By Michael Angelo S. Murillo

Women’s basketball:
A (Pinay Ballers) league of their own

Posted on February 13, 2015

SINCE BEING BROUGHT to the country by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) during the early American colonial period, basketball has woven itself into the fiber of Philippine culture as the number one sport in the country. In practically every part of the archipelago, it has become the sport of choice of most people either to take up or watch to draw entertainment from.

The teams competing in the Pinay Ballers League. -- photos by Miko Abuel/PiBaLeague
But while basketball is the undisputed alpha sport in the land, a branch of it -- women’s basketball -- remains “unexplored,” lagging significantly behind its men’s counterpart. And that “little tapped” sector of the local basketball community is what a newly formed league is trying to cater to, hoping to help Filipino lady ballers find their place in the sun.

Last year, the Pinay Ballers League (PiBaLeague) was brought to existence by a group of local women’s basketball stakeholders who dreamt of having a steady platform where they can showcase their talent and passion for the sport of basketball.

Organizers of the league said the idea for the PiBaLeague came from the recognition that Filipino female basketball players who can play do exist.

“We saw a lot of potential and dedicated players who can play and so we decided to try setting up a league wherein every Pinay baller can play, enjoy her time with her teammates and friends every weekend and stay fit, resulting in the Pinay Ballers League,” Ewon Arayi, league president, said in an interview.

She added that they are also using the PiBaLeague to break the mold of thinking that basketball is just for men and they try to inspire young girls to pursue their passion for the sport.

“We want to inspire the young generations of Filipino women. I recall when we were doing basketball clinics we always had a hard time encouraging young girls to join us. They often say ‘We don’t have a future in basketball. Basketball is only for men,’” said Ms. Arayi, a former Adamson University standout and national player.

“It really broke my heart when I heard them say that about basketball.”

While the league is hardly pioneering, organizers admit, still it has not stopped them from wanting to achieve the goal they have set.

“Honestly speaking, we do have a lot of basketball tournaments for women all over the country, but most of the leagues are for high school and college players only. But our goal is to give a chance to alumni players to have their own league wherein after their basketball careers in college they can still play the sport they love in a competitive setting,” Ms. Arayi said.

The same view is shared by Gie Sac, who coaches a team in the league and also serves as secretary of the PiBaLeague, and player Paulette Quintos.

“As an alumni playing basketball, it is a privilege to see fellow women ballers who are playing good basketball. To see the passion in them in playing basketball,” said Ms. Sac, who played collegiate ball at Miriam College.

“It is very significant for former varsity players because through this we get to continue playing the sport that we love, be able to still keep in close contact with former teammates and meet new friends,” Ms. Quintos said.

She added. “Because there is no professional basketball league for women, most who graduate from playing in college are forced to stop playing. The league is a great avenue for former athletes to still be able to keep themselves fit and active.”

PiBaLeague organizers said that, contrary to popular thinking, there are “solid” female players in the country who are engaging to watch at play.

“I’m proud to say that female ballers in the country are very competitive and tough. Once they play you can see they play with their hearts out every time. You can see the passion in their eyes, rendering everything possible,” Ms. Arayi said.

She boasted that the league features a number of “top-caliber” players who once played for the Philippine team and were part of champion teams in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines and Women’s National Collegiate Athletic Association.

And such, Ms. Arayi said, underscores the kind of league they have.

Ms. Arayi said setting up the league was no easy task as they were building something from scratch.

She said the league is being financed primarily by the teams themselves through the entrance fee they pay which serves as fund to pay for the venue, game officials, and other operational costs.

Initially they pegged the entrance fee at P12,000, which proved to be barely enough for the two-month running of the league per season. So they raised the amount to the current P16,000.

Sponsors have started to come in, organizers said, but it is not the big corporations, they pointed out. Rather, these are small to medium-sized companies who they have personal links with and share their vision for local women’s basketball.

Nonetheless, the support it has been getting from said companies is a welcome help in more ways than one, the PiBaLeague said.

The league is basically divided into two categories -- the Elite/Open Division and the Developmental Division.

The Elite/Open division is where the former varsity and national players play while the developmental division features players who are not necessarily ex-collegiate stars but can play and are out to have fun and stay active playing on the hardcourt.

PiBaLegue had its first season from August until November last year. Ten developmental teams competed.

Its second was in November to December, which was done in partnership with the Philippine Sports Commission under Commissioner Akiko Thompson-Guevara’s Women and Sports Program. The season had 18 teams participating, nine each for the Elite/Open division and Developmental division.

Ongoing is the third season of the PiBaLeague, which is until March. A record number of 28 teams are currently competing, equally divided between the two divisions.

League games are being played at the Lumera Tower along Legarda St. in Manila, in front of Arellano University. Playdates are every weekend from morning to afternoon.

The steady growth of the number of league participants has organizers feeling bullish moving forward.

“I’m proud of the Pinay Ballers League because slowly we are growing and more people are trusting us,” Ms. Sac said.

Having laid the foundation, PiBaLeague organizers said the challenge now is to sustain the league and what it wants to achieve, highlighting that they are in it for the long haul.

Foremost of what they want to happen is for the league to be recognized by more people and get ample support from corporations to help not only the PiBaLeague but the players themselves.

“Our goal is to make Pinay Ballers League a professional league of women’s basketball players in the Philippines. Like in the Shakey’s V-league (volleyball), its players are being paid by the companies they are representing. They play while they are working for their company. I hope that someday that will happen to our players too,” Ms. Arayi said.

They also want to take women’s basketball to more people, going to the provinces and not confining themselves to the metro, as they believe the more players and teams playing, the better they can convey their message that women’s basketball can flourish in the country provided the needed structure and support are there.

“Potential players are all over the country. All we need to do is to take action to help develop these talents....” Ms. Arayi said.

“I always dreamt of having a commercial league where corporations would handle teams. It’s big for Filipino women ballers. The talent is there. It just needs to be supported,” Ms. Sac said.

To know more about the PiBaLeague, check out their Facebook page.