The bonfire that launched a thousand words

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Much has been said over the weekend about the UP Fighting Maroons’ first win in 720 days in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament and the bonfire that was held at the Sunken Garden in the Diliman campus following the win. As we Filipinos are won’t to do, the memes started coming out — from references to the Drake single, Started From The Bottom, to the ongoing Twitter account, Did UP Win Today, to references to certain streaks in pro wrestling being broken by “the one.”

I wasn’t at the bonfire, but I would have been there if I could have, if only for the simple joy of seeing old friends in UP again. Since graduating from Diliman, getting together with friends from college got even more challenging, so hanging out with them in your alma mater becomes a special treat in itself.

Not long after my friends texted me about it, I started poking fun at the idea of my alma mater holding a bonfire after one measly win. Sure, there are those from both within and outside the UP community who argued that doing so “celebrated mediocrity.” But keeping that in mind, my first thought instead was, “So we’re lighting a bonfire… Now what?” I actually found it rather funny how if I were there, I would be one of many Iskos and Iskas who would be so excited for that bonfire to be lit, only to wonder what happens next.

See, we don’t have a lot to celebrate about as a university whose basketball team participates in the UAAP. Throughout my undergraduate years in UP, the men’s basketball team (MBT) won less games than I have fingers on my hands. Contrast that with my friends who studied in “the Ateneo,” whose teams won the championship every year they were in college, and there really was no point in imagining how it would be to be part of a bonfire celebrating an actual championship.

So the MBT won a game. So what? Are they making the Final Four this year? Probably not. Then what about the swimming team, who consistently wins medals and championships, or the Pep Squad, who are now UAAP cheerdance royalty? Shouldn’t we throw them a bonfire, too? What about the other students who have represented UP in other athletic events, or hell, even academic contests? Don’t they deserve a lechon man lang for their wins?

Let’s be honest (but not disrespectful) here. At the end of the day, basketball is still the biggest sport in the Philippines, and what happened last night is reflective of that. As an Isko, I’m hell as proud of every Isko scientist making a breakthrough, of every Isko filmmaker taking part in Cinemalaya, of every member of the Judo Team sweating it out at the College of Human Kinetics day in and day out. But the MBT has long been looked down on as the cellar-dwellers of the UAAP, and maybe this bonfire is the fire under their asses that will give them that push to eke out another win!

But what does it say about us as a community that we’ve debated and taken sides on an issue that was largely self-deprecating and self-aware? It wouldn’t surprise me the least if my friends from other universities would use my radio catchphrase on me and say, “Hindi, pare, ang dami niyong alam! Panalo na nga kayo, pa-debate-debate pa kayo diyan.

To that, I say that you’re missing the damn point. You can compare the UP MBT to Gilas-Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup this August. At this point, we’re really just happy to be there. Realistically, we’ll have our hands full and then some matching up with the likes of Luis Scola, the Greek Freak, JJ Barea, Dario Saric, and the Senegal men’s national track basketball team. We’ll be happy to win one game and if we do, we’ll be celebrating like crazy, because that’s huge for a basketball-hungry nation whose national team hasn’t been on this stage in forty years. Regardless of the outcome of the World Cup (spoiler alert: Team USA wins), we’ll be cheering for Gilas-Pilipinas until our throats are dry because we care. And ultimately, that’s way better than not giving a crap.

The UP MBT hadn’t won a game in 720 days prior to last Saturday’s win. It had been too long since we’ve tasted even a sliver of victory. The mere fact that we still care and that we haven’t turned our back on our boys is something worth celebrating. The mere fact that we’re still here is something worth celebrating. Argue all you want about “celebrating mediocrity,” but that’s only justifiable if you do so under the “Honor and Excellence” mantra of UP. But why stress yourself out over that and not live a little?

At the end of the day, all of this, from the bonfire to the memes, to the debates, to everything that’s been said and done over the weekend since the win, it goes back to one thing: that we care. That’s important because it means we haven’t given up. And ultimately, no matter how many losses you throw at us, the fact that we still care will always be better than being apathetic.

UP FIGHT!

***

Stan Sy is a radio host on The Factory, which airs Monday-Friday from 4-8 PM on Mellow 94.7 and a contributing writer for NBA.com Philippines. He is also now eagerly looking for tickets to the UP Fighting Maroons’ next game that will be held on a weekend. Follow him on Twitter: @stan947

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