Samsam: the same Gullas as Eddie, Dodong

Few Cebuanos possess the combination of humility, riches, stature, and longevity as the Gullas brothers, Eduardo and Jose “Dodong.”

One such successor is Gerald Anthony “Samsam” Gullas, the son of Didi and grandson of Rep. Eddie.

For the past three years, he’s been the team manager of the family-owned University of the Visayas basketball teams. His UV collegiate squad? Shocking to many, they lost. It was the second straight year that the 9-time CESAFI champions were defeated. The start of the end of the UV dynasty? Not so fast. Because in the high school division, the Baby Lancers emerged victorious, besting Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu in their Game 5 clash last Wednesday, 85-82.

Of that come-from-behind win, Samsam said: “I have to admit, when Sing hit three 3 pointers to end the 3rd quarter to make the Ateneo lead at 10, I wanted to get out of the coliseum. That is why I’m so proud of my boys. They persevered and truly showed what a Visayanian is all about. We fight when the odds are greatest, and when their team manager started to quit, the Baby Lancers didn’t. When I thought it was all over, they showed poise. Truly one of the best feelings in the world. It also helps that this is the first high school championship under my watch.”

UV was not expected to win the gold. Ateneo and CEC were the favorites. “We came in as the underdogs which makes this championship sweeter,” said Samsam. “Just like my Papa Eddie, I always root for the underdog. So to see the Baby Lancers overcome all the odds, makes this the best championship I’ve been a part of, including the college level.”

As to his UV college team, who was criticized when, in their last game against SWU, the players resorted to dirty tactics, Samsam exhibits the trademark Gullas humility: “For the record, I am not proud of what they did. It was uncalled for and it is not the morals, values and principles we teach our students at UV. The game against SWU must be the lowest point since I took over as team manager; that is why we suspended our players and in behalf of the university we are very sorry to everyone. As happy as I am for the success for our high school team, this cannot overshadow what happened. That is how much we regret what happened.”

Basketball dribbles like the heartbeat of the 26-year-old Gullas. He plays almost daily, practicing with his varsity teams (“pugong sa edad,” he says). He counts on James Yap and Mark Caquiao as his PBA idols. NBA? Kobe B.

But they pale in comparison to his true idol, the man we simply call “Eddiegul.”

“I’ve been with Papa Eddie since I was three months old,” he said. “Ever since, I have been living with the best role model I could hope for. But as much as I try to be like him, that’s impossible. Papa Eddie is the most amazing and remarkable guy I know; he’s incomparable. He’s the type of guy that comes every 1000 years. Even with all he has accomplished, he still is the most humble guy I know. That’s one in a million nowadays. He’s my idol, my mentor, my life, my inspiration, my grandfather and my everything all rolled into one.”

Does his grandpa teach him basketball tips? “Papa Eddie is old school. He hates the isolation and one-on-one plays that NBA and PBA teams run today. So every time ‘mag binuhaya ko,’ he always tells me, ‘The ring is not your teammate Sam, why do you keep on passing to him?’ Papa Eddie always calls me a ‘points guard,’ not a point guard. So if ever there’s something he tells me to do more often, it’s pass the ball. Haha.”

As to UV college and their quest to reclaim from UC the trophy? “It’s all about recruitment, recruitment, recruitment,” he said. They need to tap more contacts in Mindanao and Luzon. “The good thing is, after everything that has happened this year, the UV administration has given their full support. I believe we will have a good year coming. Let me correct that, I know we have a good year ahead of us!”

Finally, with my last query… Samsam’s reply: “Pacquiao in less than 3 rounds.”

Categorized as Cesafi

Pacquiao loses; UC is the Univ. of Champions

No, the above-mentioned title is not a premonition of this Sunday morning’s bout. It’s about a Mr. Pacquiao who, despite being the best, came up short.

The game transpired two nights ago. It was the finale Game 5 between the Southwestern University and the University of Cebu. The title: collegiate men’s basketball champion of the CESAFI.

Pacquiao, first-named Rene, was the top-scorer of the SWU Cobras. He contributed 19 points. In the previous Game 4, he again scored the most: 15.

Last Tuesday night at the Cebu Coliseum, with 150 seconds left in the ballgame, Pacquiao drilled a long jump shot to even the score, 54-all. But while the SWU fans screamed and fist-pumped, that was to be their team’s last point of the year 2011.

