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Real-life basketball ‘heroes on wheels’ see better days ahead

Wheelchair Basketball Federation of the Philippines players and coaches.

THE Wheelchair Basketball Federation of the Philippines (WBFP), headed by coach Vernon Perea, predicts a bright future for the sport in 2021

Despite several restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, Perea believes the WBFP did enough to keep the sport alive through regular communication and virtual training with the players.

We remain upbeat as far as wheelchair basketball is concerned. Since last year, we’re doing everything we can to promote wheelchair basketball even during this pandemic,” said Perea during the 19th “Usapang Sports on Air” by the Tabloids Organization in Philippine Sports (TOPS) via Zoom last Nov. 5.

One of the major steps taken by Perea was the establishment of the WBFP.

Last year, we formally established the WBFP. Now, we are in the process of securing our SEC registration,” added Perea during the weekly public service program sponsored by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and Games and Amusements Board (GAB).

This is part of the plan of PHILSPADA to have all para sports registered as a National Para-Sport Associations or NPSAs. This is the counterpart of the NSAs under the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) for able-bodied sports. So, that’s a big development for para sports,” he added.

Perea, also the head coach of the Pilipinas Warriors, said the postponement of the 10th ASEAN Para Games and other major events due to the pandemic could also be viewed as a blessing in disguise.

Last year, we talked about the formation of the women’s team. Kahit hindi na kami aabot sa 10th ASEAN Para Games, we pursued the plan and we got some players for the team. Hopefully, we can build a team in Vietnam for the 2021 edition,” recalled Perea.

As to the men’s team, we are very disappointed with the announcement na hindi matutuloy. At first, na-moved siya because of funding issues. Then, na-reschedule noong March pero nagkaroon ng lockdown. We can just imagine the feelings of the athletes nung nangyari yun.”

But i think blessing in disguise na din. Now we have more time to practice, more time to adjust sa mga new wheelchairs, na ipinagkaloob sa amin ng PSC last November. Iba na yun mga timbang. With the new wheelchairs from Japan, we can now compete with other countries. Dati grabe yung pagod at lumalabas na ang dila ng mga players kaya hindi na tayo makahabol sa kanila.”

Asked about the Filipinos’ chances in next year’s SEA Games in Vietnam, Perea is optimistic.

“Our national team is intact for several years already. There some factors kung ano ang ika-hihina at ika-lalakas ng team. Nag-gel na sila for several years of playing together. One factor to consider is the wheelchairs. We bought our new wheelchairs in Thailand last November,” said Perea.

Our present lineup is better with their current chairs. Ang ganda ng pinakita nila sa qualifying sa Thailand where Asia and Oceania teams competed. We increased our ranking by one or two notches considering that we brought our chairs a few days before the competition.”

“In the SEA Games, karamihan ng mga teams ay talagang malalakas katulad ng Malaysia at Thailand. Sana lang makahabol tayo dahil bago na mga wheelchairs natin.”

Perea, however, admitted there are several adjustments to be made with having a new equipment.

To be honest, inaabot ng ilang taon for our athletes to be comfortable with the wheelchairs kasi that will be part of their body movements,” said Perea.

“But there are other factors, like when my top point guard was diagnosed with acute kidney disease recently. He is very much part of the rotation. Yung playing time niya inside the court, malaki. One of the challenges in the future is kung di siya makakabalik agad.”

Sa able-bodied basketball, if your point guard is out, meron kang substitute. Pero sa wheelchair basketball, may handicapping. We have classifications sa mga players. If the 1.5 player is injured or may sakit, you should look for 1.5 also para makapag-form ng 14 points ng classification sa loob. Dun nagkakaroon ng problema ang coach.

Added Perea: “We now have some players coming from the provinces na nag-join sa training pool natin. Ang difference lang talaga hundi madami ang nag tryout sa wheelchair basketball kumpara sa regular basketball.”

We also lack coaches na pwedeng maging guide at turuan ng same program with the national team. That’s also one of projects namin. Yun makakuha ng mga bagong coaches.

On the mental issues affecting the players during the pandemic, Perea said:

Ever since nag-start ang lockdown, everyone is anxious. So we organized zoom meetings and told them to stay calm. The PSC is also very helpful. Recently, we had a meeting with the PSC Psychological Unit to check the mental state of the athletes. May mga webinars and workshops din.”

Perea knows the work is not done yet for the WBFP.

But like all those real-life “heroes on wheels” he willingly accepted the challenge.

(with reports from Gab Ferreras)