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Pa-bonfire ka naman! |

Young Star

Pa-bonfire ka naman!

IN A NUTSHELL - Samantha King - The Philippine Star

UP celebrating its singular basketball win may be jumping the gun. But is it so wrong to celebrate something that took too long in coming?

One auspicious Saturday last August, the Internet went nuts.

The UP men’s basketball team — the underdog among underdogs, comfortable resident of the UAAP’s bottom ranks, winner of everyone’s sympathy vote — finally (finally!) won a basketball game. This, after a two-year drought, with UP losing each and every one of its last 27 matches. As the collective sentiment of Twitter-folk put it, some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this.

Of course, even more than the buzz about UP’s big win was the rumored bonfire celebration. What pooled in the wake of manager Dan Palami’s “bonfire promise” soon became a flood of texts, tweets and status updates, telling everyone to head for the Sunken Garden because the bonfire was happening, there was free-flowing beer, and, as in 1995, the Eraserheads were going to play.

Well, the Eheads didn’t show up, and there was nary an alcoholic beverage in sight. The bonfire consisted of UP’s rusty old centennial torch, brought out from retirement, with the branches toppled by the recent typhoons as kindling. There were no seats, no food, no program. There was, however, a lot of fanfare; and most pervasive of all, the heady mix of excitement and disbelief in the air.

Some people look at the Aug. 9 bonfire and think of it as a celebration of mediocrity. I beg to differ and offer it as a celebration of community.

It was, in every way, an exercise in self-deprecation. No one who was at the bonfire harbored any illusions of grandeur; no one seriously believed we had a chance of reclaiming a title lost since 1986. The bonfire revealed an acute self-awareness that was, in fact, a mockery of ourselves. From the sparse set-up to the overwhelming cheers to the sheepish grins of our basketball players — the team said it best when they told the crowd, “Nanalo na kami! Sa wakas!”

Sure, the bonfire could have been an irksome event if it weren’t for a confluence of factors. One was the humility of the team itself. “I’d like to remind everyone to please manage your expectations,” pleaded the College of Human Kinetics dean, Ronnie Dizer, over the deafening roar.

“Thank you, this is really too much,” said veteran player Mikee Reyes.

Another was the comedy of it all. The crowd was crass and obnoxious, but always ready to poke fun at itself. At the sight of the team shuttle arriving at the Sunken Garden, most started cheering, “UP spelling! U-P!” “Ayan na sila! Ayan na mga bayani natin!”

After all, who were we kidding? A singular win against one of the league’s weakest teams was almost adorably pathetic. Couple that with the fact that as of last Tuesday, UP lost in its rematch against Adamson, you have the makings of a Bubble Gang skit.

But still, it’s a kind of pathetic-ness no one could seriously demean.

Over the years, UP has served as a bastion of some sort or another, depending on who you ask. Bastion of activism, excellence, arts, science, et cetera, et cetera. The school’s history and legacy speaks for itself. Which is why having a basketball team that loses most of the time is the running gag of university life.

It puts UP in a funny position because the school has regular winners in its swimming team (gold in both men and women’s in season 76), cheerdance team (second this season, but eternally first in our hearts), taekwondo (gold in women’s this season) table tennis, badminton (gold again for this season), judo, and football teams. In the past four seasons, UP has been on the podium for the overall medal tally twice. But the reality of things is that basketball gets the airtime.

Critics of the bonfire celebration decry the lack of attention to other varsity teams… the teams that actually win. However, they tend to forget that the phenomenon is the result of a wide array of elements, which range from the anthropological to the economic. Piled together, these realities present a fuller picture of the problems that hound our country’s sports programs and our corresponding patronage of each event. In their respective lack of funding and the immense politicking behind closed doors, we suffer as a community alongside our different sports teams and heroes.

The bonfire celebration was school pride, sure. But for many, it was just that — an excuse to get together and let off collective steam, a celebration. In the end, it wasn’t even about the win but the solidarity that sprung from the whole ordeal of losing 27 consecutive times and finally winning that one odd game of basketball.

If anything, our basketball team reminds us that despite the trademark UP “yabang,” the school doesn’t have a monopoly on excellence, no more than it does over its funds. And in losing one more time for its last game of the season, well, it’s still the Fighting Maroons who have the last laugh.

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