Edward Pao, in a sideways, awkward jumping position, hurled the leather ball from beyond the 3-point line and, swoosh, it mercilessly entered. Score: 57-54. Ball possessions exchanged and, in the end, UC were declared the 2011 champions. The final tally: 60-54.

Painful. I watched the Cobra fans shout their loudest. Though UC is owned by Atty. Gus Go who, in turn, owns Cebu Coliseum, the spectators cheered louder for SWU. Maybe because they were the underdogs and nobody expected them to be near victory.

SWU was so near victory. With 3:49 left in the game, they led 51-47. With less than three minutes to go, the Cobras led, 52-49. Yes! With less than 180 seconds remaining in the entire CESAFI season, SWU led by three….

But, never mind the lead. Never mind the loud cheering… “LET’S GO COBRAS, LET’S GO!” “D-FENSE!” “GO, PACQUIAO!” (One placard even read: “Pacquiao: Pang Las Vegas ang move mo!”)

With each tick of the clock moving closer to an SWU win, my thoughts returned to last year. Remember the improbable victory of Cebu Eastern College? When CEC was beaten by over 100 points in the previous season and returned to win the 2010 title?

I thought SWU would achieve the same. Never-before-winners until the entry of Cebu’s best ever, Coach Yayoy A.—and down 0-2 to the defending champions—was this going to be another Yahoo! moment for Cebu basketball?

In the end, it wasn’t to be. As Councilor Alcoseba relayed to me in our talk last week, his team’s problem was this: they could not finish off the lead. Sadly, he was proven right again. The veterans won. In the end, the Cobras could not unleash their venom.

Junemar Fajardo, whom I saw held scoreless in the 3rd quarter, scored 12 points (of his total 23) in the 4th quarter.

But it was Edward Pao’s two 3-pointers in the last minutes that provided the season-ending heroics.

Coach Yayoy Alcoseba, whom I saw after the game when he climbed the stairs heading towards their dugout, was mad. He and his team were so close… yet lost the grip in the final seconds. “I told them to guard Pao!” he said. “I told them to forget Fajardo in the end… to guard Pao and not let him shoot!” His boys did not follow. UC wins.

The crowd? Unbelievable. I’ve never seen a more boisterous and tighter-packed Cebu Coliseum.

Mayor Mike Rama—unknowingly and without malice, wore yellow, the color of the eventual winning team—was seated at ringside. But, on plenty of occasions, the mayor stood up, walked to the crowd, requested them to push back. He took the microphone once and mandated: If the overflowing crowd does not clear the sidelines, the game will stop.

VIP section spectators all stood up. Yellow and red long balloons danced. Drums shook the derelict stadium. The atmosphere was tense and electrifying; the crowd engulfed the rectangle floor. On a few occasions, the free-throw shooter was requested to pause because fans overcrowded and climbed the back of the goal post. It shook the ring.

UC? While I nicknamed UV, during their 9-year reign, as the University of Victory, it’s time to entitle UC, whose giant population exceeds 44,000, as the University of Champions.

SWU? Sayang. Winners. Unta.

Pacquiao? Don’t worry. He’ll win this Sunday.

Categorized as Cesafi

Weep? No, says Yayoy, as UC attempts a sweep

Never before in the 10-year-old history of the Cebu Schools Association Foundation, Inc. (CESAFI) has a team come from 0-2 down in the finals to win. Not in 2001 when the league started. Not last year when the University of Cebu (UC) won the basketball collegiate crown for the first time. Not when UV — the University of the Visayas — won for the first nine seasons of the CESAFI.

Yayoy Alcoseba will change history beginning today.

“One game at a time,” said Alcoseba. “Before we can think of a full comeback, we’ll have to win today. That’s our goal. We can only think about winning a second and a third game if we win today.”

Raul Alcoseba is not acknowledged as the most successful coach — possibly of any sport ever in Cebu — for nothing. He’s won for M. Lhuillier a thousand times. He’s won for Balls. For Cebu Doctors a long while back. For ML Kwarta Padala. For many more teams and schools in the past decades.

Can Yayoy do it again with Southwestern University? Today? Win Game 3 against the behemoth named June Mar Fajardo? And win again in Game 4? Then once more in Game 5? This is impossible. It seems inconceivable. But the most trusted man of Michel Lhuillier has always been challenged by the most challenging of events.

