2021 SPORTS STORY OF THE YEAR
“If you build it, they will come.”
The Northern Marianas Sports Association is definitely banking on that after the U.S Economic Development Administration approved last June a $21.2-million grant to fund the transformation of the Oleai Sports Complex into a modern state-of-the-art sports facility.
The grant includes the renovation and rehabilitation of the existing Gilbert C. Ada Gymnasium. Aside from repairs and storm resiliency enhancements and building improvements, it will also include making the facility’s roofing resistant to 190 miles per hour winds and a second-floor with an office space and conference rooms—so important in the CNMI following the onslaughts of super typhoons Soudelor in 2015 and Yutu in 2018.
A separate concrete storage facility (approximately 10 ft. x 20 ft.) will also be constructed to be associated with the gym and the Oleai track and field.
The grant would also cover the construction of an Olympic-size swimming pool with associated facilities such as a cantilevered roof, electronic timers, pumps, piping, water storage, spectator bleachers, locker rooms, and utility rooms.
Two International Tennis Federation-approved tennis courts with associated facilities such as warm-up walls, fencing, and bleachers will also be covered by the grant.
In addition, once the Oleai Sports Complex has been rebuilt it will allow the CNMI to invite international competition over and allow the CNMI to host events on a larger scale.
No less than Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said that the $21.2-million grant to make the Oleai Sports Complex the crown jewel of sports facilities in the region will definitely be a boon to local athletes.
“It’s going to give our athletes a dream to pursue. It’s also going to give us a better place to call home in terms of sports tourism, local sports, and it will also give our athletes the opportunity expand on their abilities,” he said.
NMSA president Jerry Tan said the EDA grant will encourage federations to continue to level-up in terms of sports administration.
“NMSA encourages its member-federations to level up in terms of sports administration and national athletes and coaches development, grassroots, and inter-scholastic programs and having the Oleai Sports Complex undergo a major transformation through the EDA grant will help them achieve these goals and more,” Tan said.
With world-class facilities, he said athletes and coaches will also be better prepared for competitions.
“We can bring in more students and young athletes to various sports programs, widening the pool of talents we can develop for the national team and prepare for athletics scholarship opportunities. The transformation will also provide our community a safer and suitable venue to conduct activities that promote a healthy and active lifestyle,” he said.
The $21.2-million grant to give the Oleai Sports Complex a makeover later received some criticism from the Northern Mariana Islands Tennis Association. This, after NMITA president and CNMI Sports Hall of Famer Jeff Race said he can’t use the facility as a national tennis center with only the allotted two tennis courts.
Colin notches 2nd ITF tour title
Colin Sinclair topped the Guatamala Open after outlasting Marco Brugnerotto of Italy in the final, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.
By winning the M15 tournament held from Nov. 22 to 28 in Guatamala City, the 26-year-old annexed his second championship in the International Tennis Federation Men’s World Tennis Tour.
“I’m really happy with how the week went. Since getting promoted at Davis Cup I’ve felt like I’ve been playing good tennis but hadn’t gotten any results. I was able to beat Taha Baadi in the semis who had beaten me a couple weeks before and then I beat Marco [Brugnerotto] in the final in a really close third set. It was my first title in almost three years and I hope that I can keep this momentum for our Davis Cup World Group II tie in March,” said Sinclair.
It may be recalled that Sinclair helped Pacific Oceania to promotion to Group II of the Davis Cup in 2022 after beating Syria in the finals of Group III last September in Amman, Jordan.
Sinclair first clinched an ITF men’s tour singles championship in 2019 when he won the Claremont Club Pro Classic in California.
CNMI national tennis coach Jeff Race also recently named Sinclair to the CNMI National Tennis Team for next year’s Northern Marianas Pacific Mini Games.
He is one of four automatic slots in the team. The others are fellow 2019 Apia, Samoa Pacific Mini Games men’s team medalist Robbie Schorr, fellow mixed doubles gold medalist Carol Lee, and Isabel Herras. Incidentally, Sinclair also won the men’s singles gold in the quadrennial event.
CNMI swimmers take part in World Championships
Jinnosuke Suzuki, Juhn Tenorio, and sisters Asaka and Shoko Litulumar performed beyond expectations in the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships held from Dec. 16 to 21 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
CNMI national swimming coach Hiroyuki Kimura said more than the impressive swim times, the biggest achievement of the Fab Four inside the cavernous Etihad Arena was they were able to achieve the feat training in small home pools, dive shops, and in the open water and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since 2018, the official swimming pool disappeared from this island. Then in addition, we could not do anything since the onset of COVID-19. There was no swim meet, no chance to go to off-island training or any off-island meets. However, we never gave up our dreams,” he said.
