In Sports it’s rare for any team on any level to go without losing for an entire season, and in our family there’s been two such instances when this has happened. On two different teams and in two different Sports the outcome was the same, a championship.
In 1975 George played fullback on defense with the boys Soccer team from St Agnes School, which had their moment of fame when they won every game they played in the CYO League that year. They we not the favorites, but fortune shined upon them. In the early eighties, Ralph played Center with a team in the Filipino Basketball Leagues that also won every game they played one season, they were a collective of savvy players who all accepted their roles in the team concept and ultimately won it all. George didn’t even have a pair of cleats that season; he had to borrow some from one of his teammates. Their practices were held at least three days a week near to Golden Gate Park, and the games were played out at Beach Chalet close to Ocean Beach.
The Filipino League games were held on the weekends at Sacred Heart High School Gym in the city, and the teams hailed from districts and neighborhoods from in and around the immediate San Francisco Bay Area. Ralph was with the “Alemany” team. The assistant coach on George’s Soccer team, Mr. Hiroshima, was the kind of coach that spent extra time with the players, like having pizza together, holding strategy sessions for the upcoming games and helping the guys to bond with each other. Ralph’s team didn’t even have a real coach, the leader was high school friend Jeff who got everyone together and was the liaison between the team and league. The guys really had and understanding of what needed to be done and how to do it.
With The St Agnes Soccer team being from the inner city, George remembers of mostly having the feeling of being the underdog, of having to face the more established schools. He recalls playing all the time and the coaches calling him “The Rock.” The Alemany team was always constantly chattering when they were on defense, keeping each other together and alert. When they were on offense they had the consistent scorers and often used another important basketball necessity; they went to the hot hand. There are two things that stand out in George’s memory; the smell of fresh grass & grass stains will always remind him of Soccer. And yet even though they won it all, they never felt that they got respect from the other teams they played against that season.
The Alemany basketball team seemed to play as if they were always behind; leaving it all out there on the court. Doing what they had to do to win, giving maximum effort not even realizing what the score was after the games ended, just that they had a victory. No one can ever take a championship away from a team who’s won it all, and that’s quite an accomplishment, something tangible they all shared in, making the effort as a team to try to play well and to have the opportunity to compete and have fun doing it.
Often times I’ve noticed with championship teams on any level, that it also is not only the end of the endeavor, but it’s the whole journey in and of itself that makes it special. And at time they’ve won it all, to a man they all can say, “We did it!” George and Ralph both found the right situations, belonging to teams that displayed all the characteristics of being winners. All of the old clichés fit; they played with focused, unselfish teammates who enjoyed playing the game and the camaraderie.
Grit, determination, fortitude and a little bit of luck also, for even though some of those games were close, some were not. And both teams went all the way; undefeated.