GIVING young athletes the exposure to get them ready for bigger events remains the main objective for the 21st Milo Little Olympics Regional Finals, which kicks off today at the Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC) in Cebu City.

“The Milo Little Olympics focuses on the grassroots athletes. This event is one of the stepping stones to bigger events for them,” said Robbie de Vera, Milo Sports executive, during the press conference at the SM Seaside yesterday.

The Visayas Leg draws about 4,000 athletes coming from 250 different schools in the Visayas Region. Visayas Leg organizer Ricky Ballesteros said there are 132 schools competing in the elementary division and 120 in the secondary class.

The opening ceremony will be at the CCSC today with Olympian Mary Joy Tabal as the torch bearer along with Samantha Limos, who won a bronze medal in the 6th Children of Asia in Russia. Tabal will light the urn of peace and unity.

“I once dreamed to have a Milo title before, which led to where I am now. You will experience failures but with dedication and perseverance you can make it. In my seven years of long distance running I had experienced different challenges before I got to the Rio Olympics,” said Tabal.

This year, the 17-time overall champion University of Cebu (UC) will not be fielding a delegation as the school is on a cost-cutting program after being affected by the K to 12 program.

The reigning elementary champion University of San Carlos-Basic Education (USC-Bed) and secondary champion Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu (SHS-AdC), however, will be there to defend their titles.

“With UC not joining, it’s anybody’s game. We have strong schools in SHS-AdC, USC-Bed, Abellana National School and also the delegation from Bayawan City, which has around 100 athletes,” said Ballesteros.

After the regional games, there will be no National Finals for Milo Little Olympics. The organizers said that one of the reasons that they’re not doing the national finals is that they have intensified support to the multi-sporting event of the Department of Education (DepEd).

“We are in discussion with the DepEd right now for Milo to have a bigger role in the Palarong Pambansa,” said De Vera, who added there are also no plans of reviving the national meet in the coming years.

The Milo Little Olympics Regional Finals will run on Sept. 8 to 11 in different playing venues in Cebu. There are 15 events--arnis, athletics, badminton, basketball, chess, football, gymnastics, karatedo, lawn tennis, scrabble, sepak takraw, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo and volleyball.