Sunday, October 01, 2006


Published in SUN STAR DAILY NEWSPAPER ( October 1, 2006 issue
by John Pages, Columnist - Matchpoint

FOOTBALL sent me to school,” says Jonathan “Maxi” Maximo.

Back in college at the University of San Carlos, Maxi was a football varsity star for four years. He wore green, memorized the USC hymn, tied the shoelaces off his spiked shoes, and played right midfield. In college, he didn’t have to reach inside the pocket to pay tuition. He was a full scholar — thanks to his left and right legs.

It is 4:35 last Thursday afternoon and Maxi and I are seated on a round wooden table at Bo’s Coffee in Ayala. He drinks iced coffee, I sip a cup of hot mint tea.

Maxi, 40, the president of the Cebu Football Association (CebuFA), looks quiet and reserved. But when the topic veers towards the game named “F,” as in fun, he straightens his back, leans forward, extends his arms, and speaks.

His story began in Grade 5. A student of Don Bosco, he was exposed to football—like all Bosconians are—at a tender age. By fifth grade, when he tasted the sweat and smelled the joy of kicking a ball into the net, he was hooked. Maxi rocketed out of the classroom door, dashed to the field, hustled, improved his skills, and joined the Don Bosco varsity. In an all-boys school where football rules, the words “I’m varsity” are golden.

“Don Bosco was founded and built by the Italian priests,” Maxi explains. “And we know how much the Italians love football, right?” I nod my head. Didn’t they just win the World Cup?

“In Don Bosco, unlike most schools, our intramurals are held throughout the year,” he adds. “So from 12 to 1 every noontime, we’re off running. It didn’t matter to us if we were sweating when we entered the classroom. What mattered was we played.”

From elementary to high school and on to college, Maxi lived, breathed and wore shin guards after each school bell ring. But when he graduated, life changed. Maxi focused, like we all do, on family—his wife Sheila and their children, Ina, 14; Igi, 11; and Ica, 7. He founded Maximax Systems, and engaged in the sales and services of air-conditioning units.

Family was good. Business was good. Life was good. The football? It was locked inside the cabinet.

But footballers, they say, are footballers for life. Like driving a car, you never forget it. And soon, the love of football tickles you back...

That “soon” was in 2001, when Maxi became president of the Rotary Club of Cebu South. When his term started, he vowed to champion two goals—education and football—and coined a motto: “Football through education. Education through football.”

With the help of a Rotary WCS grant, he approached three public elementary schools— Basak, Labangon, and Punta Princesa — and distributed books to the children. He also did one more thing: introduce football. They donated balls and invited Graeme Mackinnon to speak. The result? “Batang Rotary” was embraced. Very soon, the boys and girls with skinny legs kicked and shot balls that zoomed past goalies.

“You can never forget,” Maxi says, “the smiles on their faces. And since that time, I promised never to leave football.”

Two years later, in 2003, Maxi was elected CebuFA president.

Fast forward to September ’06, football is peerless in this Visayan island. At last week’s 2nd Aboitiz Football Festival, a total of 2,400 players and 216 teams joined—the most ever. You saw cute six-year-olds, brave 43-year-olds, and brackets for 8, 10, 12, 14, and 17 years old. Men’s Open? Women’s Open? Girls high school? Check, check, check. A group for 36-year-olds and older. Soon, a 23-and-under bracket. And very soon, two categories for the children to split the advanced teams from the newcomers—an excellent move.

RP CENTER. Maxi and the CebuFA Board are driven by two goals: One, to spread football not only in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-lapu—but all over the Cebu Province. Two, to dislodge Iloilo and Negros and place Cebu as the center of RP football.

Since Maxi assumed the CebuFA top spot, he’s been all-football. Sometimes, too much football. At the Aboitiz event, he and his team stayed from 6 a.m. until past midnight. Golf at Alta Vista? Goodbye, small white ball. His youngest daughter Ica, only seven, used to enjoy ballet but is now wearing soccer shoes because, as Maxi suspects, “football is all we talk about at the dining table.”

But Maxi’s not complaining. Football’s his passion and there’s so much more to do. He pulls out a two-page handout and shows me the goals of the CebuFA: to introduce Futsal, upgrade the expertise of our coaches, divide the province into eight districts, introduce Sports Medicine...

For with Maxi Maximo, the driver of Cebu football, he steps on the pedal, revs it, kicks the engine into high gear, zooms ahead, and knows only one way to drive this sport: to the max.


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