(I wrote this last year for Sports 5 while covering the NBTC tournament in April, 2016. There are some stories that you’ve heard about and prepared for, but some just come out of nowhere and hit you in the gut. This is my tribute to Ormoc, and for everyone suffering through difficult in life. Never give up. They didn’t.)
(photo NBTC Facebook Page)
They weren’t ready, their head coach confessed. The bright lights of the Mall of Asia just overwhelmed their senses, and they were unable to get their bearings until it was too late. They committed turnover after turnover, resulting in a whopping 30 miscues at the end of the game. They couldn’t make freethrows and three pointers, because they couldn’t catch their breath running up and down the floor.
In the end, they lost their opening game in the National Basketball Training Center (NBTC) Tournament to a talented Angeles University Foundation, 68-52. It was not the result that they were looking for.
After the game with heads bowed and on the verge of tears, their coach asked them one simple question: “Binigay niyo ba ang best niyo?”
The kids answered together: “Sir, best na po namin yan”
“So kung binigay niyo ang best niyo, sumaya tayo!”
With the words of their coach, they burst out in laughter and applause, celebrating the small accomplishment they made together. Because three years ago, they never imagined that they would be able to compete in Manila, inside the MOA Arena. Three years ago, they never thought that this day would come that they would be competing and representing their home in a national high school basketball tournament.
Three years ago, the members of the Linao National High School Basketball team from Ormoc City were happy just to be alive.
“Kahit makarinig lang ako ng kalampag ng roof, may takot sa dibdib ko. Kahit mga players ko kung may hangin na ‘whhooooosssshhhhhh’ (imitating the howling of wind), nakakatakot para sa amin.”
Linao is very nearby Ormoc City proper, roughly one kilometer away. It is situated perpendicular to Ormoc Bay, which is perpendicular to the Camotes Sea. “Malapit sa dagat, sa coastline,” explained Jonathan Basmayor, coach of the Linao National High School team in the NBTC tournament.
A jolly and happy fellow who has a smile on his face and a pat on the head always ready for his players, his voice turns grim when he describes what happened to his hometown on the evening of November 8, 2013. “Kung na-experience mo lang ang na-experience namin, grabe talaga,” Basmayor shares. “Nakaka-down. Ayaw mo na mabuhay noon.”
We all have our Typhoon Yolanda stories, whether it was stranded inside or outside of our homes, or stranded inside a mall or vehicle with nowhere to go. It was a moment in our collective history that unites every Filipino who went through it. For the citizens of Ormoc City, they were locked in a moment by moment struggle for survival. Basmayor narrated that the effects of Typhoon Yolanda hit him personally, as the house that he was building for his mother was destroyed as well. He put everything he had into building it for his family, and in one evening everything disappeared. He would have to start over.
His team was also fighting for their survival. At the time, the kids were 13-14 years old. They lost everything the had as well. worldvision.com reported that around PHP 24.4 Billion pesos worth of agricultural and infrastructural damage were left at the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.
Ormoc City bowed to Typhoon Yolanda.
But the people of Ormoc City did not. They fell, but they stood again. They picked up the pieces together. They rose.
For a brief moment in time, the people of Linao, Ormoc City stopped playing basketball. But it didn’t last. They would not allow a little thing like the biggest super typhoon in decades to stop them for long. “Mga 2 months lang tinigil ang basketball, Coach Basmayor said. “Dahil sa January nung dumating ang Save The Children (an organization that assisted in Yolanda relief operations), binigyan lahat kumpleto ng uniform ang mga bata. May pagkain, may transportation.”
“Bumalik ang basketball,” Basmayor said, swelling with pride. “Two months lang, bumalik agad.”
“Kung makakapunta ka na sa Ormoc, masasabi mo na ‘binagyo ba talaga ito?’ Kasi okay na ulit. Maganda na yung plaza, binalik na yung Ormoc City Superdome. Maganda na yung tindahan, may Robinsons na gusto magpatayo. May McDonald’s na. Parang walang nangyari na, gusto lang makabalik sa dati, pati negosyo. Yung palaro sa buong rehiyon sa Ormoc naglalaro.”
“Yung buhay sa rehiyon bumabalik na.”
Linao High School player Ruben Cabardo had a tough problem. Three years removed from building up his life after Typhoon Yolanda, he faced a more pressing issue that could literally hinder his growth and put his future in peril: his shoes didn’t fit anymore. Cabardo’s feet had grown,from a size 10 to now a size 13. Yet buying rubber shoes was not the priority in the Cabardo household. So he solidered on, playing and pushing himself in shoes that were three sizes too small. “Hindi maka-buwelo” Coach Basmayor noted.
But Cabardo was blessed, because someone very important in the stands was watching him and around four more teammates struggle with shoes. Atty. Ruben Capahi, City Concilor and NBTC Commissioner for Ormoc was there, and he saw what the talented squad was going through.
