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.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Holy Trinity College Wildcats in the Filoil tournament and the game of life

This appears in the Monday, May 19, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

Wildcats in Manila
The Holy Trinity College Wildcats in the Filoil tournament and the game of life
by rick olivares

If there is one team that never seemed more joyous at being 0-5 in a basketball tournament, it’s these Holy Trinity College Wildcats.

When center Delmar Mahaling plucked down a defensive rebound with his legs so far apart in the air that like he looked like a ballerina, his other teammates (and coaches) on the bench all broke out in laughter. In the Visayan language, they teased, “Para kang palaka!”

Mahaling grinned then ran to join his teammates on the attack.

During another match, the band of Emilio Aguinaldo College whacked their bass drum and chorused, “Wala,” just as power forward Raymar Roxas was about to attempt a free throw. Roxas, surprised by the sudden barrage of noise, missed and his teammates on the bench got on his case for his flub.

The bottle of which they used to find out who is "panget" and who has a birthmark in their butt.

In that same match against EAC with HTC trailing, 35-31, at the half, guard Edson Batiller just finished drinking a bottle of Sting with the likeness of fellow General Santos City native Manny Pacquiao on the label when teammate Macmac Polistico grabbed it, placed it on the floor and spun it around. Point guard Meylan Landicho announced, “Kung sino ituro siya ay panget.” The bottle pointed to Mahaling and everyone once more burst out in laughter.

To say that the Wildcats do not take their basketball seriously is simply untrue. When they left the Gatorade Hoops Center in a huff after a wild match that saw several altercations and the HTC refusing to play any defense in the game’s final four minutes, they were downcast.

“Bago kami magpunta rito,” explained Mike Torrijos, the team’s trainer and nephew of head coach Pol Torrijos, “Siguro mga 20-zero na kami o higit pa. Mga two years na since kami natalo. Pagdating sa Manila, 0-5 kami at hindi kami nakapag-adjust sa mga tawag na konting bangga foul na. Parang ang hirap makakuha ng tawag sa mga referee rito.”

However Mike Torrijos refuses to entirely play the officiating for his team’s woes. He lets out a secret, “Hindi kami makapag-practice. Kung makapag-practice man, hindi kami mabuo.”

It sounds strange for a college team to be unable to practice much more gather the entire team for a tournament. But Manila isn’t General Santos City. And the Wildcats aren’t your regular basketball team.

Save for bruising power forward Kevin Pragados, the players come from poor families and they have to help their parents make some money to get by.

Forward Aldrin Yusop works as a garbage collector with the local city collector. Pacquiao is said to have taken pity on Yusop that he gives him other odd jobs to do in order to make ends meet.

Most of the Wildcats get up as early in the morning to help out in the docks to unload the day’s catch of tuna -- General Santos City after all is called the Tuna Capital of the Philippines.

By 9am after all that backbreaking labor, they shower and get ready for their 10am classes at Holy Trinity. By evening, they play pick-up basketball matches sponsored no less than Pacquiao himself. There they earn about a thousand pesos each that is a huge help for their families.

“I don’t recall a time where we didn’t have to scrape for money,” shyly admitted Delmar Mahaling who when he isn’t studying or playing ball works as an orderly in a local hospital.

It is the same for everyone.

For swingman Chris Masaglang, he has to do so because he got married early and has a child to feed. The week they have been in Manila, he battles homesickness. He’s happy to be with his teammates who are like family to him. When they play in the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup, he temporarily forgets his family. When the game is done, sometimes, he finds his mind wandering back to Gen San.

“It is difficult to get everyone together because they also have to work,” admitted Pol Torrijos who was once a national champion in chess. “But we understand their plight.”

In order to bring their entire team to Manila – the players were excited to come over – HTC had to make up for the lost wages. In one case, aside from paying a day’s wage, provide for a new job.

You see, Mahaling had to resign from his job but with the promise of him being moved to another hospital when they return to Gen San on Sunday. He has one day to rest before he dives back to work with his new job.

With his savings, Delmar was able to purchase a motorcycle to use as his mode of transportation. It’s not much of an ambition but in their world, it is a lot.

Before coming over to Manila, the team never had a chance to practice much less get in shape. Mahaling himself had not played ball in over a month. In spite of that, the players showed a lot of potential. Masaglang, despite his wiry frame, plays like a young Peter June Simon.Mahaling will remind many of Freddie Abuda. Meylan Landicho is a gifted scorer who can get off a shot against anybody. Batiller is currently being recruited by one UAAP school.

