Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Best Matches of PWR Love at First Fight

The Best Matches of PWR Love at First Fight
By Rick Olivares

Philippine Wrestling Revolution: Love at First Fight was another epic night in the local professional wrestling circuit’s history.

The promotion held at the Power Mac Center at the circuit Makati last Sunday, February 23 had the roaring crowd on the edge of their seats as challengers sought to take away championship belts while new chapters opened while others began to percolate to a boil

Here are our choices for the best fights of the matinee production.

Match of the Night: Quatro vs Jan Evander
Jan Evander, the Doctor of Professional Wrestling made it clear – and rightly so – that this was going to be a non-title fight. Should Quatro defeat him, then he would get a shot at the All-Out War title belt.

Boy, the doctor got more than he bargained for as Quatro matched him in athleticism and technique, countermoves, and then some. The challenger looked like he was going to get that shot he desired when Jake de Leon’s entrance music began playing. Distracted, Evander flattened Quatro for the win.

The Endgame rushed the stage and began to inflict more hurt on a fallen Quatro when 
The cavalry arrived in the form of JDL and PWOG partner, Ken Warren. After driving off the Endgame, JDL tried to explain to Quatro that he had nothing to do with the distraction that caused the latter his opportunity. Quatro would have none of it though.

Runner-Up: Chino Guinto vs. Mike Madrigal vs. Evan Carleaux
Now, this triple threat match got Love at First Fight going with the victor earning a title shot at the PWR title. Three dudes with the chops, cojones, and the following. Eventual winner Evan Carleaux might not have the stage magnetism that Chino and Mike have but he can get there when he gets his confidence going. And what a win. It looked like Guinto was on his way to a win when he matched up with Carleaux one-on-one with Madrigal out of the ring with the wind clearly knocked out of him. But Carleaux pulled the rug from under Guinto for the win.

And how cool was that for Guinto and Madrigal to lift Carleaux’s arms in triumph and recognition of his feat? Evan is getting a firm push.

Performance of the Night: Robbie Eagles versus PWR champion Chris Panzer
Was the Main Event between Robbie Eagles and Chris Panzer lacking? Not at all. This one had huge rallies, fabulous audience engagement, high-flying theatrics, and a dash of deviousness. Hell, the whole locker room emptied to watch this. 

Make no mistake, Panzer retained his title by the slimmest of margins (and with the help of Mr. Sy who always seems to be at the right place at the right time).  Panzer had the smack down laid on him by Fil-Australian Robbie Eagles who like TJ Perkins in PWR Homecoming showed his incredible technique, athleticism, smart, and power. Robbie must have felt like he was in his hometown of Australia. And why not? His family was in the audience. 

And it was pretty much a Robbie Eagles highlight reel all the way to the “Robbie Robbie Robbie… Oi! Oi! Oi!”

Most Entertaining Match: PWOGS vs The Naughty Boys
The PWOGs duo of Jake de Leon and Ken Warren supplied the power while the dysfunctional dup of Jhemherlhynn and Cali Nueva added a lot of spice to this bout. JML had the stuffing beaten out of her as the PWOGs didn’t go easy on her, but she gave as good as she got. Cali Nueva has always been one of the most entertaining in PWR’s locker room and there is obvious chemistry between him and JML even if they do not act like it. 

Lots of twists and turns and how JML survived those power bombs is anyone’s guess. 

When it looked like the PWOGs were going to wrap this up, Quatro made his most inopportune re-entrance. The distraction likewise cost PWOGS the match.

You think Quatro and JDL are even? This isn’t over. 

Runner-up: KakaiBros vs. MSG
The tag teams battled in a street match. It looked like it was going to be a long night for the KakaiBros -- Mh4rckie and Kh3ndrick – as they entered the house of pain of Sandata and Main Maxx. They got whipped by a belt, hammered by computer keyboards, and whacked by kendo sticks. They turned the tide when they managed to get ahold of those trays. But MSG aren’t tag team champs for nothing. They took control – but not before Main Maxx was suplexed on top of Lego toys – and they got Kh3ndrick to tap out. 

