Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Last of this Ateneo Blue Knight

The Last of this Blue Knight
by rick olivares

When Miggy Solitaria’s Ateneo de Davao Blue Knights stepped on the court of the Mall of Asia Arena last Wednesday, March 15, for the semi-finals of the SM-NBTC Division Two National High School Championship, a few people thought that his squad would dispose of St. Jude College of Cavite rather easily. Privately, he was worried. The young coach had scouted his opponents. In fact, he was worried how his young team would match up with the pressing and relentless attack of the Cavite team. 

Solitaria’s team looked good early as they repeatedly attacked the interior of St. Jude. They held an eight-point, 26-18, lead early in the second quarter, and looked to dominate. Then Cavite shifted into overdrive. Six minutes later behind a suffocating press, St. Jude led, 40-32. By the fourth period, the lead ballooned up to 19 points. Midway through the period, everyone knew it was over. St. Jude won comfortably, 84-69.

Inside the Blue Knights’ locker room, the players covered their faces in towels as they sobbed unabashedly.

The team’s head coach, Miggy Solitaria sat on a chair and asked his players to gather around. “Remove your towels,” he gently intoned. “I want to see your faces.”

The loss to an even somber mood as it was Solitaria’s last as head coach. The next day, he’ll be wearing a wholly different color from what he’s worn all his life. From blue and white to green and white. He’ll be joining Aldin Ayo’s coaching staff as part of the De La Salle Green Archers.

After spending his elementary and high school years in Ateneo de Davao, Solitaria went to Ateneo de Manila for college. While waiting for a call up to the UAAP Blue Eagles, Miggy played on Team B and in the Fr. Martin’s Cup. He was that long range sniper to duel with the likes of DLSU’s JVee Casio, FEU’s Ric Cawaling, and UST’s corps of long range bombers.

Solitaria could shoot the daylights out of a gym. If you guarded him close, he’d blow past for a lay-up or a drop pass. He was also a tough defender who didn’t mind getting into the faces of opponents. And he literally left everything on the floor.

While playing for the Blue Eagles’ Team B, Miggy’s squad looked good and made all sorts of noises before they ran into a tough Arellano (then called the Flaming Arrows) squad in the semi-finals where they lost (in a spottily-officiated match). A few months later, after academic challenges, it was a depressed Solitaria who returned to his Blue Knights where he played out his college career. He dived into coaching soon after.

His Blue Knights would win here and there; a local championship here and there, but for them, the biggest tourney is the NBTC Championships where only the best of the best go to Manila.

The Blue Knights are an extension of Solitaria – they all sport shaved heads, play relentless attacking basketball, and are willing to get into their opponents’ faces on defense.

They looked like they were going to climb the summit for high school ball but were waylaid by St. Jude.

“It’s our last game together and we lost. I don’t want my last memory to be of crying and sad faces,” said Solitaria after the loss. “What is important to me is my family here with this team and our community. So it is tough and painful and I know what that is all about. But I want to see your faces. Chin up. We gave it our best. But life is like that. There are a lot of challenges. You don’t win all the time.”

When Solitaria returned to Davao, it took a while for him to regain his confidence. His UAAP and perhaps his PBA dream too, was dashed.”

A few weeks ago, he received a call from Ayo. Said the two-time champion coach, “I was impressed with his discipline and talent for organization.”

Ayo met Solitaria when he was still coaching Letran. He was impressed with the way Solitaria organized a tournament and with great attention to detail. He watched him organize too his Davao team. When an opening came up for his La Salle coaching staff, Ayo extended the invitation to join him.

Solitaria was torn. “All my life I have in been in blue. Should I join or should I not?” he asked others for advice.

Ayo replied, “I am not from La Salle as are my coaching staff. A job is a job. An opportunity is an opportunity.”

After seeking the advice of others, Solitaria took the plunge.

The road to the UAAP for Miggy Solitaria might have not been through as a player but as a coach.

In his final huddle with his Blue Knights, “We all have to learn from what we go through. We might find victories here and there, but there will be many hardships and losses. What we need to learn is to get back up and do better.”

They broke their huddle, a sob here and there, with their slogan, “Tomorrow, our efforts will begin anew.”

And not another word was said.

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