Remembering Maroons' 1986 championship
SPORTS FOR ALL - Philip Ella Juico () - March 21, 2012 - 12:00am

Two weeks ago, I wrote about arnis and the participation of my classmate from grade school and high school at De La Salle, the 65-year old, San Jose, Calfornia-based, Valentin (Jojo) de la Fuente, in the world championships in July in Cebu City. Jojo was team captain of the Green Archers NCAA high school basketball squad and a member of the softball nine. In college, Jojo took up civil engineering at the UP and played for the Maroons (then known as Parrots) with the late Fort Acuna and Jun Bernardino.

Our faithful reader and reactor, former Philippine Sports Commission chairman, Perry Mequi, remembers with fond memories the late Fort Acuna and Jun Bernardino. Mequi said both Acuna and Bernardino were his players at UP. Mequi was then Dean of the UP Institute of Sports, PE and Recreation (SPEAR) which he founded when OD Corpuz was president. Mequi appointed Bernardino coach of the varsity team that played for the UAAP championship against Adamson University “but we failed to win the championship, which should have been the first for UP,” says Mequi.

Mequi adds that Joe Lipa took over, and twice in a row, “we also lost the championship against UE and FEU”. The Maroons however won the title in 1986 with Lipa at the helm and with a strong squad that included Eric Altamirano, Ronnie Magsanoc and Benjie Paras.

Mequi’s reference to Lipa and UP’s rare championship led me, through a son of mine, Vincent, to an account of that historic feat in the “Tinig ng Plaridel”, the student publication of the UP College of Mass Communications. 

The “Tinig” account of UP’s first basketball championship in 48 years in 1986, dated Tuesday, December 27, 2011, entitled, “Oral history of the 1986 UP Fighting Maroons championship, part 1” is an interview of Lipa, Altamirano, Magsanoc, Paras and Joey Guanio. Others who formed the core of the team were Primo Rodriguez, Joey Mendoza, Duane Sajvatierra, Chris Somera, Bobby Noriega, and Ramil Cruz. “Tinig” staffers who conducted the interviews were Karlitos Brian Decena, Ardelle Costuna, Brad Taningco, Marisse Panaligan, Joshua Dalupang and Gian Geronimo.

The interview starts with an interesting and fascinating introduction, parts of which we quote: “When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, it will have been another year of futility for the UP Fighting Maroons (who ended up the cellar in 2011). It has been 25 years since the State University won a championship in the UAAP, and with the way things are going, it might take another 25 years before the UP squad wins the big one again.

“The year 1986 seems so many lifetimes ago. It was certainly a different era, far removed from today’s commercialized collegiate basketball scene where the next generation of hoop stars are recruited – some would say coddled – years before they step into a college campus. 

“It was a simpler time, but things never change. The UP Fighting Maroons were contenders for the crown prior to winning the championship, but could not get over the hump, simply because they were a “donut” team missing a center. Enter freshman sensation Benjie Paras. But there was more to the story than meets the eye.

“How big a deal was the fighting Maroons’ championship? The Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial next morning dealt with the school’s victory. Louie Beltran, then the paper’s editor-in-chief, penned the piece himself. UP has produced Presidents, Chief Justices, Chiefs of Staff and even Communist and Moro rebel leaders, Beltran wrote, but the school never produced a champion basketball team until the 1986 UP Fighting Maroons.”

In the interview, Lipa says that “if I’m not mistaken, I started coaching in 1981. In my first year, it was a really bad season. Out of the nine games, we won three. But in the second year (in 1982), I think we played in the championship. And then in 1983, we also played in the championship. And (two years) we lost.”

To prepare for the 1986 season, the Maroons, playing for the Converse team, joined the Philippine Amateur Basketball League (PABL) organized by Ambassador Danding Cojaungco. The Maroons joined the commercial level where they landed fourth.

Going into the 1986 season, UP was uncharacteristically a favorite for the title for as Lipa and many others said, the Maroons, for the first time, “had a complete line-up.”

Lipa points out that “we did not recruit players for the Maroons. They came to UP. (Benjie) was being pirated heavily during that time by almost all the schools.

Lipa told Paras “we have a good all-around education in UP, and it will be my personal commitment that I will do everything in my capacity to make him the best center in the land.”

Next week, more reminiscences from the Maroons.

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