DAVRAA CHAMPS. Prince Kyle Sanico and Jomar Anicoche, who recently clinched the gold medal for Davao City in the Davao Region Athletic Association (Davraa) Meet 2024 elementary boys tennis doubles, share a laugh as they pose for a photo at the Toril Tennis Club on April 10, 2024.
DAVRAA CHAMPS. Prince Kyle Sanico and Jomar Anicoche, who recently clinched the gold medal for Davao City in the Davao Region Athletic Association (Davraa) Meet 2024 elementary boys tennis doubles, share a laugh as they pose for a photo at the Toril Tennis Club on April 10, 2024.MARIANNE L. SABERON-ABALAYAN

‘Pulot’ boys from Toril ready for Palaro glory

Meet Davao Region's dynamic duo: The rising stars of elementary boys tennis doubles

On a lazy holiday afternoon, Davraa Meet 2024 elementary boys doubles champion Prince Kyle Sanico and Jomar Anicoche, sporting their new tennis rackets and shoes, strode confidently into the Toril Tennis Club (TTC), their second home, which has nurtured them from being "pulot" (ball) boys to rising tennis stars in the region.

Despite using second-hand or borrowed rackets and hand-me-down rubber shoes, they pulled off the biggest surprise in the recently concluded Davao Region Athletic Association (Davraa) Meet 2024 tennis competition by defeating more experienced players and doubles teams from the eliminations to the semifinals.

In the closely contested title match, the Dabawenyo duo stunned their rivals from Davao de Oro, eliciting cheers and applause from their supporters.

"Gikasab-an ang mga fans kay saba kaayo (The fans were scolded because they were so noisy)," Sanico jokingly remarked in an interview with SunStar Davao. 

He hadn't anticipated winning two golds at his first Davraa Meet appearance. His second gold came in the elementary mixed doubles event with partner Cristine Mesa, the daughter of Michael Mesa, the city's former tennis standout.

Their achievements mean the Toril aces, both 11 years old and fifth graders at Piedad Central Elementary School, will take their first airplane ride and compete in their debut Palarong Pamabansa. This Davraa Meet 2024 marked their largest tournament to date.

Lipay gyud kaayo ko nga midaug mi. First time gyud nako mag eroplano
Jomar Anicoche, Davao City's Davraa Meet 2024 elementary boys tennis doubles gold medalist

(I'm so happy that we won. It will be my first time on a plane).

Kahilakon ko pagdaug namo. Excited ko mag-Palaro
Prince Kyle Sanico, Davao City's Davraa Meet 2024 elementary boys tennis twin gold medalist

(I was teary-eyed when we won. I'm excited for the Palaro)."

DAVRAA CHAMPS. Prince Kyle Sanico and Jomar Anicoche, who recently clinched the gold medal for Davao City in the Davao Region Athletic Association (Davraa) Meet 2024 elementary boys tennis doubles, share a laugh as they pose for a photo at the Toril Tennis Club on April 10, 2024.
DAVRAA CHAMPS. Prince Kyle Sanico and Jomar Anicoche, who recently clinched the gold medal for Davao City in the Davao Region Athletic Association (Davraa) Meet 2024 elementary boys tennis doubles, share a laugh as they pose for a photo at the Toril Tennis Club on April 10, 2024.MARIANNE L. SABERON-ABALAYAN

Humble beginnings

Sanico, the sixth among eight siblings, comes from a family where his mother is a housewife and his father works as a driver. His older brother also started as a ball boy at TTC before becoming a tennis player.

At age five, Sanico began learning the ropes of being a ball boy for a week, though it took him some time to grasp the rules of tennis as a sport.

Anicoche, the third among five children, started as a ball boy at age six, introduced to the job by his elder brother. Raised by their aunt Anniex, whom he affectionately calls Mama Nie, Anicoche's parents separated when he was younger.

Sanico and Anicoche, who are neighbors, only became close friends while working as ball boys at TTC. 

When they started learning how to play tennis, Sanico said, "Mamulot sa mi, pag wala nay player gadula sa court, magdula-dula nami (We picked up balls, and when there were no players on the court, we played against each other)."

Anicoche added, "Kay wala man mi'y racket, manghuram mi sa among mga kuya o sa lain hangtud natagaan nami ug racket (Since we didn't have rackets, we borrowed from our brothers or others until we were given rackets)."

Sanico received a second-hand Babolat racket from an engineer who is a member of TTC, which he used until it wore out. He borrowed his cousin's Head racket when he competed in the Davao City Athletic Association (Dcaa) and Davraa Meets.

Meanwhile, Anicoche initially used a second-hand Kawasaki ProAce before receiving a slightly-used Head racket from Lorelie Luardo, the six-term TTC court manager, which he also used for the Davraa Meet 2024.

During weekdays, they attend classes from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., then head to TTC to resume their ballboy duties and fit in some practice. 

On weekends, they spend the entire day at the courts to earn extra money and practice. They usually go home by 7 p.m. for dinner and catch up on school-related readings or assignments.

Their daily earnings cover their school allowances, with the rest going to their mom and guardian for basic needs like rice.

