“Ever since I was young, I’ve always been a diehard sports fan,” said 16-year-old Julian Rikki Cortez Reyes, who will be competing again next week for the NSPC. “I’d watch basketball games on TV, especially when my favorite teams like San Antonio Spurs (NBA) and Barangay Ginebra Kings (PBA) were playing. I’m so into it that even my answers to exams would have something to do with sports.”
He started sportswriting when he was in fifth grade, but being young, he did not take it seriously then. “I’d even cheat on my coach, who would give me news clippings, and I’d just re-arrange them in writing,” he recalled with a laugh. Winning his first writing competition, he would advance and compete with campus sports writers from all over Pampanga.
It was when he experienced his first loss that he would take the craft seriously. Victory would be elusive for a few more years, even when he moved up from elementary to junior high. “Having won before, my coaches had high expectations. It went to my head so I was not in my element,” he admitted.
On his last year as a junior high school student in 2015, he considered quitting if he did not win, but after seeing how hungry for victory his rivals were, that put a fire in his belly. It was through social media that he tried to gain a network of fellow campus newsmen, even reaching out to professional sportswriters. He would chat with them even in the wee hours of morning, asking for a critique on his work.
That would eventually pay off when he topped the regionals, earning him a ticket to the 2016 nationals held at Koronadal City where he was chosen as one of the seven winners. His NSPC win would be noticed by officials of La Verdad Christian College, who offered him a STEM scholarship. In return, he helped set up the school’s English and Filipino school papers. He would become the Filipino paper’s founding editor-in-chief. He juggled academics and press work, even doing the layout and writing articles in the other sections of both papers.
He never expected to get a second chance to join the NSPC after the contest accepted senior high school students. Having gained the maturity, he would devote an hour every day to writing in preparation for the contest, which proved successful all the way to regionals, which he topped with much ease.
He plans to take up engineering in college, but admits he will continue to engage with his first love – sportswriting. As he takes his second chance at winning next week, he reminds himself to never feel complacent.
“I learned that even if your competitors treat you as an underdog, you can prove to them that you can bite. They might fail to notice what you do, but you can always pose a threat.”