Chester Cokaliong is a hero. But not last year. Not when his alma matter, CEC, suffered the most humiliating of defeats—losing by 151 points against UV and 131 points versus UC—when his Dragons were devoured by Eagles, pounded on by Webmasters, and pierced by Lancers. In 2009, CEC stood for Catastrophic Embarrassing College.
Not today. Not two nights ago inside the Cebu Coliseum when, during the Cesafi high school championship series, the Dragons roared to swallow Sacred Heart School-Ateneo, 3-0.
“The Chinese New Year is still four months away,” wrote Rommel Manlosa yesterday, “but the people at the Cebu Coliseum were treated to a classic dragon dance, traditional money dance and Chinese music.” What a victory! A celebration! Added our sports editor Mike Limpag: “Their campaign is the Story of the Year — from chumps to champs.”
For would you believe, “For 10 years, we did not win a single game. And now, this… we are the champions!!” said Chester Cokaliong, minutes after his Dragons snared the title. Implausible? Preposterous? Unimaginable? These words, in fact, do not describe fully the 360-degree turnaround of just 360 days. “I cannot find the words,” Chester told me, “to explain what we feel right now.”
Sitting beside Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama the entire game last Sunday, I had a front-row view of the miracle. Beside us were CESAFI Commissioner Boy Tiukinhoy, deputy commissioners Danny Duran and Julian Macoy, and another CEC official who deserves just as much praise as Chester: Jefferson Go.
In last Sunday’s third game of the finals, both CEC and SHS-Ateneo wore blue. CEC wore white/blue; Ateneo donned blue with white trimmings. But, it was clear which team would be beaten and turn blue. The CEC Dragons were too strong, too inspired, too good to let a two-zero advantage go to waste. Plus, the high schoolers had an extra incentive: Chester & Co. brought all their parents to watch history’s 10-10-10 victory during Cesafi’s Season 10.
With players hailing from Iloilo, Bacolod, Davao and other parts of Vis-Min, the Dragons were an All-Star cast. There was Nike Montalvo, the Piolo Pascual lookalike who wears, of course, Nike. “He will be in the PBA,” said Mayor Mike Rama of the season MVP. I agree. Montalvo has it all: quickness, 3-pointers, and an acrobatic body like a youthful Michael Jordan. James Neil Sumayang is another. CEC’s center—though not 6-foot-10 like JunMar Fajardo—is agile and nifty. Plus, he’s left-handed; “An advantage,” added our mayor. BJ Zosa, though possessing an awkward release, scores 3-pointers as effortlessly as his master, the 3-point king himself, Mr. Cokaliong.
Plus, of course, CEC chieftain Frederick Ong, Jr., head coach Jerry Jaranilla and team manager Sammy Sia. They assembled a cast of teenagers that will reign over basketball for long. CEC was founded in 1915. With their century mark near, this school will dominate. Plus, there’s a banner hanging inside the Cebu Coliseum: CEC DRAGON’S LAIR. That’s scary. If I’m the other schools, I’d be terrified. It’s like Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon.
Unbelievable to think of the words POWER and DOMINANCE—the Cesafi theme this season—and equate these two with CEC, right? For wasn’t it just a season ago when theirs was the most laughed-at and ridiculed of teams? Imagine losing by 155!
Which brings me back to one word: Pride. It was this humiliation this same October of ‘09 that got CEC to where it is now. And, you know what? This story—the most inconceivable sports moment I’ve witnessed in Cebu—is a learning experience not only for CEC, but a lesson for you and me.
How? This feel-good, only-in-Hollywood story explains this truth: Today doesn’t matter. Regardless of your circumstance today, it’s tomorrow that matters. Let not your unfortunate situation pull you down. Let it lift you up. Like a Dragon, let your failure lead to soaring victory. Thanks to CEC’s fall and rise, we’ve learned about life through basketball.