It was 2005 and billiards in the Philippines was more popular than ever. The boom started six years prior, when the legendary Efren Reyes won the World 9-Ball title in Cardiff, starting a run that would see billiards matches aired live in the country even at midnight.
That rise in popularity, too, saw billiard halls pop up by the dozen. No longer confined to seedy halls where the urine stank, billiards in the Philippines was now played in posh spacious halls where you won’t have to sit on the other table when you jack up a shot.
Tournaments popped up too. From world-class events involving the who’s who of the country to invitationals where we got to see Earl Strickland to exhibitions featuring Jenette Lee.
Billiards popularity was going through the roof.
But one man warned it would all come crashing down because though popular, billiards in the Philippines wasn’t considered a sport.
It was 2005 and it was the height of billiard’s popularity. During a press con for SunStar Superbalita 9-Ball event, then the country’s biggest event outside of
Manila, the soft-spoken Leonardo “Dodong” Andam warned, unless we get billiards in the schools, it will lose its popularity.
It was months after a then 16-year-old Wu Chia-Ching beat compatriot Kuo Po-Cheng for the 9-ball world title and Andam, and a few other guys present in that press con, said that happened because in Chinese Taipei, billiards was taught in schools as a sport, while in the Philippines billiards is “pangtambay nga duwa.”
For generations, some have credited that to why Pinoy players have the best imagination compared to the “robot-like” play of players from other countries but still, we can’t deny the fact, the popularity of billiards in the country has taken a nosedive.
And I agree with Andam, though we’ve had great billiards stars, the sport still has shaken off its dodgy reputation in the country, those who play are those who have nothing else better to do.
The way to get around that would be to get in schools. To get it included in PE programs and school-based competitions and for schools to offer athletic scholarships for the sport.
Because it is a sport.
Will we ever get there? Will Philippine billiards be as popular as it was in the mid-2000s?
I don’t know but Dodong Andam told us how to get there 15 years ago.