What sport would earn praises in school and what sport would earn ridicule? There are many of the former but there is only one of the latter.
“You play billiards? That means you don’t go to school?”
“Yeah he’s good at billiards but how are his grades?”
When SunStar still held the annual Superbalita 9-ball open, a tournament which grew to become the biggest outside of Manila, in one edition, we had the who’s who of Philippine billiards.
In a press conference, the billiard greats said that while we had a lot of talented players, billiards faced a real danger because most Pinoys still don’t see it as a sport, while countries like China and Chinese Taipei have introduced billiards in their schools. Also in that same press conference, one prominent player, who has earned millions abroad, was asked to give advice to promising players: “Stay in school.”
They were proven right.
After that brief billiards boom, which was kickstarted when Efren Reyes won the World 9-Ball title, the sport faced a decline. Gone were the big international tournaments in Manila. Gone, too, were the big tournaments outside of it like the SunStar Superbalita Challenge. And of course, the billiard halls that propped up in every corner were gone, too.
There are many factors but I guess the major one is online games. The same demographic who, a decade ago, were usually spotted in billiard halls are now glued to their phones, launching attacks or what-have-you.
A few weeks ago, Carlo Biado won the US Open, the first Pinoy to win it since the legendary Efren Reyes won the 1994 crown. (Alex Pagulayan won in 2005, but he was representing Canada). A few days later, officials of the Billiards and Snooker Congress of the Philippines (BSCP) hoped that Biado’s win would help shed the “kanto boy” image of the sport. That’s almost 16 years when the previous generation of billiard greats said they hope billiards will gain some respectability in the country by getting included in school sports.
To get there, BSCP needs the help from the collegiate leagues. But to really get there, it will take a huge leap from the collegiate leagues. It’s so easy to hold billiard competitions, all you need is a table. But it’s not so easy to have a billiards team in college.
“What do we tell the parents?” One collegiate sports official asked me when I suggested that the league include billiards in their calendar.
The first step in getting billiards into the mainstream sports scene is to get it in the mainstream. Include it in the collegiate leagues. But to get there, you have to have the best players in school and shed that notion that college-age players only improve because they miss school a lot to play the game.
Billiards’ old lament.