I watched my first UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) Men’s Basketball game on the opening day of my freshman year. It was a memorable experience in more ways than one.
There were four games that day, and unfortunately, my school’s team played the last match. It was a lonely match with only a handful of fans left in Araneta Coliseum, most were too tired or sleepy to keep up with the beating of the drums made by the pep squads. I was an exception. I cheered like a maniac, uttered tons of profanity, jumped up and down and prayed to Saint Ignatius like my actions could make any difference. It was past 11pm when it ended, with even fewer people watching our perennial sixth-place-finisher team. I knew no one, so I exited Araneta Coliseum alone. I thought that I could easily make my way back to Katipunan Avenue. Boy, was I wrong.
I forgot that Araneta Coliseum was round and with my stupid 17-year old brain, I could not figure out which door faced Aurora Boulevard. So I chose a random exit and walked through the dark streets and climbed up a suspicious-looking footbridge with a prayer in my heart. As I was crossing the bridge, I heard someone following me. I stopped to make sure that my suspicions were correct, the footsteps also stopped. I looked back to see if there was really someone behind me, or it was only my imagination. I did not see anyone because the lamp post emitted light that was as bright as Voldemort’s soul. So I continued walking, then once again I heard steps following me. I ran, and the person behind me ran, too. I shouted and ran with all the energy left in my legs, climbed down the stairs and entered the first open establishment I saw. It was a Dunkin’ Donuts shop. I frantically asked the cashier to hide me. She looked at me, confusion and worry written across her face. She offered me a glass of water and told me that I was safe. When I calmed down, she and a patron asked me what happened. I told them my story and asked them to look for a cab that would take me to my dorm. The patron told me that he was a cab driver, and he was willing to drive me to Katipunan if I would wait for him to finish eating his doughnut. I agreed, thanked him profusely and joined him in his table. Half an hour later, I was safely behind the tall gates of my dorm. Oh, my school team lost that game.
Later in my college life, I skipped so many Philosophy 101 (or 102?) classes to watch basketball games. They were conveniently played at my school’s gym, and my Philosophy classes were inconveniently scheduled in the middle of the afternoon, right in the thick of basketball games. Halfway through the semester, my teacher announced the record for most absences. There was no basketball game that day, so I attended the class. J I won the record for most absences with only one absent to spare before I get dropped. With bravado born of youthful ignorance, I told the teacher that I would finish the semester without using my last absent. His eyebrows went up to high heavens in disbelief. Well, I finished the semester without using that last absent. He gave me a B+ for my final paper, and wrote a short reminder about my priorities on the cover page.
During this same semester, I found out that there was a way to get into the basketball venue aside from the designated entrance. A group of friends invited me to get into the men’s restroom of the venue through a window. J So I did. I did not know how I did it, but I climbed up the wall, entered the open window, climbed down et voila! I was in the venue. I know it was stupid, but I am glad I did those stupid things then. J I think we finished third that year.
So what is it about UAAP basketball that made me do those inane things? PUSO. UAAP players play with so much heart. They sacrifice their bodies to get rebounds, dive on the floor to retain/gain possession and play with so much passion from the opening jump ball until the buzzer signals the end of the 40-minute match. Their spirits remain unbroken after a 25-point defeat, and they remain grounded after a streak of wins.
The fans also contribute to the great atmosphere of any UAAP game. I know that during game days, I have to wear my school colors, sometimes I have to paint my face with them. I know my school’s cheer by heart. I memorize each gesture, when to shout “DE-FENSE” and when to chant “Shoot that ball!”. I also know how to spell blue and eagle. I even know how to say chants whose words I do not understand. At the end of any game, I also know how to clap for our players and our rivals for the good game regardless of result. I know how to sing for Mary, when to sing louder (win or lose, it’s the school we choose) and when to show the #1 finger.
Four years of not watching any UAAP game live ended on Sunday. It was a double header that featured Adamson Falcons vs La Salle Green Archers in the first game and UP Fighting Maroons vs FEU Tamaraws in the second. I almost forgot how great and nostalgic it was. Climbing the stairs of Araneta Coliseum brought back memories of mostly gut-wrenching defeats and a handful of victories I witnessed. As soon as I entered Upper Box A, I felt a sense of lightness. I knew that I would enjoy the games, mostly because my school team was not involved. Hehehe.
The games were similar to the ones I witnessed in my freshman year: energetic players with the vibrancy of youth, the faces of basketball stars in the 90s flashed on the huge screens (some were spectators but most were part of the coaching staff), overzealous fans of all ages, cheerful cheerleaders, and the iconic sounds of the UAAP – the beating of the drums that come from the General Admission area.
What touched my heart was the never-give-up attitude of Adamson Falcons (versus La Salle Green Archers) and UP Fighting Maroons (versus FEU Tamaraws) even when they were in the hole for more than a dozen points with less than a minute left to play. One Fighting Maroon beat his chest a couple of times when he made a two-point field goal, it was something primal yet it encapsulated everything that a UAAP game represents: it was all about pride and heart. The players are not fighting for the names on their back, but for the name on their chest – the name of their school. And this is the best any fan could hope for from any sport idol.
The Green Archers won over the Falcons, 88-71. For their own matchup, FEU won over UP, 75-58. The two teams I cheered for that afternoon lost. With this dismal statistics (albeit a small sample size), it might be a while before I cheer for my own team. 🙂
Thank you, Jun for the almost three quarters of shouting, jumping up and down and fist-pumping. Thank you, Mar for the analytical side of the game.