The Tsunami Saipan Swimming Center coach said they hunkered down to work and made use of what was available to them and kept their spirits up even during the nearly two years COVID-19 hindered not only their training but also opportunities to train or compete abroad.
Northern Marianas Swimming Federation representative Richard Sikkel, meanwhile, said Suzuki, Tenorio, and the Litulumar sisters really gave a good account of themselves during the swimming championships and he couldn’t be more proud of their performance.
“All four swimmers impressed with the way they handled performing on the biggest swimming stage of the world. They conducted themselves professionally and did what they came to Abu Dhabi to do, which was to swim their best times,” he said.
Aside from Suzuki, Tenorio, the Litulumar sisters, Kimura, and Sikkel also part of the CNMI delegation in Abu Dhabi was NMSF representative Hiroko Tenorio.
Athletic scholarship for soccer players
CNMI soccer players continue to gain athletic scholarship opportunities despite the COVID-19 pandemic slowing down on-field activities in 2021.
NMI Boys U18 National Team members Dev Bachani and Kohtaro Gato are both heading to Park University after graduating from high school.
Known as the Buccaneers, Park University of Gilbert, Arizona plays in the California Pacific Conference of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Ditto for Katrina Costales, Stephanie Flores, Lilian Podziewski, and Stella McCallion—marking the first time in one year that four NMI female players have been snatched up for athletics scholarships by collegiate teams.
Costales is heading to Whitworth University in Washington, while her fellow Marianas High School Dolphins alumni Lilian Podziewski and Stephanie Flores are going to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York and Illinois College in Chicago, respectively.
All three schools compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association—the biggest intercollegiate sports organization in the U.S. and a breeding ground for future Olympians and professional players.
McCallion, for her part, has committed to Cabrini University in an athletics scholarships. The school is a private Roman Catholic university in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania and plays under the NCAA Division III athletic program.
Bob Coldeen retires
“It was time” and with those three words long-time KSPN sportscaster Bob Coldeen laid down his camcorder and called it a career last October.
“You do a thing 28 years in a row, you know, it was just time,” the 70-year-old former Peace Corp volunteer, Rota High School teacher, and Public School System federal programs coordinator said.
Coldeen became a household name in the CNMI with his own catch phrase “Did you get that, Bob?” in over three decades as the sportscaster of the local news broadcast.
Coldeen began his sportscasting career in 1993 after he joined Marianas Cable Vision, but unbeknownst to many he was recruited a full year before that.
The University of Florida alumnus said being a sportscaster in the early 1990s in the CNMI was like a dream come true for him.
“Those were really exciting days for sports because there was a lot of money coming in. There was a lot of excitement. Japanese professional baseball teams were coming in. Larry Hillblom invested $1 million into MCV. Those were heady days and everybody was like ‘oh, the future is going to be great,’” he said.
Coldeen said now that he’s called it a career he’ll have more Saipan sunsets to enjoy with his lovely wife, Martha, at the terrace of their lovely Navy Hill home.
GCA wins 5th straight in volleyball
Competing during the COVID-19 pandemic is already hard enough, so completing a five-peat makes it doubly tougher.
But that’s just what Grace Christian Academy 1 did after winning an unprecedented fifth straight championship in the 2022 NMIVA-PSS Interscholastic Girls High School Volleyball League last October.
The Lady Eagles 1 of coach Cesar Libut beat Marianas High School 1 in the title game, 24-22, 21-10, last Oct. 15 at the MHS Gymnasium.
The five-time championship team was made up of Katriel Suares, Hye Jin Elliott, Clerrise Dacumos, Soleil Lamar, Vicky Wang, Mint Karsuaythong, Eunice Pagaduan, and Allyssa Omampo.
Libut later admitted that this year’s championship is probably the best GCA 1 has ever won in his years coaching at the Navy Hill school.
“I think this is the best championship I’ve ever won. For one, MHS 1 is really good. There’s competition [this year]. A lot of our past championships were one-sided. We didn’t have this [kind of competition]. But against MHS 1 and in their house and all the cheering thing… it’s amazing.”
The GCA 1 coach said prior to the start of the season, he had some trepidations about leading the Lady Eagles 1 to the Promised Land again.
“Sometimes it’s so tiring and the pressure of winning and winning. I asked Kat [Saures] if she’s tired of trying to prove we’re still No. 1. Kat said ‘I’m not tired of winning Mr. C.’”
Good thing Libut this time followed his ward’s words.
NMA named World Athletics Awards 2021 finalist
For carefully navigating its way through the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, Northern Marianas Athletics was named one of the Oceania Area Finalists for the World Athletics Awards 2021.
This year saw the CNMI athletics federation host different events and competitions that brought athletics literally back on track after facing setbacks in 2020 due to the worldwide health crisis.
