaska Cup has grown by leaps and bounds and this much anticipated event is at present considered the biggest and the longest-running youth football tournament in the country. Participants come from as far north as the Ilocos region to down south as the Davao region. Teams from 34 provinces have competed since its inception. In 2015, the Alaska Football Cup hit an all-time record of 417 teams and over 5,800 players participating in a three-day tournament. The Alaska Football Cup consists of a two-day tournament for children ages 6 to 16 and two open divisions for players over the age of 16 (Men’s and Ladies Open). Exhibition matches are also organized for toddlers 3 to 6 years old. Spanish football player Mr. Tomas Lozano, president of the Makati Football Club, organizes and manages the tournament.
In the belief that a strong foundation of all football growth lies in the grassroots, Alaska Milk Foundation and the Makati Football Club pioneered in organizing the Alaska Summer Power Camps. These camps cater to young players who are provided the chance to have fun while learning the fundamental techniques needed to play the game. The campers learn gaming strategies, making new friends in the process. They play games with a system they have not played before. More importantly, they learn valuable life lessons through the training they get and actually playing the game. The first summer camps were held in Metro Manila at several venues: Alabang Country Club, ASCCOM field in Fort Bonifacio, BGC Turf field, and Nomads FC.
In 2014, the camps expanded to the rural areas, giving opportunities to children in underserved communities to learn how to play quality football and to share the benefits that go beyond the game. Alaska Milk Corporation provided the training equipment in addition to the coaches. The places that benefited from these camps were Baguio City (with 450 participants), Tarlac (with 400), Sta. Cruz, Laguna (with 350), Binalonan, Pangasinan (with 300), and Pagsanjan, Pangasinan (with 200). The culmination of the summer camps is the Alaska Summer Football Festival where the players have a chance to showcase their technical and tactical skills. Among some of the more outstanding products of these camps are former national team players Aly Borromeo and Emilio “Chieffy” Caligdong. Sandro Reyes, homegrown Filipino football player who was accepted in the football academy of FC Barcelona, is also a product of the Alaska Football Cup. So is multi-talented and MVP Sarah Castaneda who is part of the women’s national football team. There are also children of celebrities such as Senator Kiko Pangilinan and actress/singer Sharon Cuneta; Ryan and Judy Ann Agoncillo; model Tweetie de Leon-Gonzales; and actress Mylene Dizon. It is obvious that football cuts across social classes.
The Alaska Cup and Summer Camps aim at more than developing football skills and techniques among children. There is a conscious effort among the organizers and coaches to develop in the children such virtues as teamwork, sportsmanship, integrity, and discipline. The children are encouraged to develop their winning habits by living a healthy and active lifestyle and by developing good values. Alaska Milk Corporation should be commended for investing in the youth so that they acquire the right values for national development while expanding the pool of Filipinos who appreciate playing and watching the most important sport in the world today. Given further efforts of the government and stakeholders of the sport in the private sector, some of the products of the Cup and camps may also evolve into world-class football players who will enable our national team to eventually win titles in international tournaments, especially the World Cup.
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