By Prof Ed Garcia (FEU Consultant on Formation at FEU Diliman)
Sprawled on the grass at a mound in FEU Diliman’s campus, Paolo Bugas was writhing in pain. The team’s Korean coach, Master Kim Chul Su was sharing his post-game thoughts after a tough physical game with the University of the Philippines Maroons which resulted in a 3-1 loss, ending the UAAP first round. The usually attentive Paolo, however, was flat on his back and holding his knee telling us that he was going through unbearable pain.
It was then we decided to bring him to the emergency room of the nearby FEU hospital where he had an x-ray. The initial findings showed a partial tear of the meniscus and an ACL injury; so, I spoke with the resident doctor and insisted on an MRI to make sure about the extent of the damage on his knee. Once confirmed late in the evening, Paolo conveyed to his mother by phone that his football season was over and it was then that tears quietly flowed from his eyes.
The Ultimate Team Player
Paolo is the ultimate team player, the mid-fielder who distributes the ball; handles it with aplomb, scours the field for the open man, and passes it with pinpoint accuracy. For nearly the entire second round, Paolo sat out the season in a plaster cast; after going through a Platelet-Rich Plasma therapy (PPR), somehow there was a glimmer of hope.
Perhaps, he could return to the pitch in the final stretch of the season, and this possibility drove him to work hard on his conditioning; he needed to be physically and mentally fit. Motivated, Paolo prayed fervently and followed a rigorous regime; he embodied the mantra of the FEU footballer: desire, discipline and dedication.
When the final whistle sounded in regular time in the championship game between the Archers and the Tamaraws at 2-2 all, the team had given its best against a LaSalle team that played brilliantly. The Tams had to come from behind twice to stay in the game thanks to the goal-scoring skills of Eric Giganto and Jhan Melliza– the last goal coming in the 83rd minute of play. During the brief rest period, Master Kim urged them to continue their aggressive passing game; they then went into silent mode: closed their eyes, meditated and focused on this thought: we can do this and finish the task, we can hold our ground, play as a team and become champions again.
In the early minutes of extra time, Paolo dribbled past two defenders, then drilled a strong shot that was aided by a deflection from a LaSalle defender and hit the back of the net as a stunned goalie Clifford de Guzman (the UAAP’s most valuable) watched helplessly. As Paolo run to hug Anton Montinola (the visionary and architect of the university’s sports agenda) to celebrate his stunning goal, it then struck me how improbable and unbelievable this journey was from the wheelchair to the UAAP football championship; a feat that sealed the Tamaraw Booters’ Double Treble – winning the crowns in Juniors, Women’s and Men’s in successive years – a first in UAAP football history.
Nurturing the Winning Mentality
Paolo belonged to a legendary group of boys nurtured by the school’s football progam based in the FEU Diliman campus where they started playing together since high school: names such as Aguinaldo (now with the Azcals), Amita, Diaz, Ferrer, Calamba and others grew up together as team-mates honed in the art of the short pass, the deliberate systematic attack and the give-and-go towards the goal.
In one season, in different leagues and tournaments (the UAAP, the NCR, the Palarong Pambansa which they won representing the National Capital Region, the RIFA, and the Alaska Cup) they went undefeated in a total of 40 games. To this day, the Junior Tamaraws have won the UAAP championship five times, the last on 7 March defeating the Blue Eaglets 2-1 in a bruising encounter.
The Team Behind the Team
Undoubtedly, Master Kim’s rigorous training sessions, his insistence on the twenty basic skills, his emphasis on both footwork and teamwork, his passion and work ethic play a major role in the team’s development. Moreover, emphasis is put on character formation as the boys realize the value of hard work, playing as a team, magnanimity in victory and graciousness in defeat.
Vince Santos, the man behind the school’s football program, and Mark Molina, the athletic director, complement each other as they demonstrate their drive and determination to assemble a team of championship calibre under the watchful eye of Anton Montinola.
“Be Brave,” the Team’s Battle-cry
Paolo Bugas comes from Compostela Valley – in the heart of one of the country’s conflict zones in Mindanao. Together with the other boys in the team from Mindanao, Western, Eastern and Central Visayas, they have learned to live with adversity and survive. Football is a way out of destitution and dead-end lives, and the FEU scholar-athletes are grateful that playing football opens doors to better lives. Because of football, they are able to study, to make friends, to bring joy to their communities some of whom are able to watch them when matches are televised and give hope to their families.
Paolo also knows the meaning of the phrase discussed by the team, “Tams Play for Peace in Mindanao,” a thought that other FEU players such as basketball icon Mac Belo (who comes from Midsayap, North Cotobato, a two-hour bus ride from the infamous Mamasapano, Maguindanao) and Mike Tolomia (who comes from the twice besieged Zamboanga City) understand in the flesh.
When the UAAP season began, “Be Brave” became the team’s battle-cry. It was the school founder’s last words to his daughter, Lourdes R Montinola, before he was killed by the Japanese in the Battle of Manila. It also describes his dream to provide education to the working student who could only come to class at night or to pursue learning under difficult circumstances.
For FEU athletes, some of whom face adversity or adverse conditions to compete and succeed, “Be Brave” is more than just a slogan. It shows a way of meeting life’s challenges. Paolo Bugas embodies FEU’s brave booter who played against all odds, overcame pain and injury, and together with a brave band of brothers – talented and blessed — helped deliver a championship to a school that nurtures character and thus transforms lives.