While all MSG champions retained their titles, they cannot say they haven’t been in a fight.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Fil-Aussie Robbie Eagles looks to take title from PWR champ Chris Panzer

Fil-Aussie Robbie Eagles looks to take title from PWR champ Chris Panzer
By Rick Olivares

When Filipino-Australian professional wrestler Robbie Eagles departs Manila after a few days in country, he hopes to pack in his bags the best pasalubong for his relatives Down Under – the Philippine Wrestling Revolution championship belt.

“When I take a trip away from Australia, I want to be able to bring something back,” boldly proclaimed Eagles. “A trophy I can put on my mantle piece. That’s what Feb 23rd is all about.”

All roads on February 23rd, 2020 will lead to the Power Mac Center at the Circuit, Makati for PWR: Love at First Fight where Chris Panzer defends his newly won title against the ambitious  Fil-Aussie. 

Panzer took the title belt from Quatro and visiting Filipino-American Jeff Cobb in a riveting three-way match at PWR Homecoming last October 2019.

Eagles is nicknamed “the Sniper of the Skies” for his aerial game, but he dispels that it didn’t come easy. “I was always a smaller kid, and even once getting to the later stages of High School I was still shorter in stature than a lot of my class mates. Naturally I leaned more towards the high flying wrestlers on the TV wrestling I was watching, so it started with imitation. Even on trampolines in gymnastics classes I was emulating my favorite top rope moves. Eventually I was able to teach myself some basic tricking techniques like a simple back tuck and I realized this was something I could do. Throughout my career I’ve had to adapt my style, especially as I got older. “The Sniper of the Skies” embodies my current tactical style, where not only can I strike from the air, I’m very precise. Everything I do is accurate and aiming for pin-point precision to gain the victory.”

Although professional wrestling is on the huge upswing in Australia, Eagles has cast his gaze across the oceans in search of more challenges and glory. “Pro Wrestling in Australia is going through a very fun and exciting time,” said Eagles who counts Rey Mysterio and Sting as his inspirations for taking up the sport. “When I first began in 2008 it was a very different platform with not as many opportunity to perform on a regular basis. Flash forward to now, lots of wrestling events in the country are taking place in popular Live Entertainment venues renowned with worldly stars from music, to theatre and comedy etc. It is in a very strong growth stage but as it is all independent isn’t as big as I know it will be soon.”

“Since I had started my career, it was always a goal to go anywhere overseas. The main places are always the main countries synonymous with wrestling; Mexico, UK, USA, and Japan amongst others. Going to the USA for the first time I learned a lot as I was on my own, away from my coaches and peers I spent all my time with. So I had to keep up with the rest of the locker rooms and training spaces and make sure I soaked in as much knowledge as possible. My first trip to Japan was a 3 month stay I was lucky enough to win as part of a try-out process in Adelaide, South Australia. I was selected out of 5 people to go on this excursion, being put into the dojo of ZERO1 training almost every day as well as learning the Japanese style of Pro Wrestling. The biggest adjustment is starting from scratch. As much as my name became more well known in Australia, whenever I would compete anywhere else in the world, I was starting a new and had to show the audience who I was from the first ring of the bell to my last match in front of them. So you have to perform at your very best.”

And now, Eagles has a massive opportunity to make a splash in the ever-growing professional wrestling scene in Manila. However, more to that, it is also an opportunity to be in touch with his heritage. “I’ve always been aware of my heritage,” he related. “I was actually born in Australia but within my first year of existence went on a trip with my family to Manila to stay with family. I only really remember it from home movies and photos I still have. My mum is originally from Cebu. I’m still learning more and more about the Filipino culture, but from having relatives visit in Australia I’m familiar with a few things. I’m especially knowledgeable about food and I will not be trying balut! I have been paying attention to places like PWR for some time now, and I’ve seen reactions places like WWE have been given when touring the Philippines by the local fans. There definitely is a loyal and strong fan base for wrestling in the Philippines.”

And that fan base will be tested on February 23rd. Do they root for Panzer or the exciting high-flyer looking to steal a title belt?

