(Sun.Star Cebu photo)
Seven years. That’s how long the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (Cesafi) has existed. And ever since it began, one school has dominated the league’s No.1 sport, basketball.
The University of Victory.
Yes. Don’t call UV the University of the Visayas. I’m calling it by another name. Isn’t it fitting to call the school that’s won starting in 2001, won again the year after, won again and again until last weekend when it faced the University of San Carlos (USC)? And what did UV do last Saturday? In the season-finale? Game 5? It performed the one act that it performs best: It won again.
University of Victory.
“We heard mass Saturday morning,” said Elmer “Boy” Cabahug, the PBA star-turned-UV coach, when I spoke to him on the phone the night after their 82-71 championship victory. “Sir Eddie Gullas, who was celebrating his birthday that day, was there. And so was the whole Gullas family. I promised Sir Eddie that we’ll win that afternoon… And we delivered.”
No doubt, UV was challenged. “Against USC, we reached Game 5,” added Cabahug. “In the semis against USJ-R, that was our toughest fight in seven years. Imagine this: We won Game 1, 79-78. In Game 2, we lost, 78-79. And, believe it or not, in Game 3, we won, 79-78!”
How long will this seven-year undefeated run last? I asked.
Boy Cabahug smiled on the other end of the phone. Humble, approachable, relaxed—yet ultra-competitive—Cabahug credits the support of the Gullas family. “The Cesafi finals always falls near the birthday of Sir Eddie and, each time, we promise him the trophy. So far, we haven’t failed.”
USC? I called Jay Ramirez, the head coach of the USC Warriors. His voice was hoarse but—like The Energizer Battery that he is during a game, always pumping his fists and waving those muscled arms, motivating them, yelling his warriors to fight on—head coach Jay Ramirez was upbeat. Yes, they lost, he said, but yes, they stood as winners. Last year, they reached the same Cesafi finals but lost 2-0. This year, they won Game 1, won Game 4, and almost toppled the UV giant.
“Let’s give credit where it’s due,” wrote The Freeman columnist Rico Navarro, also the Deputy Commissioner of Cesafi, last Sunday. “USC has risen to the occasion to prove that a David can indeed beat a Goliath. They’re out to show the world that the school doesn’t need a massive basketball program to make its presence felt in the local basketball family. They’re out to prove that a roster of ordinary, regular everyday students can match up against a basketball power. And since fans always love the underdog, they’ve done a great job of living up to the tag.”
“On a personal note,” added Rico, “I’d like to see USC come out on top just to prove that a school known for academic excellence can also be tops in sports. It’s a tall order, but a USC championship will be a trigger for all other schools that they too, can do the same thing. In the end, it will benefit the entire league as all schools will now be saying, ‘If they can do it, I can do it, too.’”
Rico is right. David almost slayed Goliath. With centers as tall as 6-foot-11 Greg Slaughter and 6-foot-8 Rico Berame, the UV Green Lancers were almost toppled by the smaller, quicker USC Warriors. And while the UV squad went undefeated from 2001 to 2004—not a single loss in the regular season nor the playoffs—this ‘07, they lost four times. A sign that the underdogs—the Davids—are hurting Goliath.
In all, 2007 was the best in Cesafi history—and maybe tops in all of Cebu collegiate history. When I watched the UV-USC Game 4 last Thursday, drums rolled, green and white balloons danced, shouts reverberated against the parquet floor, and sweat dripped from the faces of the thousands of spectators who swelled the Cebu Coliseum.
“No other basketball event in 2007 has been able to draw this kind of madness and mayhem. Not even the PBA,” said Rico Navarro. “The CESAFI Finals is undeniably the biggest basketball show in town.”