With only five days to go before the NBTC tournament in Manila, Capahi called in Coach Basmayor and the young players. He gifted Cabardo and his teammates with brand new World Balance rubber shoes. Immediately the faces of the children lit up in wonder. Basmayor also got new shoes for the trip, although they weren’t as fancy as what the kids got: “Hindi world balance, second hand lang,” Basmayor said sheepishly. “May nag-donate. Yung ginamit kong sapatos dito sa Manila, yan ang binigay.”
Three days later, Linao High School held a sendoff for the team traveling to Manila. That’s when the rest of the team was awarded their shoes. Every single member of the team got a new pair, one by one they received it. Immediately they opened the box, and tried it on.
“Yung common na ginagawa ng player na usually pag nakatanggap ng bagong sapatos na medyo may brand, ay pinapatunog kaagad,” Basmayor narrates. “Kinabukasan nung may practice kami sa Ormoc City Superdome, nasiyahan si Atty Capahi (whose office was close to the Superdome) na marinig ang sapatos na nagtutunog dahil original.“
For any basketball fan, there’s nothing quite like the sound of sneakers hitting hardwood. For the players of Linao High School, it was their first time to hear that sweet, sweet, sound. It was like a deaf man being able to hear for the first time. Finally, the playing ground was level.
They had their sneakers. It was time to play basketball.
The ironic thing about the entire situation of Coach Basmayor was that he wasn’t supposed to be coaching Linao High School in the NBTC tournament in Manila. The responsiblity should have been given to his fellow coach, Pacifico Cañete. Every October before the tournament proper in March, all coaches have to attend a NBTC Coaches Convention, wherein the coaches of the different participating schools are taught different ways on how to develop and evolve their style of coaching. More importantly, the coaches who attend the convention are tasked with being Head Coach should they qualify for the tournament in Manila.
In the Visayas Regional Finals, Linao High School qualified for the tournament by finishing in second place, losing to Mandaue City in the Finals. However NBTC allowed the top two squads to advance, which meant that they booked a slot for Manila.
Qualifying for the tournament was one thing, but actually traveling and completing the trip was another thing entirely. Having to pay for the airfare, accommodations was a daunting task for the team. But the city rallied behind the squad, recognizing the importance of representing their town. “Dahil halos lahat ng Rotary Club at officials tumulong para sa pagpamasahe sa amin,” Basmayor shared. “Gumawa ako ng sponsorship letter para lang maka-experience kami ng maglaro sa MOA.”
Eventually they had enough to travel. But it wouldn’t be enough to fit the entire party, so they had to do some cost cutting. Only 12 players out of the 15 that formed the entire team could travel, so they had to do an internal tryout to see which players would be able to travel. Five members of the Coaching staff would have to stay in Ormoc City.
Eventually a total of 17 players, headed by Coach Cañete was ready to travel to Manila. But tragedy struck yet again, as two days before leaving, Canete’s wife was rushed to the ICU in Ormoc City. A problem with her thyroid led to further complications with her kidneys. Attention and concern was placed on the coach and his family. But the NBTC tournament loomed. Grabe yung problema na nangyari samin,” Basmayor remembers grimly. “Wala pa kaming pera, tapos yung head coach namin nagkasakit pa yung asawa niya dinala sa ICU. So grabeng dagok yun.”
“Wala kaming head coach pag punta namin dito, Basmayor added. “Kami nalang.”
The team appealed to the NBTC to transfer Head Coaching responsibilities to Basmayor, and they were approved. Basmayor had been coaching the team for several years anyway, it was only this year when he had to relinquish duties because he didn’t have enough funds to travel to the coaches convention. But as fate would have it, he ended up coaching the team on the biggest stage that anyone had ever been on. Now it was time to head to Manila.
A group comprised of 17 Ormocanons traveled by plane from Tacloban to Manila. For many, it was their first time in the air and on an airplane.
They didn’t handle it well. Several kids became airsick, and barf bags become their best friend in the sky. The queasy feelings would manifest themselves even when they landed in Manila, as Basmayor said that several were still throwing up on the ground.
Their schedule was also extremely packed. They landed in Manila at 9:30pm, with a van ready to pick them up and whisk them away to the Mabuhay Manor. They arrived at around 11pm. “Nag-adjust pa mga ala-una (1:00 AM) na kami nakatulog. Ako nga mga 1:30 AM na ako nakatulog. Tapos yung pagsusuka, yung adjustment ng katawan ng mga bata ba.“
Fatigue, airsickness and general confusion was plastered all over Linao High School. And they still had to wake up the next day and play basketball.
The Linao High School squad hung tough with Angeles City, tying the game at 28-28 in the second quarter. But Angeles City went on a huge run in the 3rd quarter, creating seperation from the Ormoc squad. Even though they were exhausted at that point, Linao made one last run in the 4th quarter, cutting the deficit to 10. But then injuries reared it’s ugly head, as two key players from Linao went down with injuries and had to leave the game.
(photo NBTC Facebook Page)
They fought and battled, bringing down the lead yet again to 10 points with two minutes left in the game. But it just wasn’t enough. “Ang laro ng Manila iba eh,” Basmayor noted. “Medyo hindi zone ang laro ng Manila. Parang man to man defense. Pressure full court, ganyan.”