Summed up Eagles, “Panzer is one of the guys particularly I’ve seen from the early days of PWR and I’ve kept my eye on. We actually crossed paths in New Jersey during April 2019 when he attended the Bullet Club Block Party which I was staring in. Not sure if Chris will want to get another photo with me after I beat him for his championship though!”

Monday, February 3, 2020

My Favorite NBA Player per Team

Okay…. finally wading in with this….

Name your favorite player of all-time from each NBA team 
Copy and repost for this challenge

1. Atlanta Hawks – Dominique Wilkins
2. Boston Celtics - Larry Bird
3. Brooklyn / New Jersey Nets – Jason Kidd
4. Charlotte Hornets - Glen Rice
5. Chicago Bulls - Michael Jordan 
6. Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James
7. Dallas Mavericks - Dirk Nowitzski
8. Denver Nuggets – Alex English
9. Detroit Pistons – Isiah Thomas
10. Golden State Warriors – Chris Mullin
11. Houston Rockets – Moses Malone
12. Indiana Pacers – Chuck Person
13. LA Clippers – Blake Griffin
14. LA Lakers – Kobe Bryant
15. Memphis Grizzlies – Pau Gasol
16. Miami Heat – Dwyane Wade
17. Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo
18. Minnesota Timberwolves - Kevin Garnett
19. New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis
20. New York Knicks – John Starks
21. Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook
22. Orlando Magic – Shaquille O’Neal
23. Philadelphia 76ers – Julius Erving
24. Phoenix Suns - Steve Nash
25. Portland Trail Blazers – Clyde Drexler
26. Sacramento Kings – Chris Webber
27. San Antonio Spurs - Manu Ginobili
28. Toronto Raptors - Vince Carter
29. Utah Jazz – John Stockton
30. Washington Wizards – John Wall

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Liverpool’s 2019-20 campaign in perspective

Liverpool’s campaign in perspective
By Rick Olivares

One of the biggest stories in sports these days is Liverpool Football Club’s pursuit of its first Premier League title, the trophies and records they are taking and smashing, and their undefeated run. That makes for plenty of copy and talk show fodder just about anywhere. 

Let me wade in.

I find it a bit surprising that lately -- week after week – football pundits talk about Liverpool not playing well and winning games by the skin of their teeth.

In my opinion, it is doubly harder for Liverpool because of the following: 
-       They are reigning UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup champions and combined with their being title favorites, it all adds to the pressure. 
-       There is the burden of the keeping the streak going. Yes, they may not talk about it, but there is immense pride in keeping it going. 
-       And everyone wants to knock them off their perch even if to deny them a season of being invincible. Every team has circled those Liverpool dates in red; no pun intended. 

Let’s compare this Liverpool 2019-20 season to Arsenal’s 2003-04 season when they were undefeated and won the Premier League title.

One Goal-wins from Aug-Jan.
Draws from Aug-Jan
Goals for Aug-Jan
Goals against Aug-Jan
Clean Sheets
Goals for last 20 mins by team Aug-Jan
Goals against in last 20 mins by opponent Aug-Jan

What can we infer from this data?

Thus far, Liverpool is better. They have more wins and fewer draws than Arsenal. The Reds also have more goals, more clean sheets, and more late goals. Liverpool has won two cups in this season – the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. They were runners-up in the FA Community Shield.

Arsenal scored more goals early but conceded slightly more in the last 20 minutes. At that point in time (January of 2004), Arsenal was in contention for the League Cup, FA Cup, and the UEFA Champions League. The Gunners reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the League Cup, were runners-up in the FA Community Shield.

Entering the 2003-04 season, Arsenal were the defending champions, but crucial losses late in the season to Blackburn and Leeds plus three draws saw Manchester United move past them for the title. They were five points off United in the final tally. So entering the 2003-04 season, they were still favorites. 

Liverpool on the other hand, even if they won the UEFA Champions League had lots of questions. They lost the Community Shield to Manchester City at the start of the season. In all the previous seasons when they finished second in the Premier League, they disappointed in the next.

This one has been much different. They have a 40-match unbeaten run dating back to the 2018-19 season. They need to cap the season with their first Premier League trophy.

