On Feb. 20, the Ateneo Blue Eaglets captured their 18th championship in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), reclaiming the crown since Kiefer Ravena and company last won it in 2010.
The Blue Eaglets beat the faster, stronger, and arguably more skilled National University Bullpups.
While the game seemed to be an instant classic, the crowd’s behavior was really its highlight. It was refreshing to see the San Juan Arena rocking with cheers and singing all throughout the game, even if the venue wasn’t filled to the rafters.
Heart and passion
Two things stood out: heart and passion. While these feelings soar in college games, they reach overwhelming levels in high school matches. While the juniors do not have a brass band, the kids nevertheless blurt out “Eight Beat Chant,” “Blue Eagle the King” and “Song for Mary” with all their might.
As a member of the college Babble Battalion, I am almost always present at the games. The crowd is cheerful, but only at certain times. The “sixth man”—the cheering fan—is alive and present when needed, but is usually absent during the lulls.
They don’t sing as loud as the high school kids do, and not all college sixth men know the songs by heart.
This does not mean that the Ateneo college crowd is utterly boring, but it only shows that the high school fans show more enthusiasm. Even in the volleyball games, the most spirited are the casual fans, those with no affiliation to the school but who support the Lady Eagles wholeheartedly.
For Mark Alcantara, teacher of UAAP Juniors MVP Mike Nieto, affinity is what drives the spirit of the high school gallery: “Kaya sila ganoon kalakas mag-cheer kasi classmates nila ’yung naglalaro. Sila ’yung magkakaklase na for one to three years.”
He believes that the boys cheer as if their brothers were playing. And as a member of the faculty, Alcantara feels like he’s cheering for his children and supports them all the way.
Alcantara also has an interesting take on the bonds that students form in high school. “Players play their best when they know who are there to support them—not just voices from the crowd, but actual faces,” he pointed out.
This was evident when twins Mike and Matt Nieto ran up to the lower box to hug their dad, or when Finals MVP Jolo Mendoza scaled the barriers to celebrate with his classmates. These are scenes unique to high school games.
High School Blue Babble Band coach Ryan “Yogi” Catabijan thinks it is the Ateneo culture that is ingrained in the minds of the students. He says, “Most of the students come from the grade school, where they were consistently exposed to and reminded of the school’s tradition, songs and cheers. Every morning you’ll hear it on the PA system before flag ceremony.”
He also recalls a famous Ateneo grade school joke: You know you’re late for class when you hear “Blue Eagle the King” and you’re rushing to your classroom.
The smaller community also affects the bond that these students and faculty share. “Unlike in college where you get to be with the players for a few classes, in high school you are with them all the time,” he says.
In college, students come from other schools and traditions. The Ateneo grade school and high school put more effort into cheering because they start molding the students at a young age. Though they also try to ingrain the Ateneo culture in college (through the Freshman Orientation Seminar or OrSem, and the Introduction to Ateneo Culture and Tradition or InTACT class), this is unnecessary in the grade school and high school.
As junior division players graduate to the college ranks, so should the crowd. These young guns should infuse the sixth man with some much-needed adrenaline, passion and enthusiasm.
In the end, there is only one goal of the Ateneo faithful, and that is to cheer the team to victory.
To coach Joe Silva, Babble coaches Yogi Catabijan, Yo Sarmienta and Bernie Santos, the players and of course, the high school and Ateneo community, thank you and congratulations!