Missing the court | Long-time KOTC game officials share the struggles of long lull from basketball


By John Mark Herrera - Published June 2, 2020

The painful cancellation of sporting events have greatly affected athletes, coaches, trainers, and even the weekend warriors who play sports for fitness and fun. Fans all over the world had to accept the reality that until a vaccine is available for the mass, there will be no mass gathering allowed.

But while the agony is real for the mentioned group of people, the struggle of not being on the court is double the hurt for game officials, whose bread and butter in supporting their families, lie in per-game basis pay from different leagues in the country.

In this edition of #MissingTheCourt, it's the referees' time to share their community quarantine experiences, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected their way of living.

First up on the list is Ronaldo Bermejo, a basketball referee for six years now, with Kings of Court. For more than half a decade, Bermejo has officiated in almost all KOTC tournaments, which includes the KOTC Leagues, Laguna Inter-LGU, Makabansa Basketball League (MBL), and the PLDT Metro Manila Inter Village League (MMIVL). 

For him and his family, the effects of this pandemic forced him and his family to seek much-needed help from close relatives, as his main source of income was suddenly halted by the health crisis.

"Kinapos ng budget para sa gastusin dahil natigil ang pagkakakitaan. Ang naging resulta ay manghingi ng tulong sa kapamilya at mga kaibigan na nakakaluwag. Napangalagaan naman ang pamilya at nanatiling safe at home, tiis lang sa mga pagkain na inihahanda para maka survive." shared Bermejo, who also joined pools of referees for prestigious collegiate leagues such as the NCAA, UAAP, Filoil Pre-Season Tournament, and Fr. Martin's Cup.

As he awaits the call to officiate a game again, Bermejo makes it a point to do all that is necessary to keep him and his family safe, abiding the guidelines set forth by the government, as well as support the ongoing campaigns of KOTC.

"Stay at home lang kami at nag social distancing sa labas lung may bibilhin pagkain - sa bagay na yan hindi na kami intindihin ng frontliners dahil sinusunod namin ang guidelines para hindi mahawa o magkaroon ng COVID-19. Ang tangi ko lang maipapamahagii ay moral support sa KOTC na ipalaganap ang initiatives nila na makatulong sa anumang paraan."

As for his message to his fellow game officials, and the many Filipinos who are also going through the same situation: "Stay Home and Be Patient. Need mag divert sa ibang talents ana mayroon ka, para kumita habang ang sports ay wala pa katiyakan kelan pwede mag resume." saiid Bermejo, who is now in his 26th year as a basketball referee.

The weight of the sudden loss of income was also a tough blow for one of KOTC's young and promising basketball referee, Noel "JR" Menchero, who is now in his third year with the company and fifth overall as a game official.

"Mahirap. Simula nang nagka lock down, walang hanap-buhay. Umaasa kami sa ayudang bigay ng barangay." shared Menchero, who has just began his young officiating career in the big leagues such as the NCAA and in the PBA D-League .

But despite the shortage in food supply, the young game official still has his fellow referees in mind - extending help through sacrificial giving. "Yung binibigay na ayuda saamin, yung iba, binibigay ko din sa kasama kong mga referees na nangangailangan din."

Menchero is optimistic that sports will return soon, and that together, we will all come out victorious. "Magpaka tatag lang tayo. Sa mga kasama kong referees, matatapos din tong krisis, kapit lang."

Getting paid on a per game basis, for Jovan Uy, a basketball referee for 12 years (3 with KOTC), the ongoing ban on mas gathering which cancelled most, if not all reacreational sports leagues, not only took basketball away from him, but more importantly his bread and butter in supporting his family.

"Pagiging basketball referee ang kinabubuhay ko and ng family ko. Sa panahon na ganito ang sitwasyon dahil sa pandemic Covid-19, halos lahat ng referees ko na pinoy ay pinaka naapektuhan ang buhay, pati kani-kanyang pamilya ay naapektuhan."

Uncertain of when sports can re-open for leagues, Uy turned to other means of work to provide for his family, and he hopes to sustain it long enough to support his family as the usual summer leagues that give referees a solid source of income, suddenly became a season of drought. 

"Lalo na sa ngayong kasalukuyan, di pa namin alam kung paano kami makakaahon, at makasurvive agad sa ibang diskarte sa buhay para lang kumita para sa pamilya, gayong matatagalan pang ibalik ng Philippine Sports Commission ang mga liga ng Basketball." said Uy, who was part of the pool of referees for the National Basketball League (NBL).

For 20-year veteran referee in recreational leagues, Christian "Bon" Blazo echo the message of the prior three men in gray, to his fellow game officials, as well as the acceptance of change in lifestyle and how to contribute in fighting this pandemic as one nation.

"Tibayan ang loob, maging matatag, at pangalagaan amg kalusugan at higit sa lahat laging mag pray sa panginoon. Marami mga bagay bagay ang kailngan i-adjust kasi walang hanap buhay. Sumunod sa mga batas na pinapatupad. Dapat di pasaway." said Blazo, who was recruited by Bermejo back in 2017 to join him in officiating KOTC tournaments.

Another veteran referee of 15 years, in Gerry Guinto - also felt the gravity of the long lull from sports.

"Napakahirap ng buhay simula Ng magkalockdown.nandyan Yung kelangan mo mangutang sa mga kaibigan.manghingi ng tulong sa medyo nakakaangat sa buhay at umasa sa relief na ibibigay ng gobyerno, at nagpapasalamat ako sa Diyos na kahit may pandemia, ay hindi niya pinabayaan ang mga mahal ko sa buhay, at ako."

Despite being away from the court, Guinto remains a team player and a contributor even while at home.

"Financialy, wala naman ako maitutulong talaga. Ang naitulong ko ay ang pagsunod ko sa mga utos ng gobyerno. Sumali ako sa groups ng mga referees na mayroong question & answer about FIBA rules, nang sa ganon ay hindi mahinto ang knowledge ko sa officiating." he shared.

As he and his fellow referees stand with each other in prayer, giving, and moral support, Guinto points out the most important thing during these times.

"Mensahe ko sa mga kapwa ko referee, ingatan natin ang ating mga sarili at samahan ng dasal. Sa mga kapwa ko Filipino sumunod tayo sa mga pinaguutos ng pamahalaan."

The stories of hope, in the midst of the ongoing health crisis, are no more evident than what these long-time referees shared. Being in need and still doing sacrificial giving, the discipline they're showing in spite of shortage, and the faith they have that one day, sports will be back up and running, and the game they've officiated for years will resume to bring back the joy and fulfillment for sports fans, players, and officials all over the globe.

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You can donate for their cause and get a personalized artwork in return!

Kings of the Court PH is selling customized artwork at PHP 700.00. They have an artwork catalog that you may choose from (https://bit.ly/2RzU7ex). Designs are compatible to your preferred sport. It can also be a souvenir to your loved ones who are frontliners to show that they are our #SeasonMVPs.

The #YourTimeToShine is a campaign which aims to raise funds. Proceeds shall be for the donation of PPE’s and food supply to our frontliners through various organizations, and financial assistance to our employees in need during these trying times.

If it's not purchasing, you can share this to your friends and family members, to raise more awareness of the campaign - that would be appreciated too!

Go to Kings of the Court PH on Facebook, to know more.

Photos from the KOTC Sports Fest 2019 - Photographers:  Enrico Vicmudo, Nicole Hernandez, and Julius Domondon.