An undefeated season is gravy. What they are after are more trophies. More silverware further validates what they are doing and will help in attracting more and better players to the club (not to mention more revenue).

However, going back to my initial premise, I think the reason why they are not at their free-flowing best is the opposing clubs have been trying to play them better. They are also a little more pragmatic on defense. During manager Jurgen Klopp’s early years with the club, they leaked a lot of goals because they committed more players forward. They are selective in their press now and have placed a premium on defense.

They have a 16-point lead against defending champions Manchester City and have a game in hand. This has been their best stretch of December and January matches in all the seasons where they challenged for the title. 

In those failed campaigns past, it is these months is where their dreams came crashing; where they coughed up leads. Some might point to the slip of former captain Steven Gerrard against Chelsea several years ago (and the loss to Crystal Palace) or the loss to Man City last year as what killed their chances, but in my opinion, it is the December chill and the January brain freeze that has let them down.

Now they are past that. A new set of challenges await them.

This remains an interesting season and I am not listening to those who say that, “It’s over!” I hear you Alberto Moreno.

Monday, January 6, 2020

A shift in tactics for UP?

A shift in tactics for UP?
By Rick Olivares

Have the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons changed their team tactics?

Looking at the past four years during head coach Bo Perasol’s tenure, at the most, they had three or four players (Diego Dario and the Gomez de Liaño brothers with Will Gozum coming in) coming up from the Junior Fighting Maroons to add to the recruits. For the longest time, UP has stuck to the players who came up from their first year. However, in the last three years, they have gone for transferees.

In Season 80, they picked up Jun Manzo from the University of Visayas and Rob Ricafort (who started out with De La Salle then transferred to the University of Santo Tomas before changing his zip codes to that of UP Diliman). 

In Season 81, It was Manzo, Bright Akhuetie (University of Perpetual Help System Dalta), and JD Tungcab (Adamson University).

This past Season 82, in addition to Manzo, Akhuetie, and Tungcab, they added Kobe Paras (Cal State Northridge), Ricci Rivero and Jayboy Gob (DLSU), and Jaybie Mantilla (University of San Jose Recoletos). 

In this off-UAAP season, they have brought in Centro Escolar’ University’s Malik Diouf and one player who cannot be named right now from another UAAP college team.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. Furthermore, some of these players left their previous schools of their own volition or were jettisoned for one reason or another. It is to UP’s advantage and fortune that they were able to scoop up all this talent.

Does this represent a shift in putting together a team that will bring home that elusive title back to Diliman? Possibly. They have spent a lot of money in making this team very competitive. I think this also signifies that Perasol has been very good at recruitment. He has shown this also during his three seasons in charge of the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

Many schools have resorted to acquiring transferees because you are getting players who are tried and tested.

Letran made good use of that this past season when they upset San Beda for the NCAA Season 95 title behind Larry Muyang (who transferred from DLSU) and Bonbon Batiller and Fran Yu (who were left out in the cold at the University of the East by their former coach). They were also able to pry away rookie Paolo Javillonar who gave a good account of himself during the summer leagues with College of St. Benilde.

The time is now for UP to win while La Salle is in the process of re-arming and while Ateneo has lost vital cogs in their three-peat charge. UST has soaked in a lot of experience, but they will need to find a couple of players to fill in the slots vacated by Renzo Subido and Zach Huang. FEU also is in a state of flux having lost the remnants of their last title team as they have completed their youth movement. 

There is nothing that says that one needs a homegrown program to win. Ideally. But it isn’t a prerequisite even for all of Ateneo’s success or to a certain extent, San Beda. 

National University has beefed up its high school team and have seen a number of them move up to the seniors ranks.

The Mapua Cardinals have gone that route in the last few years since they brought in local hero, Randy Alcantara, first to coach the juniors team, and now the seniors squad. The homegrown route though isn’t a standard. It is the exception.

Back to UP… the Fighting Maroons finished Season 82 with a 9-7 record. In Season 81, they were 9-8. In Season 80, they finished 6-8, and in Season 79, during Coach Bo’s first year at the helm, they ended with a 5-9 slate.

