Lucky Charm

A photo collage of a ten-year-old Maia during San Beda's three-peat in 2008: (1) Little Maia holding the trophy, being carried by the most valuable player (MVP) of the Finals, Samuel Ekwe; (2) San Beda coach Frankie Lim (l) and Maia's  Tito  Gery Sabinosa (r). (3) San Beda player Pong Escobal, sporting three fingers to symbolize three consecutive championships. (4) Team members Chico Tirona (l) and forward Chris Taupa (r).

A photo collage of a ten-year-old Maia during San Beda's three-peat in 2008: (1) Little Maia holding the trophy, being carried by the most valuable player (MVP) of the Finals, Samuel Ekwe; (2) San Beda coach Frankie Lim (l) and Maia's Tito Gery Sabinosa (r). (3) San Beda player Pong Escobal, sporting three fingers to symbolize three consecutive championships. (4) Team members Chico Tirona (l) and forward Chris Taupa (r).

The year was 2006, NCAA’s 82nd Season. It was the third and last game of the finals. Thunderous drumbeats and blaring trumpets shook the arena. I cupped my hands over my small ears that were unaccustomed to the noise.

It was the fourth quarter. I felt the tension gripping my chest. The bright scoreboard displayed: 68-67 — in favor of San Beda. It was the Philippine Christian University’s (PCU’s) last possession, down to the game-changing, life-altering seconds. 

Last thirteen seconds! A miracle could happen. All PCU needed was a two-pointer to beat us and win. San Beda needed to drive a strong defense. As the PCU player shot for the net, time literally slowed down. The ball arched in the air… It was short! The ball bounced off the ring as the timer hit zero. 

We just won! The crowd went into a frenzy, happily jumping and mindlessly throwing paraphernalia into the air. Roars of cheering reverberated from one end of the arena to the other. My tito’s face turned as red as the players’ jerseys from all the screaming. He smiled widely, pointed at me, and told my dad, “Lucky charm ‘to! Lucky charm!” 

How was it possible that PCU missed the shot, making us win by one point? It could’ve easily gone the other way. The San Beda team bolted from the bench to center stage and jumped wildly as electrified emotions ran on an all-new high. The feeling was spectacular, adrenaline coursed through my body. It was an overwhelming disbelief that sparked a new hope. This team coached by Koy Banal ended the 28-year drought of San Beda. And that was just the beginning. 

Although more than a decade ago, I vividly recall the beginning of the season, when my dad asked me, “Do you wanna watch the San Beda game with me tomorrow?” I paused. “What’s this game, and why does he have to bring me?”  But I hesitantly agreed, not really sure about what I was getting myself into. 

The next day, my dad brought me to a rundown court in Manila, quiet and almost empty except for the team members, random residents from the surrounding barangay, and my dad’s good friends — diehard basketball fans. I didn’t see anyone else who looked like me. My dad and I grabbed the closest seats on the second floor (where it was free seating). I was quite bored watching a bunch of strangers running back and forth in a court, fighting over a ball. 

As my eyes followed the ball, my dad walked me through the game and its general rules. He taught me to cheer and clap whenever the men in red-and-white jerseys would shoot the ball. It was simple. 

I remember San Beda didn’t win the past games until my dad and I attended — their first win of the season. My dad’s friends joked around about how I brought good luck, “Isama mo na siya sa game!” True enough, whenever I went with my dad, his team won. Among my dad’s friends, I was known as the lucky charm.

Over the season, the team started gaining traction. As the weeks went by I learned San Beda’s cheers and alma mater song. Watching halftime was an absolute blast. I would proudly sing along while little plump boys danced in the center of the court, looking like chubby dancing ants. They didn’t look like me. 

The team players, coaches, my dad and his friends all didn’t look like me. I didn’t see anyone else like me. But what should I have expected?  San Beda was an all-boys school for the longest time. 

Soon enough, San Beda reached the semi-finals. I saw my dad’s usual barkada, but now they brought their wives or daughters along. They looked like me. The bigger the game was, the more I saw people who looked like me, cheering as proudly as a Bedan would.

To this day, despite the fact that I knew the team and coach genuinely worked hard, I couldn’t help but think that I sprinkled the Red Lions with some kind of winning magic that season. Ever since that fateful season of 2006, the Red Lions have either made the finals or have won the championship. 