Today’s Game 3 is such a challenge. “In the first two games of the finals,” Yayoy said, “we almost won. In Game 1, we had a chance. In Game 2, we had another chance but lost in overtime.”

That’s true. It’s not like SWU has been clobbered by UC. In last Monday’s Game 2, they should have won. With 160 seconds left in the ballgame, his SWU Cobras led the Webmasters, 73-70. They had ball possession. A two-pointer would have given them an insurmountable five-point advantage.

But, no. They made mistake after mistake. Justin Aboude was called for traveling. In their next possession, they were called for a 24-second violation. Inexperience. That’s what Yayoy calls it.

“UC has been in the finals three straight years,” he said. “In their first finals, they lost to UV. Last year, they won it. This season, they’re in the finals again. It shows. They have composure in the end.”

SWU has to play like they’ve got no tomorrow. Which is true. If, tonight at 6:45, when the two teams clash at the Cebu Coliseum, SWU once more loses, that’s it. There’s no tomorrow. They have to give it everything they’ve got — plus, plus.

“It’s the first time our players are in the finals,” said Yayoy. “We’ve had chances. We just can’t close out the games.”

Fajardo? The nearly-seven-foot-tall center who will surely be in the PBA soon?

“We cannot stop Fajardo,” he said. “What we need to do is to stop the three guards of UC. In Game 2, each of the three guards scored double-figures. We can’t win if that happens again. We have to stop that.”

The Cebu City Councilor, who’s been coaching the M. Lhuillier team for 25 years now, has never been 0-2 down. In fact, quite interesting to report it, the veteran coach has never, ever before been part of a three-out-of-five series.

“The CESAFI series is unique,” Yayoy said. “If you study the other leagues, they’re all either a two-out-of-three or a best-of-seven series. The NBA and the PBA are best-of-seven; the UAAP, NCAA and Liga are all best-of-three. It’s only the CESAFI that’s best-of-five.”

So, Yayoy has never been in this situation before. Never been 0-2 down. Never been with a youthful team in a three-out-of-five scenario.

Maybe, just maybe, if his Cobras win tonight… and, miraculously, again the next game… they might win it all. Won’t that be for the storybooks? Like CEC’s fairytale championship win last season? Amazing, if it happens.

But for Mr. Fajardo and his Team UC, that will be a tall, tall, giant, giant order.

After UV’s tumble, SWU faces giant UC

The NBA is headed for a year-long stoppage. This is sad. It’s also reflective of the American society today: it’s broken, in particular, the U.S. politics. Look at the Republicans and the Democrats. The No.1 goal of the GOP party is simple: Ensure that Pres. Barack Obama becomes an ordinary citizen by 2013. Never mind the failing economy—it’s all politics. And we thought our Mike/Gwen vs. Tommy fight is bad? Look at America.

It’s the same with the NBA. The two sides—the players and the owners—can’t agree. No one will budge. The key word, “compromise,” has been compromised.

I spoke to John Domingo, a good friend who now calls himself “Cebuano” more than “American,” about the divisiveness in the once glorious U.S.A. and he admits it. That’s why he loves Cebu. The politics and gridlock are possibly at its all-time worst there.

With the NBA, everyone suffers if the season is cancelled. The fans. The workers at the stadiums. This certainly won’t help the U.S. economy. Plus, the league’s prestige will get tarnished.

MLB. Since basketball and the NBA are nearly gone… the American sporting populace has turned to its traditional game… baseball.

The St. Louis Cardinals are the World Series champions. They weren’t supposed to be the last-game winners. In Game 6 against the Texas Rangers, they were one out away from defeat. Not once—but twice. And, both times, they escaped. That was two days ago.

Today, they’re smiling the widest of grins. Their famous coach, Tony La Russa, entrusted the pitching to a 6-foot-6 behemoth named Chris Carpenter who, at the old age of 36, previously missed entire seasons because of shoulder and elbow injuries.

The World Series MVP? David Freese. He hails from St. Louis—so the fans know him and cheered him loudly. In Game 6, he smacked the ball en route to a two-run triple in the 9th inning when his Cardinals were down to the final strike. Then, in the 11th inning, he delivered a home run to win the game for his hometown.

I’m sure Jesse Bernad watched every game and would consider this one of the best battles in a long time.

