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Commentary: Madam Beth

When did the calls cease to come?

Phone calls from Beth Celis that would invariably change in tone — jovial, conspiratorial, some with sense of urgency. Often times friendly.

The calls would lead to lively discussion of current basketball issues and liberally spiked with scandalous yarns about the love life of a baller, official, coach, etc.

Long before Mocha Uson and “fake news,” there was Madam Beth Celis and blind items in her “In Huddle” column.

That column, written in straightforward and no-frills style, would be for years the staple of basketball fans all over and it would make the rounds of sports journals like Sports World, WE Forum, in the tabloids Tempo and People’s Journal, and national dailies Manila Daily Bulletin and Philippine Daily Inquirer. She wrote for nearly five decades and opened the beat to future women sportswriters.

Beth Celis was a basketball person all her life. She was prodigious, breaking into sports journalism at a young age, a beauteous scribe out of UP and married to Jun Celis, a firebrand of a point guard who played for Yco and Crispa in the defunct commercial league, the MICAA, the predecessor of the PBA.

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She would cut her teeth on sports writing during the pre-Martial Law years, doing lengthy features for the Sunday Times magazine of the Manila Times.

She would eventually write the “In Huddle” column that became quite popular among the PBA teams, players and fans for its incisive analysis of games and delved on controversies involving players. She also ran a sports radio program for sometime.

It was a measure of her popularity and “notoriety” that PBA and media friends would come in big numbers to attend her annual December 14 birthday bash at a clubhouse in an exclusive enclave in Quezon City.

But then came her long bouts with diabetes, which took their toll, enduring the complications stemming from it and trying to ease their onset by doing long furious walks around her neighborhood.

That’s when the phone calls came intermittently, long and far in between.

The other night, on the eve of the highly anticipated PBA title showdown between Barangay Ginebra and Meralco, she slipped away. She was 73.

For sure, she would have been excited about the series and would be aching to fire away and regale her readers on some behind-the-scene details about the games the morning after.

And I could almost hear the phone ringing and her husky voice animated on the other end.

“Hello.”

“Lito Tacujan!”

 “Beth Celis”!

 “Alam mo...” her voice would taper off and would come, in whisper, the blind items.

Goodbye Beth. Goodbye, friend.

(Notes: The remains of Beth Celis lie in state at St. Peters Memorial Chapel in Quezon Ave., with wake and viewing beginning Saturday. Interment is tentatively set Tuesday...She is survived by children Raymond, Stephanie Celis Herrera, Claudine Celis Cudiamat and Erica, and 10 grandchildren.)

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