NMA joined the Cook Islands and Australia on the shortlist of finalists with the latter eventually getting OAA’s nod and the nomination for the World Athletics Awards 2021, which was held virtually last Dec. 1. The Costa Rican Athletics Federation ended up winning the World Athletics Member Federation of the Year Competition, beating Australia, Kenya, Czech Republic, Ecuador, and Japan.
NMA nonetheless acknowledged its partners and stakeholders as key components in the continued implementation of its programs amid the challenging times brought by COVID-19.
“We are honored with this recognition, which we would like to share to our partners in developing the sport of athletics in the NMI. We certainly can’t do it without our partners from the community. All of us are volunteers in this program and our partners make it’s easier for us to achieve successes across our community and our regions. The phrase, ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ comes to mind with this honor from OAA,” NMA president Ray Tebuteb said.
Coby slam-dunks his way to history
Channeling his inner Kobe Bryant, Coby Santos made history by winning the slam dunk competition of the Marianas Islands Basketball League 3×3 Season 2 tournament last June 27 at the Marianas High School Gymnasium.
The 20-year-old Northern Marianas College student turned on his Mamba Mentality and even sported the late Lakers great’s jersey to beat Erik Joe in the finals, 58-47.
Instead of the regulation 10-foot rim, organizers lowered it to 9 1/2 feet to give competitors a better chance of completing their slam dunks.
In his first dunk in the finals, Santos bounced the ball high before making a 360 turn and slamming it home for a perfect 30 points from judges Clint Albert, Keith Nabors, and David John Apatang. He made an easier but still impressive slam in his second dunk in the finals that netted him 28 points.
In the eliminations, Santos wowed the crowd with his high-flying antics and finished with 56 points in his two dunks (27 and 29).
Santos, who said he first dunked when he was 18 years old in 2019, said he practiced for a day for the competition and tried to perfect three slam dunks.
“One-hundred percent I always give my 100%,” when asked how much he exerted in the slam dunk contest.
NMSA not giving up on Olympic dream
Northern Marianas Sports Association president Jerry Tan said he will not give up on the CNMI’s quest to have its athletes take part in the Olympics.
“I don’t have anything definite that I can say at this time, but as far as NMSA is concerned it’s our ultimate goal and dream to see our athletes to be able to participate in the Olympics just like many of our Oceania brothers and sisters,” he said when officials from the Oceania National Olympic Committees visited Saipan last September.
Tan said the CNMI is actually not alone in its quest for Olympic membership. In Oceania alone six other island-nations have knocked on the door of the International Olympic Committee—New Caledonia, Niue, Norfolk Island, Tahiti, Tokelau, and Wallis and Futuna.
“We are one of the seven associate members. So we are not the only member within the Oceania family that is not an Olympic member. Maybe everyone has a unique case. We are examining what happened in the late ’80s because we did submit an application to IOC and for whatever reason I’m still trying to understand why we were not granted [membership].”
Tan admitted that being granted membership in the IOC will be a difficult and complicated journey, especially since he himself is new at the helm of NMSA.
He, however, assured that he will try his best to move forward the CNMI’s application to the OIC.
“This is important enough for our athletes that at least we owe it to them that we do as much as we can. Not to say that we didn’t try,” he said.
Micro Games, Pacific Games postponements
Probably it was for the best that the 2022 Micronesian Games in the Marshall Islands and the 2023 Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands were postponed to later dates.
With the CNMI and the rest of the island-nations of the Pacific grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and making their own preparations for the 2021 Pacific Mini Games in the Northern Marianas, delaying the two other quadrennial events seemed like a breath of fresh air.
“We finally received a letter from the Micronesian Games Council and also from the Marshall Islands Games Organizing Committee regarding the postponement and that was expected. So, it’s official but they didn’t say exactly when in 2023 they will move it,” said Northern Marianas Sports Association president Jerry Tan during a membership meeting last November.
The postponement of the Micronesian Games, Tan said, was a big blow for sports not included in the Pacific Games as they were looking forward to jump-start their programs by taking part in the Majuro Games.
“I fully understand the Marshall Islands has their challenges with regards to the Games, but it bothered me because I was thinking about the different sports preparing for the Micronesian Games, especially those not part of the Mini Games,” he said.
The Pacific Games in Honiara, Solomon Islands were earlier postponed from July 2023 to November 2023 as organizers needed more time to prepare for the event.
Officials in Honiara expressed concerns that if the event was held as planned in July, there would not be enough time to run test events and have venues fully operational.
Financial concerns are also said to be linked in the delay of the next edition of the quadrennial games.
The Solomon Islands 2023 Pacific Games are now scheduled to take place from Nov. 19 to Dec. 2, 2023.
The postponements of the Micro Games and Pacific Games comes on top of postponements of local sports earlier and in the latter parts of the year from an abundance of precaution because of the COVID-19 scare.