UV. When this team won nine straight Cesafi titles in collegiate basketball, I nicknamed them the “University of Victory.” That’s because UV—the University of the Visayas—was unbeaten since the 2001 start of the Cesafi until their reign was stopped last year by UC.

Now comes the ugly part.

Mike Limpag has written about it. So has Atty. Frank Malilong, a lifelong basketball and UV fan.

What the UV players did in their final game against Southwestern University (SWU) was unsportsmanlike and appalling. It was foul. Down by as much as 20 points, they turned sore losers. They complained about the refereeing. Elbows were shoved. They could not accept the reality that, for the first time, they’d be ousted in the semifinals. They were.

I agree with Frank. The next-day request for forgiveness and repudiation of its players by Sam-Sam Gullas, the owner/team manager of UV, was classic Gullas. He has the Gullas bloodline running through his arteries and the Gullas sense of humility and fair play beating in his heart.

As to SWU, again, our thunderous applause to Raul Alcoseba, their head coach who, in his first season with Cesafi—like he does in any league or event that he joins—immediately caused a winning shock.

UC or SWU? They played last night. With Junemar Fajardo still towering over the Gus Go-owned institution that’s one of the biggest in the nation, it’s hard to not bet for UC. But, remember this: their lone loss was against the Aznar-owned team. And with Yayoy calling the tactics from the SWU sidelines, that’s an intimidating figure.

Categorized as Cesafi

The Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc.

Metro Manila has two dominant collegiate leagues: the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The UAAP started in 1938; the NCAA, even earlier, in 1924. At the UAAP, the schools include UP, UE, UST, NU, Ateneo, La Salle, FEU and Adamson. In the NCAA, the list has San Sebastian, PCU, Letran, Arellano, Mapua, San Beda and JRU. (Why the two leagues won’t merge so that the champion is the true winner of collegiate sports, I don’t know.)

Here in Cebu, we only have one league. Previously, it was named CAAA. Those letters stood for Cebu Amateur Athletics Association. But, starting 11 years ago, a new group was formed. Today, all the big-named universities join the CESAFI.

In basketball, last year was the most memorable. For the first time, a school not named University of the Visayas was crowned the champion. For the first nine years of CESAFI, the school owned by Dodong and Eddie Gullas won the grand prize.

But last year, the University of Cebu, captained by founder Gus Go, snatched the title away from UV. “We’ve been trying to win all these years,” said Atty. Go to me last October. “But we always could not win in basketball. Finally, we made it!”

In the high school (juniors) division, last season was just as monumental. After losing by 151 points in one game the previous year (score: 178-23), the Cebu Eastern College Baby Dragons spewed fire on the opponents. Last October 10 (that’s the date 10-10-10), CEC achieved the unachievable by pocketing the championship, thanks to their alumni led by the Cebu Province “Garbo sa Sugbu” awardee Chester Cokaliong. That’s last season.

What’s new starting today, when the 2011-2012 season begins at 12 noon with a mass? “The new president of CESAFI is Fr. Enrico Peter Silab, OAR,” said CESAFI commissioner Felix “Boy” Tiukinhoy. “He is the president of USJR. He will be serving for one term.”

Today’s Opening will be different: instead of just basketball players parading the Cebu Coliseum, the players from the different sports will join.

“The reason for just one opening is to save on cost for gym expenses and costumes for the Palabas,” said Tiukinhoy. “The Palabas for the schools will be ‘free for all’ dance numbers so that the school can choose their numbers and costumes at affordable costs.”

The theme for 2011? “Reviving Ecology through Sports and Academic Excellence.”

Another addition is the choice of a Mr. CESAFI. While the previous opening acts had a Ms. CESAFI (I’ve had the privilege of being a judge on two occasions), today is the first time a collegiate male student will win the prize. “The winner for the college Mr. and Ms. CESAFI,” said Tiukinhoy, “will be the CESAFI candidates for the PRISAA.”

In basketball, seven college teams will join: UC, SWU, USC, UV, USJ-R, CIT and USP-F. In high school, there are nine: CEC, CIT, UV, DBTC, USC, UC, SHS-ADC, USJ-R and USP-F.

All games will be held at the Cebu Coliseum. The schedule? Every Tuesday and Thursday, the first of two games begin at 5:15 P.M. On Saturdays and Sundays, the first of four games start at 1 P.M.

