“No matter what people said, we always had hope:” The unwavering support of the CSB Blazers’ families
Ceej Tantengco on Sep 24, 2016 08:07 PM
UNCONDITIONAL SUPPORT. Throughout the season, Coach Gabby Velasco has described the Blazers ‘journey as a family affair.
When College of Saint Benilde Blazers ended their NCAA Season 92 run by defeating the LPU Pirates, 65-61—finally putting an end to what had been a brutal, winless season—the team was in tears. But even before the buzzer rang and the players rushed the court, their mothers were sobbing in the seats behind the bench.
The Blazers’ “mom’s club,” as they called it, had not missed a single game all season. Win or lose, they were there: bringing home-cooked meals for the boys, offering cash incentives out of their own pockets, and talking them through the hardships.
“Para na ring nag-champion kami sa saya,” says Mayflor Dixon, who moved from Iloilo to Manila when her son Edward joined the team in 2015. “Parang triple-triple pa dahil sa hirap na pinagdaanan nila.”
Throughout the season, Coach Gabby Velasco has described the Blazers ‘journey as a family affair.
Ask him to name the parents who attend the practices and games, and he’ll go on and on: “The parents of the Domingo twins, Fajarito, Pili, Castor, Suarez, Pasamante…the mothers of Edward Dixon and Dino San Juan like to cook for the team,” he shares. “Mrs. Grace Ongteco watches even though her son JR already graduated last year!”
“Daig ko pa nga alumni eh!” jokes Ongteco, who has become close friends with the other mothers and with Velasco’s wife Eileen. “Lahat kasi ng anak ko, nag-aral sa Benilde. Dito, ‘yung mga big men ‘yung ine-encourage ko talaga, kasi ‘yung anak ko rin big man,” she says.
In the same way that Ongteco attends games even though her son no longer plays, Anye San Juan is also a fixture at the arena despite her son Dino sustaining a season-ending injury. “I’m not just doing this for my son, but for his team…Every game since Grade 5 sa LSGH, ito na ginagawa ko,” she says. (If you come by practice, you might find a tray of her buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese sauce.)
Velasco is thankful for the team’s parents. “Alam nila ‘yung hirap na pinagdadaanan ng isang player, lalo na sa team na ito na talo ka na nga, gigising ka pa ng pagka-aga-aga para mag-training,” he says with a smile. “When you’re an athlete it’s not just about the physical, the moral support matters so much. These parents are here to support the team and support their children without conditions.”
It’s important to contextualize the Blazers’ rough season. They had lost five seniors from NCAA Season 91, including their star player Jonathan Grey who is now part of the national team. Grey was a reliable force on the court last year; this year, many of the players were rookies.
How did the Blazers and their families deal with the rough season? They looked at relative progress instead of wins. When the team held their first lead of the season in a game against the San Sebastian Stags, the mothers stood up and cheered. During their next game, the Blazers led at the half for the first time this season—and against the Mapua Cardinals, too. The moms were trading high-fives, sending out prayers of thanks, and waving at the camera every time it passed by.
“We know what people say about the losses. But even if the world sees them as failures, we see their effort and their hard work,” said Eileen Velasco.
The Animo spirit
The week before the season ended, I caught the Blazers’ coach outside the arena as he was reflecting on their journey. “It’s just so unfortunate that we haven’t been able make [the parents] happy by giving them the win, but we’re so grateful that they’re here with us. That’s the Animo spirit, you know,” he said.
“When you say Animo spirit, it’s not just when you’re winning. It’s doing your best even in a losing effort,” Velasco said, still smiling. “It’s giving all that you can no matter what challenges you face. We will end this season fighting.”
And so they did.
The Blazers finally lived up to their name in the fourth quarter, with Clement Leutcheu scoring 12 of his 18 points, a lead-claiming putback by Yankie Haruna, a gutsy drive by Louie Pasamante, and a free throw by Carlo Young to seal the deal.
After the buzzer rang, the coaches pumped their fists and looked into the cheering crowd. The players didn’t even try to fight back the tears. And in the stands, the families were vindicated as well.
Mrs. Velasco hugged the sobbing mothers of Dixon, San Juan, and Ongteco, saying: “No matter what people said, we always had hope.”