The greatest story ever

16 May 2016
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Leaders in the business world sure do love a good sports story.

MANILA, Philippines – Leaders in the business world sure do love a good sports story. Those heroic tales of courage, resiliency, leadership, and will to win. We love them because we can use them to inspire and motivate business teams. Sports and business after all are both battlefields of sorts. One is a battle on the fields and in the gyms; the other is a battle in the marketplace. The learnings are easily transferable.

Well, you can take all those DVDs of Hoosiers, Coach Carter, Remember the Titans and Seabiscuit and all the other popular sports films that businesses love to use with their organizations and you can put them back in their cases. Because the greatest sports story of all is a Filipino story. Right here at University of Philippines (UP).  And it just happened last week.

It all starts with the men’s and women’s football teams (soccer for the Americans!).

UP is a fabulous institution. Being an adjunct professor there, I have learned first-hand what an amazing place it is. There is an attitude at UP I love. Dynamic and talented kids, many coming from far-flung provinces, grasping at their shot to improve their lives and the lives of their families. It’s a special place.

Yet, the sports program is a mixed bag. Some teams have success in the UAAP and some do not. UP suffers from a lack of funds and doesn’t have the wealthy patrons other schools may enjoy. The budgets are razor-thin. And nowhere is all this more visible than in the football program.

The program has had its own mixed success of sorts. The men have won the UAAP a few times, even as recently as 2012. The women, however, have never won in the history of UAAP Football. Unlike most programs, UP doesn’t have the budget for separate men’s and women’s head coaches. So both teams share the same coach, a wonderful and incredibly dedicated individual named coach “Anto” Andres Gonzales. They don’t have the best facilities but they make do with what they have. No complaints. They just get on with it.  The school cheer is “UP Fight!” but it’s more than just a cheer; it’s an attitude.

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The teams entered this year with decent rosters, fully primed to at least be competitive in UAAP but probably a notch below powerhouses like DLSU, which is stacked with uber talented national teamers. Any betting person would not put any money on UP winning the UAAP this year.

One of the players for UP was a newbie named Rogie Maglinas. Rogie hailed from Masbate and his dream in life was being fulfilled. He gained entrance into UP. He made the football team. He could work hard, pursue a great education, and help pull his family into better circumstances.  Rogie wears a perpetual smile and lights up every room he walks into. He is what any old-timer like me would call, “A great kid.” The kind of young man that makes you believe in humanity, and have huge hopes for the future.

Well, back in October 2015 during practice, Rogie was having some issues getting his focus on the ball. So coach Anto and Rogie went to get his eyes checked, believing he probably just needed some glasses.

It ends up Rogie doesn’t have vision issues. You see his real problem was the brain cancer that they found in his frontal lobe, the kind that metastasizes and spreads fast. The worst kind of cancer you can imagine.

So suddenly this 18-year-old goes from one day being on the football pitch and the next day into intense chemotherapy and a veritable death sentence being handed to him. But when you go visit Rogie in the hospital, you would never think this was the case. Here he was, gradually going blind, enduring chemotherapy, but with that 1000-watt smile lighting up the room, and enjoying every moment of life he had. It was a demonstration in courage and positive attitude well beyond his years.

Rogie fought a valiant fight. But the cancer was too great and God had other plans. Just a few short months later, on Feb. 2 of this year, Rogie passed away. So young, with his whole life in front of him. A wonderful young man. It’s so tragic that it doesn’t leave your heart aching; no, this one literally rips your heart out of your chest and tosses it out the window.

Beyond a grieving family and hordes of friends, Rogie left another family devastated: the UP Football program. This team is one big family. They share the same coach, share the same practice fields, and share the same equipment. They are one. And they had lost one of their own, enduring a tragedy no group of 18 and 19 year olds should have to endure: Burying a teammate.

Nobody would have blamed them if they tanked for the rest of the season, devastated by the loss of Rogie. Nobody would have blinked an eye if they opted to forfeit the rest of their games and take time off and focus on larger priorities in life. We would all have understood.

But that’s not UP. That’s not UP Football. And that’s not this amazing collection of young men and women.

A few short weeks after Rogie’s funeral, the team met as one. They wanted the memory of their beloved Rogie to live on forever. They knew they could build a monument or paint a mural and achieve this in some small way. But they decided to do something different. They decided to buckle down. To train and eat and focus like champions. They decided to dedicate the final weeks of the season to Rogie, to make him proud and make his memory live on. They decided to do what was laughable to any outsider.

They decided they would sweep the UAAP, both men’s and women’s championships.

What?

The pessimist in the crowd smiles and says it’s nice what they want to do. It’s honorable. But let’s get real. You guys cannot win both. Heck you probably cannot even win one. Neither team is even qualified for the finals yet! But both? It’s impossible!

The dreamers, like me, say “hell yes go for it” and believe that karma works and God does allow miracles to happen.

So these kids busted their rears. I can vividly recall meeting with them on a Sunday night to review dietary habits and strength training. They were so dedicated it would inspire anyone. They decided to eat right. Limit the white rice. Train hard. Add weight training on top. Run in their free time. Give up on parties and late nights. Live the lives of nomads, all for Rogie. They wanted to qualify for the championship tournament and then win the whole damn thing!

Both teams, inspired to a level most of us cannot fully comprehend, went on winning streaks from that moment on. They went undefeated the rest of the regular season and both teams qualified for the championships.

They both entered the championship tourney. And the winning continued. First the quarter finals. Then semifinals. And finally as of last Thursday, both teams stood on the cusp of history: They both had battled their way to the finals. They had made it to the title game! The women would take on powerful DLSU, while the men would take on perennial powerhouse Ateneo de Manila.

I am sure you can already anticipate what happened. The women took to the pitch first, and played a brilliant match against a superbly talented DLSU and won 2-1 against a previously undefeated squad. The men followed with a convincing 4-1 win over Ateneo. They had done it!

They did the impossible. They did what nobody believed could happen, except the players themselves. The women won for the first time in their history. And for only the fourth time ever, the men’s and women’s champions hailed from the same university.

It’s the best damn sports story ever. I have tears streaming down my face as I write this.

Rogie lives forever in heaven. And his spirit and memory live on forever here on earth. His teammates, his family at UP, made sure of that.

Hollywood will come knocking for the movie rights for this one. And the movie will be a blockbuster that every business will use. It’s a story of so many lessons, but one most significant of all is this — never underestimate the underdog who is inspired to greatness.

Way to go Rogie. I know you are smiling up there. And way to go UP.

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