Prof. Ed Garcia is FEU Diliman consultant on the formation of scholar athletes
(The journey to the finals has been the proverbial “long and winding road”. A do-or-die Finals Game 3 beckons, but sometimes it is worthwhile to reflect on the joy of the journey even while one works towards the destination. It is in that spirit that these reflections are shared.)
“Breaking the Silence” was the first book my former student Anton asked me to read, even before I set foot on Far Eastern University’s Morayta campus. Authored by Lourdes Reyes Montinola, Ph.D., it tells the tragic story her family experienced at the hands of the retreating Japanese forces who in the 1945 Battle of Manila killed people at will, including her father whose last words to her daughter was: “Be Brave!”
In a sense, this summed up the life of Nicanor Reyes and the mission he had undertaken — to bring education to the working class students who normally had to confront adversity to pursue their studies. The institution he had founded was the first to offer night classes for young men and women who wanted to improve their chances in life. In brief, the school he founded aimed to provide learning opportunities for young people with modest means imbued with the will to advance in life.
The first letter in the acronym FEU, I was told, stood for Fortitude. And, “Be Brave”, the founder’s last words to his daughter, I thought, best expressed this aspiration. In a first meeting with the university’s scholar athletes at the gym in FEU Diliman, I shared the founder’s story and the two words which seemed to have captured his legacy: “Be Brave.” The impact was immediate. They understood instantly because as athletes they knew that to succeed in sports one had to overcome fear and doubts, and believe in oneself and in one’s capacity to do one’s best.
Desire, Discipline and Dedication to Be the Best
In evening conversations with the members of the team at the gym, I recall one session when a number of questions were posed: What is your dream? What do you want to accomplish this year – for yourself and your team? Almost to a man, the members of the Varsity team shared their stories of confronting adversities in life. They wanted to give back to their families, and they aspired to use their God-given talents on the court to better their lives and the lives of their families. “I come from a broken home,” one of them said, “and I want my parents to reconcile. Hopefully, through what I can accomplish on the court I can help bring them back.” For a good number, they wanted to succeed in sports and in life because they wanted to help uplift their families’ status in life.
Three of the team members come from Mindanao, a core from Cebu, Bohol, and Bacolod, two brothers from Pampanga, one from Las Pinas, another from Novaliches, one from Canada, and one from the US. The desire to excel and to belong to a winning team was part of each one’s dream; they were willing to develop the discipline to train and work hard, and to contribute to their team goal of becoming better despite the setbacks and the heartbreaksby dedicating themselves to the common quest.
“Dreams from My Father” was another book shared with the team because it tells the story of a basketball player named Barrack who gained his confidence on the basketball court. He was an improbable candidate with an even more improbable life story, but because of the self-belief he gained on the hardcourt he achieved and persevered. The qualities he acquired in the court he was able to apply in the way he run his campaign to win the presidency of the United States, and even as president he continues to play the game.
FEU last won the UAAP Men’s Basketball Championship in 2005.
On the eve of a crucial match, we watched a tape of the UAAP finals of 2005 where Arwind Santos led a steady Tamaraw squad to beat a feisty team of Green Archers — a game we watched in the evening conversations before the series with LaSalle. After the loss against UE, we watched in awe at the way the San Antonio Spurs passed the ball around to win the NBA championship against the big stars of Miami Heat. It was teamwork winning against the best individual standouts in the league.
In brief, the team imbibed the spirit of the beautiful game and learned lessons in small doses.
Band of Brothers with Team Spirit and School Pride
The team is quartered in the sprawling campus of FEU Diliman (now, a Zone of Peace), and they are housed in the dorm just below the basketball gym – seven or so in three large rooms together with the reserves who play an important part in the team scrimmages and practice sessions. They sleep, rest, eat, pray and play together; but team spirit does not come automatically – it is built over time, painstakingly in their conversations with coaches and with each other before and after games, and especially after practice sessions or during their free time. They go to class four days a week, and Wednesdays and weekends are reserved either for the UAAP games, for study or for recreation. In the end, trust is earned and developed over time.
One of the highlights in the team’s journey was the Morayta and Diliman Pep Rallies in the month of September where the entire team first wore their “Be Brave” T-shirts and where Tamsi sang his unforgettable version of “Go the Distance” while the team danced to the tune of the “Wiggle” to the delight of their fellow students and fans at the huge quadrangle in Morayta.
The other “Be Brave Pep Rally” took place amidst the rhythm of heavy rains and the cheers of students from Grade 1 to Tertiary at FEU Diliman which has become the Tamaraws’ home during the last several months. Meeting face to face with their “constituents”, the students who support them through thick and thin, seeing their glad faces and feeling the warmth of their support – were critical ingredients in getting the team over the hump, so to speak. On Facebook and Twitter, the moments with their favorite players were posted and messages exchanged thus instilling a sense of pride in representing their school.
Mental Toughness and the Ability to Deal with Failure as a Friend
There have been at least four character-defining moments confronted by the team: the heartbreak loss to Ateneo after leading by double digits for more than three quarters of the game; the humiliating loss to UE by over twenty points in the second round; the second game of the Final Four play-off with DLSU where the Archers buried the Tams by 21 in what was perhaps their poorest showing after the regular season, and the victory of NU Bulldogs over the Tams in Game 2 of the Finals.
Heads bowed, dreams seemingly dashed, and disbelief mixed with regret was how they looked at the dug-out after each loss. Each defeat is tough and is different, and one never seems to get used to it. How does one bounce back after a heart-breaking defeat, how does one deal with such stunning losses, how does one become even better after a defeat that stares you in the face? How does one lift the team’s spirit? What does one say or doesn’t say?
How does one go back to the court to deal with the mental lapses and turn-overs, to practice the foul throws, to take the shots that were not taken, to jump higher to snatch that elusive rebound, to improve the defense, to fine-tune the offensive patterns that seemed to have been the team’s previous strengths? Mental toughness is indeed an ingredient in any winning formula, if one is willing to aspire for gold. It takes character to move forward.
After one such heart-breaking loss, I recall Anton calmly saying that though we lost, we did not lose our lives or limbs, for that matter. We just lost a game, and we can overcome that. Worse things have happened to others, and we can get back on our feet. After every single defeat, the Tamaraws have bounced back – big-time; that is the meaning of character.
At another time, we recalled, shared and recited the words of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the man of La Mancha: “To surrender dreams – this may be madness; to seek treasures where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness. And, maddest of all, to see life as it is, and not as it should be”; or, calling to mind Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses: “Come, my friends, it is not too late to seek a newer world….to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.”
To be continued…