Team Prima Pilipinas, the Philippines’ volleyball team, beat seven-time gold winner Thailand to win the gold in the latest The Straits Games (TSG) held in Malaysia. It was the first attempt for this team; though the Philippines has been trying since 2009 to do this.
TSG is an annual sports event first initiated by the Malaysia’s Leadership Program for Gays (LPG) and Singapore’s MenAfterWork (MAW) to “foster friendship and promote a healthy lifestyle in our LGBT communities.” Over the years, TSG has generated interest from the LGBT community in different countries in the Asian region, such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and China. The Philippines hosted TSG in 2013.
“We all wanted to win, that’s why we gave everything we can; but we never pressured ourselves during the competition. Before the game, we said ‘Let’s just enjoy the game’ and play it with a heart. As the matches went, we never thought that we were already playing in the finals, because we never expected to win though we expected having good games. We expected that the Thailand team will win again since they are the seven-time champion and (even just came) fresh from winning the Euro Games 2016 last month,” said Jeffrey D. Japson, the Team Prima Pilipinas’ team captain.
Team Prima Pilipinas is, by the way, not solely composed of LGBT Filipinos, which “shows unity in diversity,” said Dennis Corteza, who helped bring TSG in the Philippines in 2013.
Aside from Japson, the Team Prima Pilipinas is composed of Jasper Adorador, Ivan Bacolod, Pathie Jamiri, John Kenneth Duran, Erickson Joseph Ramos, John Carlo Lozada, Dennis Domingo and Mariel Zulueta. They were coached by Brian Esquibel.
In the finals, the Filipino team won the first set handily, though experience worked for the Thai team, which fought back to take the second set comfortably. At 13-11 in the favor of Team Prima Pilipinas, Thai star attacker Ton had to be carried off court due to major cramping. It was all-go for the Philippines from there, as they took the third set and the gold medal.
Japson said that with the win, “we’re very proud, of course. For so many years, the Philippines had different clubs competing in TSG, but we are the first team to win the gold. We made history by bagging the first place and it was our first try in the tournament.”
Off-court, it wasn’t always easy for the Philippine team. For instance, “I invited more than 15 players to be in the team but some of them turned down the invitation due to budget and personal reasons, e.g. work, school and no passport,” Japson said. But “we didn’t lose hope that everyone will make it to play in Kuala Lumpur even without sponsor. God is good.”
Corteza, the team’s cheerleader, said that the “Philippines’ LGBT volleyball community should be proud of Team Prima Pilipinas (because what they went through in defeating Thailand wasn’t an easy feat).”
Team Prima Philippines is now looking at competing at the nest TSG in Bali, Indonesia in August 2017, though “for now, we will play in some leagues locally and will start saving cash to prepare for the expenses… unless we can get major sponsors. We will never stop playing; we will get more experience; and we will always stay humble.”