Chester Cokaliong and the Dragons of CEC

Twelve months ago, there was a catastrophe. The Cebu Eastern College high school basketball team played the University of Cebu and lost—not by a mere 19 points, but with the score, 159-28. That’s a 131-point disaster. Days after, an even worse hurricane pounded: Against UV, the CEC squad was massacred, 178-23. That 155-point deficit was the worse mutilation in Cebu basketball history—possibly in this whole rotating universe.

“This is humiliating!” I complained in an August 2 article last year. “Cebu Eastern College, a highly-reputable school, has been transformed into a laughingstock.”

Well, look who’s laughing now… Last Thursday, the CEC Dragons were once more fed to UC but—Ripley’s Believe It Or Not—from a 131-point loss last year, they beat their tormentors, 96-77. Computing both games, that’s a turnaround of 150 points! Now, that’s a Ripley’s story.

“This turnaround started right after those embarrassments,” said Chester Cokaliong, the three-point king of Cebu and one of our most august of basketball stars. “Last year, the CEC school officials came for a meeting at my office in Cokaliong Shipping. We met at the boardroom. Everyone was there: the principals, important faculty members, the alumni, Jefferson Go, Samuel Sia, Wilson Yu, and the leader of the group, Frederick Ong, Jr.”

Hounded by humiliation, they wanted change. And who else can the school turn to for a turnaround but their most passionate alumni?

“When we met, they asked for a three year program,” said Chester. “I said, ‘No, that’s too long. If we’re going to improve, we’re going to have to get the best now.’ At first, the group aimed to reach the semis this year. Dili ko mosugot. Ayaw. If you want help, we have to go all the way. If we’re going to spend, let’s aim for the top.”

And so Mr. Cokaliong, armed with the backing of the school, the CECABA, team manager Samuel Sia, Wilson Yu, and the alumni, went into action mode.

“First, we scouted for a good coach,” he said. “Now, we have an excellent one named Jerry Jaranilla. We got him from Iloilo. I told Jerry, ‘You can ride the Cokaliong boat plying Iloilo anytime you want.’ If your family wants to come to Cebu, they can. Sakay siya sa iyang gusto. Walay gasto. Then we scouted for players. We paid for all the expenses. We went to Davao, Bacolod, others, to pick the best. Free sila tanan. Board and lodging. Scholarship. Plus, we added a bonus: all children will learn Chinese. Actually, what we did we just adopted from other schools. But we tried to do more. Ato nalang ni haguan, I told our group. If the other schools can do it, we can.”

How much is Chester spending? Each month, he and Frederick Ong, Jr. split in half the bill of P50,000. How much total have you spent so far? I asked. “Almost P300,000,” he said.

That’s not all. For each tournament win, the coaching staff gets a one-month bonus. And, as example of his generosity, after last Thursday’s win over UC, in mid-court he approached the boys and told them that if they reach the semis, he’ll give each of them a brand-new pair of shoes.

With this funding and dedication, CEC has been transformed from chickens to dragons. In five Cesafi games thus far, they own a league-leading scorecard of 4-1. They’ve beaten Sacred Heart School-Ateneo (87-70), USC (88-68), USPF (87-73) and UC. Their only loss was against UV, 81-76. CEC is a shoo-in for the semis and, if they continue their strong play, will likely meet UV in the finals.

Now, this “Comeback of the Decade” story can easily be defined by one word: money. That’s true. The Chinese community has plenty. And this is the primary reason the team has rebounded. But, more than Pesos, this is about a bigger P:

Pride. It’s about the alumni and faculty disallowing the good name of their school to be tarnished. It’s about rising from defeat. It’s about triumph from humiliation. For, as Chester told me two nights ago, “The lesson for all of us is this: You can achieve anything… as long as you put your heart into it.”

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