Tickets are inexpensive: General Admission is P20 while the most expensive, Lower Box, is P60. Best of all: students with IDs get 50% off.

Today, the first game pits CEC against UV. Then, for college, it’s USJ-R against the defending champs, UC.

What else is new? Boy Cabahug, who led UV to nine straight trophies as the head coach, will be missed. He was abruptly discharged after his school’s first-ever loss. Taking over is Felix Belano. Also new but forever-known as the most famous coach of Vis-Min is Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba. The Cebu City Councilor will mentor the team that’s acknowledged as this year’s most intimidating: SWU.

My prediction? Nobody taller will reign than the remaining Twin Tower of Cebu. No, he’s not Greg Slaughter—that 7-footer has since shifted from UV green to Ateneo blue.

Our Dirk Nowitzki? Junmar Fajardo, 6’10”.

Categorized as Cesafi

Gus Go: ‘Triple Treat’ for University of Cebu

Minutes after I sent him a text message, my mobile phone rang.

“John,” he said, “hi it’s Gus Go.”

“Attorney Go, congratulations!” I replied.

The founder and president of one of the largest educational institutions in the Philippines was on his way to his office at 3:45 yesterday afternoon.

“The players are waiting for me,” he said.

The Players, of course, are The Champions. For the first time in the 10-year history of the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (Cesafi), a school other than the University of the Visayas (UV) has emerged as titleholders.

Cebu’s university… University of Cebu. It’s been long, long, long wait. Make that nine long years when the Gullas family and Boy Cabahug and the Green Lancers reigned over collegiate basketball.

“Yes, we’ve been trying to win all these years,” said Atty. Go, “but we always could not win in basketball. Finally, we made it.”

The UC Webmasters made history last Tuesday evening, winning the best-of-five championship series, 3-1, when they scored a breathtaking 73-72 victory—thanks to 6-foot-10 Junemar Fajardo’s tough jumper with only 4.0 seconds left.

Atty. Augusto Go wanted to be there in person at the facility he owns—the Cebu Coliseum—to cheer on his team. “It was the birthday of Governor Gwen Garcia and I attended her party. My daughter, Candice, watched the game. She was the one who told me the good news.”

“What makes this victory extra special is because earlier that day, I got news that we got both first and second place in the Naval Architectural national examinations,” he said. “And then, this, the win by one point. It has given me even more excitement.”

The term that Augusto Go coined? “Triple treat! It was a triple treat!”

I reminded Atty. Go that it wasn’t just a one-two-three victory. It was also his birthday last Monday and what a way to celebrate. Yes, he agreed, laughing.

I asked him more about himself—and basketball. Were you formerly a player? “No, I used to play bowling,” he said. “But I watch and follow the NBA and am a big fan of the L.A. Lakers. Although now, with LeBron’s entry to his new team, I’ll be following the Miami Heat.”

Finally, we talked about the twin victories that have never been done before. First, the supremacy of Cebu Eastern College and, two nights after, the triumph of his University of Cebu.

“Mr. Frederick Ong, Jr. won the high school division with CEC while you won the college,” I said.

“Yes, you’re right. And that makes it extra special!” he replied.

As to incentives or gifts he’ll give Junemar Fajardo—the unstoppable giant on the low-post who scored 32 points and the Cesafi season MVP—plus the rest of the Webmasters, he said, “Atty. Estenzo will decide on that. He’ll tell me his recommendation.”

We said goodbye. I, pondering on this extraordinary week; Atty. Go off to meet his players—the champions of Cebu.

Categorized as Cesafi

Perfect 10-10-10 for Cebu Eastern College

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.

Categorized as Cesafi

Were UC, UV favored over SWU? We seek a reply

I saw Ryan Aznar at the Ayala Center last Sunday. The sports manager of Southwestern University (and a commissioner of the Cebu City Sports Commission), Ryan was angry. Last week, his SWU men’s basketball team stunned the nine-time champions, UV, in an upset. It was the CESAFI collegiate semi-finals. As the schedule showed, SWU’s next game was against the loser of UC vs. USC—which turned out to be USC. And so, sporting a confident 1-0 record, they prepared—mentally and tactically—against USC. They aimed to go 2-0 in the round robin semi-finals. But, no—the day before their bout, they were informed (not through a formal letter—but via a text message from, of all people, the USC coach) that the schedule was changed. Instead, they’ll be playing UC. What! Ryan cried foul. “The schedules were finalized in September,” he told me, “and they tell us the day before that there’s a schedule change? This is unfair!”

