DESPITE the struggles and hardships, the Marawi children never lost hope in reaching their dream to be football players.
The Marawi Ground Zero football team, which is composed of more than 15 players aged 12 years old and below, is one of the participating teams of this year’s 4th Negros Occidental Football Association (NOFA) Cup in Negros Occidental.
NOFA Cup was lunched in Negros Occidental in 2015 led by its president Ricky Yanson Jr.
The 4th NOFA Cup officially opened on May 29 and it will end on June 2. It is the fourth edition of the annual nationwide football tournament dedicated to grassroots players of boys aged 12 years old and below.
Aside from Marawi Ground Zero Team, the 23 other football teams are from Luzon the Ceres Youth FC, Claret School of Quezon City, Federated Football Association of Masbate, Hedcen, Loyola FC, Makati FC, Sugod Malaya FC and One La Salle, the champion of the 2018 NOFA Cup who is returning to defend their title.
Teams from Visayas are the Bacong FC, Barotac Nuevo FC, Baybay FC Jaguars, Don Bosco FC – Cebu, Dynamic FC, Green Global FC, Janiuaynon Defenders FCI, Kidz United FC, Negros Oriental – Siquijor Regional Football Association (NOSIRFA), LGU Barotac Nuevo, and Panay FA.
Teams from Mindanao also include the Davao Crocs FC, Golden Harvest, Marist Kidapawan, and Mt. Apo Regional FA.
The games were held at Sta. Maria Football Field in Talisay City.
The Marawi Ground Zero team is composed of neophyte footballers who have learned the sport in the war-torn region.
In 2017, a firefight broke out between Philippine government forces and an alliance of IS- aligned militants in Marawi. The battle lasted for five months and resulted in the mass displacement of civilians, destruction of buildings, and the loss of civilian lives.
Lemuel Mapula, president of Iligan-Lanao Regional Football Association, said they formed the team after they were invited by Yanson to come up a team from a ground zero area of Marawi.
“We saw these children with potentials to play football. Most of them are living in ground zero at Marawi. We approached their parents and we’re happy that they joined us,” he said.
At first, the children were also afraid to travel because of several checkpoint operations in Marawi.
Esperidion Paran, head coach of Marawi Ground Zero Team, said it’s hard for them to form a football team because most of the residents in Marawi are still in evacuation center.
Paran, who was assigned in Mindanao State University, admitted that after the Marawi siege, it was really hard to convince the children to join in sports.
“I only convinced my neighbors to allow their children to join in football so I trained them. We don’t have a good football pitch so we used the golf course for our training and it’s safe for the children,” Paran said.
Paran held their trainings every Saturday only in Iligan City.
“We’re really happy that we were invited to play here in Bacolod City. It’s the first time of our children in Marawi to play in national league, they do not have an experience but now we are here. This sport is really a big help to our children to forget the war in Marawi, they also want to be a good football player someday,” Paran said.
Paran recalled that one of his players’ father died during the Marawi siege. He was shot in the head. His player was also traumatized, but through football, the boy recovered and started to mingle with other children.
For his part, Yanson said that when they launched the first NOFA Cup in 2015, they only have 12 participating teams. And this year, they are pleased to welcome the 24 teams.
Yanson started the NOFA Cup with the vision of molding the character of young footballers and to develop the athlete’s personal lives.
He said that by imparting discipline through sports to these youngsters, they will be able to develop good players and better persons on and off the pitch.
“As part of our grassroots development program, the NOFA aims to provide young players with high-level and quality competition and hopes to bring out the best in each one. This opportunity where they can share their talents and learn from each other is supplementary to their personal growth. With your cooperation, we shall continue to do our best to make this a successful and exciting experience for everyone,” he said.
He added that all participants can expect a competitive nine-a-side tournament wherein they also experience the hospitable Negrense culture while learning values of team spirit, excellence, and fair play.
Lyca Jochico, NOFA Cup chairman, said the NOFA Cup is a great venue where young players can play and interact with other teams.
“We have 24 teams so we will witness good competition here, let’s see the skills of our young players,” she said.
The winning teams will receive medals and trophies.