Yes, they have definitely gotten better over the years, and having accomplished that, I think Perasol deserves another shot at the opportunity to win his alma mater the big prize.

And UP – all schools in fact -- being competitive is good for college basketball. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Last Dance

The Last Dance
by rick olivares

Recently, there was this trailer for a 10-part documentary series titled, The Last Dance. It is about the sixth championship season of the Chicago Bulls in 1997-98. That documentary is supposed to premier sometime in 2020.

I have noticed in the last couple of years all this renewed love for Michael Jordan while this Greatest Player of All Time debate with LeBron James on the opposite side rages on. And true enough, we will see a lot of new interviews with key figures during that era. 

I have previously written about that GOAT debate and do not see the need to discuss that again because my arguments have not changed. 

I will say this though… in about 10 years or so…. LeBron James will get a lot of praise. He will not overtake Michael Jordan as the GOAT. There is this video on YouTube that specifically zeroes in on Michael Jordan’s two-year stint with the Washington Wizards and while that club never made the play-offs, MJ’s stats were even better than many of today’s stars. And how old was Michael during that time? How long was his lay-off from competitive basketball? The results are astounding.

As for LeBron… even as a fan of the King, I think that not only does he need to win more titles to even be in that same sentence as Jordan. However, I am sure that in a decade or so, James will be celebrated. 

Back to The Last Dance. I have DVDs and books about the Bulls from their pre-title days to that fateful season. I have all the books and magazines too. Yet, I do know that for that entire NBA season, a camera crew followed the Chicago Bulls everywhere and recorded a lot of footage with a lot that many will not be able to see. I am even sure that lot of that footage will end up in the cutting room for this 10-part series. That doesn’t change the fact that I am excited for this. It revisits a totally different era when hand checking was allowed and the least of your worries.

Speaking of cutting table. How come in that trailer, Toni Kukoc was nowhere to be seen? Ditto with players like Luc Longley?

I remember Bulls forward Jud Buechler saying in one of those interviews from that season that 25 years from that title run, everyone will know where each one is. And maybe so. That was a special team. Coaches included. And they had some colorful coaches during their ride from Phil Jackson himself to Johnny Bach to Tex Winter. And hopefully, they do show where each and everyone one of those Bulls is now.

Lest someone say that I am living in yesterday, let me just say that I do enjoy today’s NBA or even international basketball. While in the last two seasons, I gravitated back to my childhood team of the Philadelphia 76ers, I still follow the Chicago Bulls. They do have an interesting line-up as well.

Furthermore, there have been a lot of interesting storylines that sprung up in the wake of The Last Dance. The Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron in Cleveland. The Decision. The Miami Heat. The rise of the Golden State Warriors. The San Antonio Spurs’ success. And there’s more.

But in terms of drama factor and controversy, it is the Kobe Bryant Lakers and LeBron James that will make for interesting documentaries 20 years from now. But that’s for later… The Last Dance is on deck. And that’s some of the best sports news in this old year of 2019. 

When my column returns in the new year, we will hand out our traditional Brewskies Awards.

Thanks for reading. Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League 2019-20

The Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League. We are playing Atletico Madrid.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Iloilo United Royals: A love for the game and the region

The Iloilo United Royals: A love for the game and the region
by rick olivares

The streaking Iloilo United Royals are gunning for their sixth consecutive win when they take on the Rizal Xentro Mall Golden Coolers on the 16th of December at the Imus City Sports Complex. The Royals, at 14-8, are just as flush with confidence as they are with the Holiday cheer.

Why not? They are the hottest expansion team in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League.

Although an Iloilo team is always a possibility, how this current team was put together is a story onto itself.

The germ of the idea for the Royals was hatched on the golf course with current team owner JJ Javelosa and current team assistant coach Nash Racela. The plan proceeded when Racela’s longtime coaching assistant Eric Gonzales was invited to join them at the golf clubhouse a week later. 

Racela and Gonzales had a pool from which to tap players (Far Eastern University) while Javelosa would bring in his son, Jay Javelosa who played for Ateneo. Basketball was in the elder Javelosa’s blood. His father was a teammate of Moro Lorenzo in the post-World War II Ateneo Blue Eagles squads. Jay won a juniors title with Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal and later played for Ateneo Team B in college. 