“I will not stand in the way of my players’ bettering their life,” declared Coach Pol. “They are like my children already having played for me since their high school days. I care for them and what happens to them. If it’s a good move then I will help facilitate the move. If not, then we will prevail upon him to stay.”

There was a former Wildcat who was recruited to play in Manila but he only lasted a year because he couldn’t cope with the homesickness.

“Sana naman the Manila schools when they recruit they look after the players,” added Mike Torrijos. “It’s not only a culture, environment, and lifestyle shock for them but also for their education. Hindi naman namin sinasabi na go easy on them na ipasa na lang ang bata but to guide them. Wala. Pinapabayaan.”

Several Manila schools expressed interest in acquiring some of the Wildcats if not for NCAA or the UAAP, the D-League. While they are exciting at the prospect because this would fulfill a basketball dream, they are worried about being away from home. However, it is an opportunity. Some may even grab it.

“Definitely, there is talent,” underscored Filoil commissioner Ato Badolato. “If given a better program where they can learn the game better malayo ang pupuntahan nila.”

To underscore how talented the team is, in one tournament in Mindanao, they only fielded seven players – eight including African Timothe Etoundi who is so raw that they hardly use him – but they managed to win the championship.

“Do not think that we do not take the Filoil tournament seriously,” explained the head coach. “We do. The boys are excited to be here. Not everyone gets a chance to go to Manila.”

While staying in Manila for the games, the team rented out a small place in Project 7 near Muñoz. For meals, they eat in the carinderias. They brought with them bags of tuna to cook but they are so sick and tired of eating fish that they can no longer stomach the sight of it.

In their final match of the tournament against the University of the Philippines, there was a possibility that high school teammate now turned actor Gerald Anderson would suit up creating a frenzy. As much as Anderson wanted to play, he was not allowed to play (although he is  enroling at HTC for next school year) due to a conflict with the taping. Coach Mike hung Anderson's jersey in one of cubicles. Some of the players thought of wearing the jersey and asking game barker Rolly Manlapaz to introduce them as the actor. The prank fell apart when it was noted that they might be levied a technical foul. 

Come game time, the Wildcats were all business as they flat outplayed the Fighting Maroons for the better of three periods. Then UP’s Diego Dario and Henry Asilum conspired for a comeback from 19-points down that saw them come to within two.

With Masaglang having a subpar game, Yusop and Rafael Lape came up huge in the clutch as they came away winners, 94-85.

“Sa totoo lang, UP lang ang pinaghandaan namin,” joked Landicho who meant to disrespect to the UAAP school. Their sense of humor is something they value in the light of all their personal and communal hardships. “Masarap din yung pakiramdam na may panalo din kami.”

In their final huddle inside their locker room at the San Juan Arena, the team said a short prayer then chanted in unison, “Inuman na! Inuman na!” From the moment of arrival up to their last day, the Wildcats were noisy, buoyant, and teasing one another.

“Coach,” cracked Mar Roxas, “Baka naman dito may ibang masarap na carinderia.”

The team erupted in guffaws.

“Tuna daw ang specialty!” chimed in Landicho to more guffaws.

“Di na bale. Dalawang case ng beer na lang.”

“Para kami nanalo ng championship, no?” asked Pragados. “Champion kahit 1-5.”

“Ay, salamat! Pauwi na tayo!” said Masaglang who raised his arms in triumph.

These are the Holy Trinity College Wildcats. Have you ever met a more joyous basketball team?

Thanks to Coach Pol and Mike Torrijos and the HTC Wildcats for graciously giving me access to their team, locker room, team meetings, and huddles. And for Gerald Anderson's game jersey.

My notes: When I saw this team first play, I said to myself, "man, they've got talent." Except that I felt they didn't have the benefit of a top grade training program. I then told myself that I should write about them. I thought I had another Hong Kong national team story (from the FIBA Asia Championships). That half-time where they were spinning the bottle? That was absolutely hilarious. I wanted to video it but opted not to. But I began hanging out around their bench and locker room. And no, I wasn't after Gerald Anderson's jersey. Hahaha. Seriously!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Craig. This is a story that just wrote itself. Thanks for reading. Hope all is good, bud.


  3. Thank you for writing about the Holy Trinity Basketball means a lot to the school and to the players.

    1. You're most welcome. The article came out in the Monday May 19 edition of the Business Mirror. Here's their online link too

      Glad to write about them. They are a treat to follow.