BALLARAT is a city in the Central Highlands of Victoria, Australia. In 2018, Ballarat had a population of 105,471, making it the third-largest city in both Victoria and inland Australia. Within months of Victoria separating from the colony of New South Wales in 1851, gold was discovered near Ballarat, sparking the Victorian gold rush.

"I am not from where you come from, and I speak a different tongue. Yet you're here with me living life together. That's the way it's gonna be ... friends for now and, yes we'll be friends forever. It was always meant to be ..." Just a few lines from a song I wrote back in 1996 while I was at the University of Ballarat in Victoria. This song entitled, "We are a family," was adopted as the theme song of International Night, an annual cultural show organized by the Ballarat International Students Association. Being away from family was really tough. But life is what we make it and, meeting new people and finding "family" among new friends and acquaintances, I believe, is all part of His plan. After all, everything happens for a reason ('dba premium bros Bong and Leo?).

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted mental health to such an extent that coping became a bigger challenge. Physical fitness activities have been limited and as such, the mental stress brought about by local restrictions, and the fear of getting infected, has increased substantially. "Smash and Beat COVID19" was an outlet for a selected and limited number of badminton enthusiasts here in Koronadal City as we engaged in friendly badminton matches to unwind and de-stress.

Congratulations and thank you to Coach Eric for expertly running the mini-tourney. So far, the games have been managed very professionally and I am confident that as you read this issue tomorrow (Wednesday), the protagonists in the finals matches for Level B (Beginners), Level A (Advanced), and the Idols (Open) Category are setting their sights and minds on raising the championship trophies that were carefully crafted by members of the Mateo clan in Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat. Thanks to my idol Darwin and "foodpanda man" Primo for the extra effort in coordinating the production and delivery of these awesome tokens.

More than winning, the experience has been a show of respect, unity, humility, and safety. I am blown away by the very warm accommodation and acceptance by the players. In fact, the casual engagements have strengthened the friendships developed over only several weeks of regular games. The "blind" pairings were an instant hit as players who rarely greeted each other even while they were playing separate matches in separate courts under one roof have started to talk and strategize together, prepare their game plan, and simply become friends.

Special thanks go to my super idol Lhai for helping me search for the prizes, Mai Mai for the medals and tokens, Naneng for her frozen movements ("ang ingay kasi ni Niel"), team kusina with ardie and kapitana, my OneMGB12 family, my DENR12 colleagues, and the generous sponsors (Taganito, GeoMine, Tribal Mining, Mayon Cement, Teresa Marble, Permata and Portal, MJ Enterprises, Beb's, JB, Amay, Peregrino and Mr. Racket Boy).

To Yunisha, better luck next time 'nak but I hope you are happy with the USB. Your pair of rackets with a free shuttlecock and a badminton net will be personally delivered by Bunso (the one and only Bunso who is called kuya) after the games. I hope Bunso will now allow Joemar to speak more words soon (32 plus 3). Please be extremely careful with the home palanggana test!

Good luck to my forever idols Clint ("iwas drive pag hubog haha"), Karlo ("bawal magvape sa court hihi"), and Darwin, together with SoySoy (lablab), Bradley, Von, Kokoy ("sayang 'yung 200 mo"), Ethan, Shoti, Ian, Rashere (sleeping sa court?), Nikki, Sir Robert and Sir Jessie. Kaya natin 'yan, Smash and Beat Covid-19!

Play hard and may the best pair win. See you in court (badminton court)!

"A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever." -- Mary Lou Retton

"It is not the size of a man but the size of his heart that matters." --Evander Holyfield

"The only way to prove that you're a good sport is to lose." -- Ernie Banks

"Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful." -- John Wooden