It is. Why was the schedule changed? Was it to accommodate the giants named UV and UC, so the two won’t have to meet early? At poor SWU’s expense? If true, this is unjust. And I believed the CESAFI was managed professionally, not like a “liga-liga” where rules, midway, can be altered?

Felix Tiukinhoy has some explaining to do. This issue is at the heart of sports—and why we play sports. It’s called fair play. It’s called “not playing favorites.” I hope Cebu’s David Stern, as I called Boy Tiukinhoy, writes to explain his side.

Categorized as Cesafi

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.”

Boy Tiukinhoy is the David Stern of Cebu

Like the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, who has been in command of the world’s most famous dribbling league since 1984, we have our own version in this Visayan land.

Yes. David Stern is to America what Felix Tiukinhoy is to our beloved Sugbu. Both are commissioners. Both serve as leaders of other organizations on a concurrent capacity: Mr. Stern as the Chairman of the Board of Columbia University; Mr. Tiukinhoy as President of food giant Virginia Food, Inc., makers of famous brands like El Rancho, Virginia, Champion and Winner. I like the last two VFI, Inc. brands. Don’t they speak of the league that Boy Tiukinhoy is leading? Turning ordinary teams into Champions and Winners?

As commissioner of the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc., (Cesafi), he lords over universities, colleges, high schools. In fact, Mr. Tiukinhoy is so alike Mr. Stern that, very often, he, too, is called Mister Stern. And by “Stern,” I mean the real definition of the word: strict, tough, stubborn. That’s stern. Like David Stern. That’s Boy Tiukinhoy.

As Cesafi’s overseer, he has to be. You can’t be weak or indecisive if you’re the skipper. As chieftain of Cebu’s top school-based sports league, you have to be stern. Exacting. Bossy. Inflexible. At times, harsh.

Remember last year? When players were caught playing games outside Cesafi’s parquet floors? And were terminated from continuing play? Despite the school’s pleadings and clamor for mercy? Boy, he was stern. He didn’t budge. The rules, he said, are simple: They. Are. The. Rules.

In email exchanges last week, I asked Boy Tiukinhoy this: How difficult and stress-filled is the job? Considering that, in another instance last Sunday, on just Day Two of the Cesafi 2010 season, the UV Baby Lancers did not show up at the Cebu Coliseum because, they said, “we didn’t know the schedule.”

BT fumed mad. Then he said: “The toughness of the job is part of the territory.”

A sports-lover all his life, he has been the Cesafi commissioner since Day 1… when the league started in 2001. Until today… Year 10. Prior to Cesafi, there was the CAAA, the Cebu Amateur Athletic Association. He, too, for the last five years of that league, was the commissioner.

Any satisfaction you get from this work? I ask. A stress-loaded job that, in case we Cebuanos did not know, does not pay him salary, not even P10 per year? “I consider my work as CESAFI Commissioner,” he said, “as a community service without any remuneration.”

How many Cebuanos, I want to know, are willing to forgo of their full-day weekends, of weeknights, of the relaxation that comes after work, to deal with the problems of Cesafi? Only Mr. Stern of Cebu.

“It’s another world for me when I enter the coliseum which is different from the business environment,” he said. “I find the job a pleasant experience which removes whatever stress I encounter from the office.”

That’s good to hear. Here’s another good message from him: “I would not be effective without the support of the Secretariat headed by Bernard Ricablanca, the Athletic Directors, the Officers and the Board of Directors.” This means he is no one-man show. He seeks help. Encourages teamwork. Consults the Board. Another good act? From this man who, despite his diminutive size, has giant responsibilities? It’s the addition of non-sports events.

“Academic and cultural events have been part of CESAFI since we started,” he said. “As commissioner, not only basketball but also other sport events were given importance. This year, we will give even more focus on academic and cultural events.” He sent me a long list of Cesafi events that I did not even know existed: Oration, Debate, Extemporaneous contests; Math, Science, Computer, Current Events, and Spelling Quizzes. There’s a Song Solo challenge, an essay-writing contest, and—this is amazing—a Sudoko competition.

Stern? Nah… he’s sterling.

Categorized as Cesafi, NBA