|This article was first published on MindaNews, the news service arm of the Mindanao Institute of Journalism.|
Just 2 years ago, Datu Ibrahim Paglas Memorial College (DIPMC) in Maguindanao had a single sports team. This year, they started the academic year with 10. DIPMC’s sports director, 26-year old Al Rashid Sendad, points to the influence of the Mindanao Peace Games (MPG)—a Mindanao-wide movement of schools and universities from all six regions—to explain the increase: “MPG changed our thinking about what it means to compete and that message has resonated throughout the school.”
Sendad recalls the days when sports was more or less an afterthought. And although his teams still lack proper equipment and a coach’s salary is nothing to brag about, the mentality in particular has changed for the better in recent years. “We believe that what makes our student-athletes happy will make us happy too. We choose to think that sports can help Maguindanao.”
There’s a basic philosophy Sendad bases his aspirations on. “Often, when we are practicing, war is not far away. Last Ramadan, we were having our practice and we could hear fighting between BIFF and government forces in our school’s poblacion. We also saw airplanes trying to bomb BIFF. It’s become normal for us. But because of that I say let’s bring sports, not war. If you bring guns, then other people will bring guns too. If you fight them, they will fight you. But if you bring a ball, they will play with you.”
Sports teaches character
The sports director first encountered MPG in General Santos City where its second edition was held in 2016. He immediately felt at home. “We were welcomed like family. How little we may have had to share then, it was enough. Our student-athletes felt free to express themselves. They weren’t afraid of being discriminated against. Religion, although not disregarded, was treated as something that neither divides nor defines us.”
Another key insight that MPG helped to provide was that the opponent is not the enemy. “Just recently the Datu Paglas men’s basketball team played a game against another school from Maguindanao. Instead of blocking the ball our opponents chose to hit the body. We told our players to keep smiling, to not get riled up and copy that behavior. Our experience with MPG, learning about how to go beyond sports, helps us to be better coaches to our players.”
Indeed, Sendad and his fellow coaches show their students that sports can actually teach character. “Kasama, Kaibigan, Kalaro, the three ‘Ks’ that make up the MPG slogan, really also capture our approach to sports in Maguindanao. It has inspired us to create the Maguindanao Private Islamic School Athletics Association, for instance. We are trying to bring the MPG culture to Maguindanao.”
Because of what Sendad and his team members do in sports, people also started to understand the value of conducting leadership talks. In the past two years, DIPMC, with support from the municipal mayor, Mohamad Paglas, has organized coaches’ forums and this year the first-ever student-athletes’ forum was held. With help from the Gawad Kalinga Foundation they are also doing sports clinics for out-of-school youth. And there is a scholarship program. So far 48 scholarships have been granted. One such DIPMC alum now plays basketball for Las Pinas in Manila, a first for a student from Maguindanao.
An important aspect of MPG is to ‘experience experience.’ One such opportunity for sports directors like Sendad is the Discovery Leadership Program. This program for MPG leaders, together with the annual Mindanao Leadership Summit for Athletes, the MPG Coaches’ Summit, and the Mindanao Peace Games, constitute the building blocks of MPG. Sendad credits these events for showing him the importance of thinking outside the box.
“Take our women’s basketball team, for instance. In Maguindanao there are only boys’ teams for them to compete with. At MPG they could, for the first time, play against other all-women teams. Doing so also helps to overcome the stereotype that’s prevalent in our region that basketball is for boys only.”
For the fourth installment of the Mindanao Peace Games last October in Butuan City, Sendad brought along two coaches, MPG first-timers Rasid Baganian and Romnick Andil. Baganian coaches basketball in DIPMC’s extension school. His expectations going into MPG were to observe the differences with the ARMM sports program and to learn from the overall experience. Andil, volleyball coach for the boys’ and girls’ teams, hoped to learn about how other coaches deal with their players, how they do warm-ups and basic drills, and how during the game they guide their team.
Looking beyond MPG, coach Andil is hoping for a big development in Maguindanaon sports. “Our goal as coaches is to develop our players from the start to the top. We dream that someday those players will be known in Mindanao, and the Philippines, and maybe even all over the world. It’s a great benefit for them to play with student-athletes from other cultures and with different religious backgrounds. It broadens their perspective.”
Likewise, Sendad is optimistic that his student-athletes will be successful, no matter the career path they choose to follow. “I wish they become doctors, engineers, teachers, coaches, or whatever it is that makes them happy. And when that time comes, I hope they return to Maguindanao, to help me, the institution, and the community. That’s how sports can be a bridge to success for all of us.”
The Mindanao Peace Games (MPG) is a joint initiative of schools and universities from all six regions of Mindanao that aims to create platforms in sports through which to develop empowered women who will be inspiring and transformational leaders in initiating better and peaceful communities in Mindanao. The fourth edition of MPG took place in Butuan City from October 27 to 30. You can follow MPG on Twitter (@MPG2018) and Instagram (mindanao_peace_games).