From there, my love for watching collegiate basketball only grew. If my father didn’t invite me to watch, or if I declined, I don’t think I would’ve been that girl that thrives on the thrill and suspense of basketball. With that, I can definitely say, basketball isn’t just for boys — ‘cause I know the lucky charm is a girl!

The year was 2017, UAAP’s 80th season. It was the third and last game of the finals. It was the game’s fourth quarter. 

The same, familiar tension fell over me, however, a hundred kilometers away from the court. I was on the way back to the dorm from a family gathering, but I refused to let distance stop me from watching the game. Or, well, stop me from being updated on the Internet. I turned to Twitter, unfortunately dependent on unreliable 4G data. 

Searching page. Loading…loading…. The score was 86-83 — in favor of Ateneo. Relax. Refresh. Nothing. From time to time, red headlights glowed, paired with the car abruptly stopping every two seconds. 

Refresh. Nothing! Rapidly tapping my foot, I watched the pesky little throbber laugh at me. Loading…. Four seconds left on the clock! My heart pounded with anxiety. 

Refresh. Loading…. Two free throws for Ateneo, securing a far enough lead. Refresh. Loading…. I repeatedly refreshed the page, silently getting hysterical in the middle of a traffic jam. La Salle seized their final possession and finished with a 3-point buzzer beater…. Refresh. Loading… Come on! The pit of my stomach churned wildly. I frantically refreshed-refreshed-refreshed the page! The game ended, the final score: 88-86… Ateneo! 

“Yes!!! Wooo!” I reveled in the back of the car. A huge wave of relief washed over me. Ateneo won the championship title, finally ending its five-season drought. 

“Ateneo won?” My ninang asked, and I joyfully nodded and verbalized a “yes.”  I could breathe again. Refresh. Loading…. A few minutes later, official pictures were posted: Snow-like confetti blanketed the arena; team members—some had tears in their eyes—pounded their chests; and trophies were raised high. 

Maia and dad Lito Boncan together, watching an Ateneo basketball game.

Maia and dad Lito Boncan together, watching an Ateneo basketball game.

I knew Ateneo fervently fought for this, especially since archrival La Salle was the reigning champion for two seasons. “I guess I still have that lucky charm,” I thought to myself, quite amused.

Some few years had passed since my last San Beda game. And now as an Atenean, I was cheering for a team other than my dad’s San Beda. 

As all other freshmen in their first day of college, eager and bright-eyed, I was ready to face new college experiences that awaited me. Of course, one of those would be watching a UAAP Men’s Basketball game – which I anticipated to be much more exciting as a new enrollee. That was until I heard that the team wasn’t as strong as they were during their five-peat era. 

It was a little disheartening, as I remembered watching them lose to La Salle in 2016. The interesting thing was that I wasn’t enrolled in Ateneo at the time; therefore they didn’t have that certain luck I knew they needed. So, I remained steadfast; because admittedly, I had a good feeling that even after all these years, luck was still on my side.

Forward to 2018, UAAP’s 81st season. It was the second game of the finals, and Ateneo went head-to-head with UP. In the fourth quarter, Ateneo delivered the crucial shots, and widened its lead. 

Unable to watch the riveting game live because of other important finals—my Theology finals—I made it a point to watch the live-stream at the 5th floor of New Rizal Library. It was almost as good as being in the arena—it wasn’t crowded, the air conditioning was just right, and everyone cheered for the same team. The game ended with Ateneo’s possession in the last ten seconds, 99-81. 

Everyone was practically waiting for the three zeros on the timer. Everyone’s hands were raised in the air, cheering. Another win for us. Although truthfully not as adrenaline inducing as 2017’s game, we still won back-to-back championships. 

Writing this, I know that the luck hasn’t quite left me yet. Now I’m only left to think about what will happen next year.

12 years later, December 2018, Maia (extreme right) celebrates with schoolmates after Ateneo wins the championship.

12 years later, December 2018, Maia (extreme right) celebrates with schoolmates after Ateneo wins the championship.


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Maia Boncan is a sophomore at Ateneo de Manila University, majoring in Development Studies. Kindling her interest in collegiate basketball is her dad, an alumnus of both San Beda and Ateneo.  San Beda and Ateneo are the champions in their respective collegiate basketball leagues.