They went on to lose their second game of the tournament, falling to Catanduanes 46-75. However they didn’t go away without a measure of successs. In the 3×3 tournament, Ormoc made it to the Quarterfinals. And in the All-Star game of their division, two players from the team proudly represented Ormoc City for Team Ravena.
While the games were being played, Coach Basmayor remembers something very vividly: the entire city of Ormoc was waiting on updates from the Linao High School squad. “Every quarter nagtatanong yung mga Ormoc,” the coach says. “Lagi nagte-text, lalo na si coach Cañete, lagi nagfo-follow up kung ano score sa first quarter.
(photo NBTC Facebook Page)
With every shot they took, and every quarter lapsed, residents in Ormoc City waited in eager anticipation. Collectively they worked together to send this group to represent their country. They were dying to know what was happening. “Kasama ko yung nagte-text, Basmayor shared. Hindi kasi live e. Kaya sa text lang nagkakaroon ng contact. So laging ‘ito na score po.’ Sabi nila ‘okay lang yan, basta nabigay niyo ang best niyo.’ sabi ng Commisioner namin, ‘I’m still proud of you. Do your best in the next game of the tournament.
Linao High School’s finest played their hearts out, but it wasn’t enough against more senior and seasoned competition. They were unable to advance in the main tournament. But they got more than what they bargained for. They experienced something greater than any basketball medal could ever represent.
On the last day of the tournament, the Ormoc squad watched the NU Bullpups and Team Lipa-Batangas win the NBTC Divison 1 and Division 2 championships respectively. After the closing ceremonies, the boys finally had one entire afternoon to themselves. No more practice or games to fret or worry about, they could just explore Manila in all it’s traffic-y splendor.
Each player was given an allowance of PHP 600. Coach Basmayor handled the money for the travel, hotel and food, so the 600 was theirs. And instead of blowing it on personal items for themselves, they spent their final afternoon in Manila shopping for gifts and pasalubong for their family. “Nung isang araw, dinala namin sila sa Greenhills, nakahanap kami ng oras,” Coach Basmayor recalls. “First time nila mag-Greenhills. First time sumaay sa MRT. First time kumain ng J-Co donuts at ng pizza. Nakapag-deliver kami kanina.“
“Ngayon, umalis sila papuntang Baclaran. Naghahanap ng bag na malaki para malagyan ng pasalubong.”
They wanted to soak in everything new that they were experiencing, but they wanted to share it with their families back home as well.
One of the Linao High School players also had a coming of age moment in the tournament. The young man’s parents separated at a young age, with his mother traveling to Manila. He lived with his father in Ormoc City, and hadn’t seen his mother in several years. By traveling to Manila for the NBTC tournament, he was able to see his mother after more than years of being away for her. After a few words of love and encouragement, his mom shared her blessings and gave him some cash to take home.
What did he do with it? He bought more gifts for his family back in Ormoc. “Bumili siya ng dalawang box ng biscuits,” Basmayor recalled. “Nakita ko ang happiness na binigyan siya ng pera ng mama, na gusto rin niya i-share sa pamilya niya sa Ormoc.
You can take the kid out of Ormoc City, but you can never take Ormoc City out of the kid. Everything they have, they want to share. That’s how they do it there. That’s how they survive and thrive.
“Binigay niyo ba ang best niyo?”
That question will resound way beyond any basketball game. It’s more than a simple rhetorical question with an obligatory mandatory answer.
“Binigay niyo ba ang best niyo?”
The boys from Linao National High School, Ormoc City gave their best. At the end of the day, they returned home without a win, and without a championship to claim as theirs. But to gauge everything on the basis of wins or losses is to completely miss the point about what these young men were able to achieve.
They represent faith. Three years ago, very few thought that the people affected by Typhoon Yolanda would be able to bounce back. Yet here they are competing, fighting to play a sport that they love dearly. “Hindi ko pa masabi na kumpleto na,” Basmayor said of their recovery. “Pero malapit na namin ma-achieve yung 100%. Sa mga players ko, nakita ko ang kasiyahan sa mga mukha nila. Nakapunta kami dito! Ito ang simbolo na nagsimula kami sa wala ulit.”
They represent hope. A belief that darker days have already come, and that a bright future is ahead. “Yung sports, lalo na sa basketball, nagbibigay ng lakas ng loob sa amin na kapag nabuhay uli ang basketball, simbolo yan ng pag-asa. simbolo ng pagbagnon, na bumabalik na ang sigla,” Basmayor says.
And finally, they represent love. They represent everything that we love about this crazy sport. Why wearing shoes three sizes too small, throwing up inside airplanes and getting exhausted within a basketball court makes it all worth it. “Hindi kami dapat magpatalo sa Yolanda,” Basmayor says defiantly. “Ang sakit na tag-line sa amin ay “Bangon, Ormoc.” Sinasabi sa amin na “Do not let Yolanda be the world for us.”
“Dapat lang bumangon kami sa trahedya.”
They inspired a nation while playing a sport that no super typhoon could ever stop.