JJ was disappointed that his son was unable to suit up for the UAAP team. The Iloilo MPBL team would give his son a chance to showcase his wares (Jay also played for the youth national teams). 

The idea was broached to Manny Pacquiao who greenlit the plan. Except that it hit a snag when the initial sponsor backed out. Luckily for Javelosa, he was able to secure some other help to make the Iloilo team a reality.

“The reason why we added ‘United’ to our team name is because we want all Illongos to get behind the Royals,” explained JJ who is from Jaro.  In fact, the majority of the Royals hail from Iloilo making each game more personal. 

The word “Royals” was a reference to the city’s being known as the former ‘queen city of the south” before it was accorded to Cebu.

Filipino-American Jasper Parker’s parents hail from the area. John Mahari’s mother is also from Iloilo. Ditto with Boy Sinco, Aaron Jeruta, Andrei Pantin, Jesery Pedrosa, Jason Li, Gerry Abadiano, and Leo Guion. 

The team has been a hit with the Illongos which says something as football is the local sport. 

Furthermore, the team runs on the tightest of budgets yet makes everything work from payments to operations. They aren’t the most moneyed team, but the Iloilo United Royals play like it has something to prove and a people to represent.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Winners, Sleepers & Questions from the 2019 PBA Draft

Winners, Sleepers & Questions from the 2019 PBA Draft
by rick olivares

Another cast of hopefuls has come and gone. And truthfully, there aren’t enough teams in the PBA. The talent pool is just too much. I’d say it is just right to have an 18-team league. That is for an article for another day. 

In the meantime, here is how we look at the just-concluded PBA Draft.

The Big Winners are… Columbian Dyip and Ateneo de Manila
Columbian Dyip added two quality players in Isaac Go and Roosevelt Adams to an exciting roster that just needs to mature. The excitement levels just went off the charts when you think of how CJ Perez will team up with Adams. Go on the other hand provides smarts, shooting, and rebounding. They already have some keepers in Rashawn McCarthy and Jackson Corpuz. All this team needs now is to mature.

All six Blue Eagles in the draft pool were selected by a team  - Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto, Adrian Wong, Aaron Black, and Vince Tolentino. Had Thirdy Ravena been available, that would have been seven. 

They are the most successful college program since 1999. Since that time, they have sent more than 50 players to the pros. Only one was not drafted since 1999. 

Big picks up but how do they fit in? 
Barangay Ginebra selected Arvin Tolentino and Jerrick Balanza in the first and second round respectively. They have a stacked and loaded line-up. How the two fit in remains to be seen.  Unfortunately, both need the ball to be effective. 

Tolentino is in the same mold as former Ginebra player Kevin Ferrer. If they couldn’t fit Ferrer (who is a better defender than Tolentino), I don’t know how this former FEU Tam will manage.

Balanza is such an incredible story after his comeback from a near-career-ending illness.  He can be like CJ Perez; a person who can create and wreak Havoc WITH HIS Athleticism. 

Methinks they will be good.
Sean Manganti (NorthPort) and Aris Dionisio (Magnolia) will be better than advertised. Manganti will be like the second coming of Arwind Santos. A tall and talented athletic player who can create his own shot and for others, can post up, and defend. He has thrived in an offense where other players were the first or second options. 

Dionisio will be the linchpin of Magnolia’s defense and become a huge part of their offense. This kid is a winner. He has won everywhere he has played. I am surprised he fell this far. But that is Magnolia’s gain.

I like Alaska’s selection of Lyceum’s Jaycee Marcelino. They have a player who is Jason Castro fast and Jason Castro-pest. I just wonder if their system is a right fit for him.

A huge step for Philippine men’s volleyball

A huge step for Philippine men’s volleyball
by rick olivares pic by arvin lim

There is no denying that despite the power game that characterizes men’s volleyball, it has taken a far backseat to women’s volleyball. Maybe because you’ve got dozens of pretty lasses playing the game and the long rallies make for roller coaster excitement. The men’s league – Spiker’s Turf is played to almost no fanfare and believe it or not – save for the finals – in non-air-conditioned setting (there isn’t much of a crowd to begin with).