Sanico mentioned that they usually earn between P150 and P200 a day. However, when players are fewer on the courts, Anicoche noted that they make do with around P100.

Sanico shared,

Usahay di sya kaadto kay dugay kamata. Usahay di ko kaadto kay gikapoy ko

(Sometimes, he can't come because he woke up late. Sometimes, I'm too tired to come)."

Kapoy magpulot, labaw na kung ang bola maglupad-lupad

(It's exhausting to pick up balls, especially when they're flying all over)," Anicoche added jokingly, prompting laughter from Sanico.

Good Samaritans

Luardo recalled that Sanico and Anicoche, along with other kids from the neighborhood within walking distance of TTC, initially treated the club as their playground. Over time, they learned about becoming ball boys and then developed their tennis skills.

"Since ang ilang school, through Ma'am Cherry Saratao, nagkuha man og mga players para sa Unit Meet, sila ang ni represent sa school sa ilang unit. Upat ni sila ball boys, pildi lang ang duha sa singles sa Davraa Meet (Since their school, through Ma'am Cherry Saratao, needed players for the Unit Meet, they represented the school in their unit. They were four ball boys, only the other two lost in the singles in the Davraa Meet)," she told SunStar Davao in a separate interview at TTC.

The ball boys started as volunteers but eventually became regulars at TTC.

Luardo also arranged for Sanico and Anicoche to participate in age-group tournaments in the city to gain exposure.

"Pag may age-group tournament ang duha ubanan nako from day one until mahuman ang tournament (Pag may age-group tournament ang duha, ubanan nako from day one until mahuman ang tournament (If they join an age-group tournament, I accompany them from day one until the competition is over)," she added.

She and TTC will sponsor their entry fees for the 1st Daneea Balabaran Sinsuat Tennis Championship set on April 19 to 22, which TTC will host.

According to Luardo, the Palaro-bound tennis players will practice for free at TTC, with Palaro in-house training starting in June at the GSIS Tennis Club.

She noted that since the two boys began playing, all their tennis gear (rackets, shoes, and apparel) were hand-me-downs from TTC members.

REGULAR PATRON. Toril Tennis Club (TCC) court manager Lorelie Luardo poses with Prince Kyle Sanico and Jomar Anicoche. TTC has been a nurturing home for these former ballboys turned tennis players.
REGULAR PATRON. Toril Tennis Club (TCC) court manager Lorelie Luardo poses with Prince Kyle Sanico and Jomar Anicoche. TTC has been a nurturing home for these former ballboys turned tennis players. LORELIE LUARDO PHOTO

After winning the Davraa tennis championship, their story on the DepEd Davao City Facebook page caught the attention of Kenneth Howell and Jenica Nazareno.

Kenneth shared that his heart sank upon reading the post because he could relate to the boys' struggles.

"Before naging athlete din po ako pero dahil nga sa hirap ng buhay, nag-stop po kasi wala din pambili ng sapatos. Kaya naisipan po namin tulungan yung mga bata para naman mas ma-motivate pa sila na mas galingan pa lalo sa mga paparating na laro nila (I used to be an athlete, but due to life's hardships, I had to stop because I couldn't afford shoes. That's why we decided to help the kids to motivate them to do even better in their upcoming tournaments)," Kenneth, a former track and field athlete at Daniel R. Aguinaldo National High School (Dranhs), said in a Facebook interview.

The Nazarenos took Sanico, Anicoche, their two teammates, along with their coach to Chris Sports at Abreeza Mall to shop for tennis rackets and shoes.

GOOD SAMARITANS. Couple Kenneth and Jenica Nazareno treat Davao City’s elementary boys' tennis team to a shopping spree, sponsoring their new tennis rackets and shoes.
GOOD SAMARITANS. Couple Kenneth and Jenica Nazareno treat Davao City’s elementary boys' tennis team to a shopping spree, sponsoring their new tennis rackets and shoes. KENNETH HOWELL NAZARENO PHOTO

When asked about his new tennis gear, Sanico quickly replied, "Very, very happy. Ungta daghan pa sila matabangan, Ginoo nalang bahala sa ilaha (I hope they can help many more, may God bless them)."

"Lipay ko kaayo. Dako kaayo akong pasalamat sa ilaha (I'm very happy. I'm very thankful to them)," Anicoche said, expressing his gratitude. He mentioned that they were also treated to a meal at Jollibee after shopping.

Kenneth shared that while it was their first time assisting athletes, they have been donating school supplies to various schools even before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

His company, Ken Howell Multimedia Services, partnered with DepEd Davao City to produce national TV-based instructional materials for learners during the pandemic, providing the agency with top-notch production equipment.

Bracing for adventure

As the Palarong Pambansa 2024 approaches, Sanico and Anicoche are intensifying their preparations, their determination burning brighter than ever. With every practice session, they steel themselves for the challenges ahead and eagerly anticipate the adventures and memories that await them.

Armed not only with new tennis gear but also with unwavering resolve, the two ball boys from Toril are ready to face whatever obstacles stand in their way. And they're not alone in this journey. They now have more than just their families, TTC, and their school backing them—they have the entire Davao Region rallying behind them, fervently praying for their success. MLSA

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