But that could all change after that huge semi-finals win over defending Southeast Asian Games champion, Thailand, in five nerve wracking sets (17-25, 25-20, 23-25, 27-25, 17-15).

That win sent the Philippines in a finals encounter against Indonesia that defeated them in the group stage. Now the Filipinos have a chance for payback. If not, the lowest they can get is a silver medal. And this will make the best finish ever.

In the Philippines’ best ever showing in the biennial regional competition (3-1 thus far), there are already a lot of heroes and great stories. Then men’s volleyball team just crowded that storyline and list of heroes.

That tandem of Bryan Bagunas and Marck Espejo has really caused opponents problems with terrific contributions by Ave Joshua Retamar and Kim Malabunga. The rest of the roster is no slouch as head coach Dante Alinsunurin getting good performances out of Rex Intal, Ran Abdilla, and Ricky Marcos. 

The core of this team has won the last five UAAP men’s volleyball titles with players coming from National University and Ateneo de Manila University. They have two of the biggest names in the game in Bagunas and Espejo who has also played abroad (in Japan). 

The fact that Espejo and female wunderkind Alyssa Valdez (who has also played abroad in Thailand) and Jaja Santiago are breaking new ground says something about the local game. That it is getting better and we are starting to export players.

Imagine. In the Asean Basketball League (ABL), Filipino players are imports as well. And now, following football, we are seeing Filipinos go abroad to ply their trade. And that is good. This will inspire the young to know that there is a future in the sport.

And to think that the Philippine Men’s Volleyball Team isn’t done. There is a gold medal game to play. Who knows what will follow?

I can only look laterally. When the Azkals booked that historic semi-finals seat of the 2010 Suzuki Cup, one of the biggest beneficiaries of that was the old United Football League. 

Hopefully, after this, Spiker’s Turf attracts new crowds, attention, and media scrutiny. And maybe then, they can start playing in air-conditioned gyms.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Torchlight and Bonfire: An Ateneo celebration

Torchlight and Bonfire: An Ateneo celebration
by rick olivares

Around 10:40 in the evening of the 23rd of November, 2019, several Ateneo student-athletes – all champions in their respective sports in the first semester of the year – made their way down from the stage at the Ateneo Grade School parking lot. They were all going to light the bonfire.

When the wood was set ablaze, a cheer rose up and the alma mater song was sung.

And thus continued an 82-year tradition of championship celebration by the school’s varsity teams.

Where did this is begin?

When a fire razed the Ateneo campus inside Intramuros on the night of August 13, 1932, a defiant and proud group of students, led by their American Jesuit professors, began singing school songs and hymns.

When it looked like the Ateneo seniors team was going to win the NCAA crown in 1937, Fr. John McCarron, S.J., the school’s varsity teams’ chaplain and later, athletic moderator, thought back to beach bonfires and how people talked and shared stories and experiences. And he also remembered the fateful night of the 13thof August 1932 when a fired razed the Ateneo campus inside intramuros. 

No one knows how it all started, but as the building were eaten up by the flames, students, faculty, and Jesuit mentors began singing school hymns. Whether it was in defiance or merely putting on a brave front, it was cathartic. 

Just like sports.

The score was 36-22 with two minutes left in the game when “Roll Up the Victory” erupted from the Ateneo side of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum. It might have been a lot of time left in the game for Jose Rizal College to catch up, but to the Ateneans in the gallery along with their cheerleaders – Raul Manglapus, Luke Paredes, and Frankie Romualdez – knew it was over.

True enough, the score ended in a 40-26 triumph for the Ateneo blue and whites. And on September 30, 1937, Ateneo was NCAA champion for the fifth time. They had played eight games and won seven of them.

After the match, the school’s Rector, Fr. Carroll I. Fasy, S.J., organized the student body. They patiently waited for their heroes led by head coach Totoy Bautista, Jess Arce who was a high school senior already playing for the college team, star guard Simon LaO, forwards Fermin “the Black Fury of Zamboanga” Fernando and James “Wonder Boy” Hampton, and Cesar Basa among others to file out. 

When the blue and whites (this was a good two years before Ateneo sports team formally adopted the Blue Eagle moniker) got out of the RMC, a raucous cheer greeted them as some 500-plus students yelled their hearts out.

With school officials and their cheerleaders leading them, the Ateneo throng with several dozen holding up torches turned left into Taft (and right in front of De La Salle College) then right into Herran (now Pedro Gil) then to Dakota along Mabini then all the way to Padre Faura. Normally, the walk from Vito Cruz to Ateneo’s new campus in Padre Faura would take 30 minutes. But with this route, it took them a little over an hour.

This was the first ever torchlight parade in the school’s history.

During the parade, the Ateneans erupted into their three new cheers that year – Halikinu, Swinging, and Jamming. The new cheers were created to inject life into the Ateneo crowd. School reporters criticized the lack of spirit by the Ateneo crowd – “the spirit-less cheers are like the fall of the Bastille,” decried one upset Guidon writer.

The new cheers and songs had literally lit a fire. And for the man known as “Rah-Hul” Manglapus, he wasn’t done penning cheers and songs for his school. Two years later, he would introduced “Fly High” as the first ever Ateneo Blue Eagles squad was introduced over KZRH (today known as Radyo Pilipinas).

Once inside the campus, those carrying their torches, one by one, threw them into the shrine of wood and literally lit a fire. That was how they lit the bonfires then.

Four years later, on a sunny Sunday, September 28, Ateneo’s college team defeated their counterparts from JRC. The school had to wait for five more days – on October 3rd -- the juniors team that lost to La Salle and needed one more game to dispatch their newfound nemesis, 17-16, to complete a double victory.

Noted Fr. McCarron, “We needed everything in our arsenal to win. Our team captain, Tony Montenegro played well as did Jess Coruna.”

Fr. Vincent O Beirne, S.J. declared no classes the next day for the entire high school and college beginning a tradition.

This time, there were five different parades that set off from five different points to converge at Plaza Lawton before making their way to the parade grounds of Luneta Park (as it was called before it was renamed Rizal Park) for the bonfire. After the bonfire the Blue Eagles and some key supporters were served a banquet at the Aristocrat Restaurant along Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard). 

Both teams had their group pictures taken at the nearby Sun Studio. Each photo cost 30 centavos. 

Their reward for the senior squad for winning the title – a trip to the Summer Capital, Baguio, on October 9. 

Fr. O’ Beirne reflected about the win, “The bleachers were sardined with humanity, surprises, disappointments, cheer-mad rooters and the hush of defeat. These are all the matter of historians -- after the cheers and tears for some – to write about because we all know how it feels. For three years, we cooled our heels by the side of the road and cheered as the winner passed by. Now that we are tripping along the highway ourselves, that long rest will stand us in good stead, for we intend to stay on that road for a while.”

And it looked that way for a moment as a little over two months later, Ateneo defeated La Salle in the dying seconds of the NCAA football title game when Simon LaO fired the game winner past their goalkeeper, Louie Javellana (who later transferred to Ateneo). 

Reflected Fr. McCarron after the game, “Like it or not, Ateneo is not a football school. This is a fact. Basketball has ruined it.”

But another event would ruin the football celebrations. Scant hours after the title win, air raid sirens broke out as the Japanese began bombing the Philippines and the world truly plunged into a global conflagration. 

The torchlight parade continued until the celebrations for the 1976 NCAA Finals after which it ended.

When Ateneo bagged its historic first UAAP title in 1987, by word of mouth, the basketball players, students, and alumni gathered in front of the Loyola Center (today’s known as the Blue Eagle Gym). People searched for broken branches, twigs, and paper and tossed them into a heap while dousing it with lighter fluid. It was then set ablaze in an impromptu bonfire over smuggled beer, cigarettes, and the hearty laughs of newly-minted champions.

The bonfire celebrations are more organized today with performances by the school’s musical alumni and entertainers, fireworks, and well… beer and food. There are speeches, merriment, and well, thanking the Most High for the blessings received. 

And just as it was intended 82 years ago, it brings everyone together.