When Ghicka Bernabe was offered the coaching job for the NU Cheerdance Pep Squad, she was already a senior member of the FEU Cheerdance Team. FEU was then a serious contender for the prestigious UAAP Cheerdance Competition crown. And only 3 schools had so far tasted the ultimate thrill of winning the crown. National University was not one of them. NU was not even considered a serious competitor. Not even close.
Ghicka thought long and hard before finally accepting the challenge. What made her decide to take it despite NU’s not-so-enviable record in the Cheerdance Competition? Well, call it masochistic; call it a desire to take on a bigger challenge; call it what you will. But despite all the negatives heaped up, despite the pleas for her not to take the offer, Ghicka took one deep breath, and boldly plunged in. If there was one thing going for her, she felt that with the new management, there was a big chance for a new program to be put in place.
Hans Sy had just taken over control of the university, and there were talks of a better support system under the Sy administration. Matter of fact, Ghicka was actually sought out by Hans’ business colleague, Poch Chunsim. Poch was the Managing Director of the Macro Industrial, a company that had extensive business ties with SM. And Poch – given the go-signal – had big dreams for the NU Cheerdance Team as well.
Among Ghicka’s first tasks upon assuming her new post was to bring in a new coaching staff that could help her craft the vision for the team. She needed a young, energetic coaching team in order to create a new mindset among her players. She needed people who could communicate better with the young students, ready to share and try out new ideas, unmindful of past experiences that could tie them to the debacles and limitations of the past. She wanted a new start for her team, one in which winning the UAAP Cheerdance Competition was the ultimate goal.
And she set a goal for herself and her team. Which was: to capture the UAAP crown by the third year of their Cheerdance Program in NU. Others would dismiss her bold prediction, while others scoffed at her seeming arrogance. But she was determined to make things happen.
In 2011, the result of their first year foray found them in 6th spot. Still a long way from the Cheerdance giants such as UP, UST and FEU, but certainly a big improvement from their doormat finishes of the previous years.
Regroup, re-tool, re-study, recruit. Ghicka knew she had to continue working hard to keep the proverbial fires burning. With her equally-energetic manager, Poch, providing the needed support, she then proceeded to look for promising high school students from the Palarong Pambansa. Her aggressive recruiting program had her finding young diamonds-in-the-rough from as far away as Iligan, Zamboanga, Negros, Bicol and the Northern provinces of Luzon.
Last year, they served notice of their serious intent by finishing a competitive 3rd, a first time for the NU cheerdancers to achieve a podium finish! Suddenly, everyone was talking about the amazing march to respectability for this often-ridiculed squad. From 6th, to 3rd, to what? Thus, the magic numbers started floating around: 6-3-1, 6-3-1, from 6th to 3rd to 1st!
And there was no stopping the NU juggernaut now. Like a snowball that was rolling uncontrollably downhill, bowling over the hapless opposition, NU easily copped the National Cheerleading Competition. Sure, UP wasn’t around to provide a stronger opposition. Sure, the National Cheerleading Competition was far different from the UAAP Cheerdance tiff. But clearly, NU was now at the threshold of achieving what it had set itself to achieve barely three years ago.
Finally, on a dark, wet afternoon of September 15, with more than 20,000 screaming UAAP fans braving the rains to cheer for their respective squads, the NU Cheerdancers showed the world that they were ready for the centerstage. With a crew composed mostly of sophomores and freshmen, the Arabian-inspired NU Pep Squad danced and tumbled, jiggled and jangled, pirouetted and ‘pyramided’ a near-perfect performance that mesmerized the crowd. This time, the perennial podium outcasts could no longer be denied. They were taking the trophy to a new home.
It took Ghicka and her crew 3 years of passion and perseverance to mold a champion team. Three long, arduous years to accomplish their mission.
What were the key elements that led to victory? Recruitment, proper training, proper logistics support. Poch and Ghicka devised a holistic approach to develop each individual not just physically and mentally, but spiritually as well. Together, they devised a training regimen that included slack time, to make sure that learning new tricks would be fun and not a laborious task. Poch also made sure that the conditioning and nutrition requirements of the athletes would be well supported. Finally, NU’s gym equipment were also upgraded.
With the UAAP crown in the bag, what is now in store for the NU Cheerdance Team? Poch is now eyeing his sights on a regional competition in Thailand before the end of the year. He believes that his ‘family’ is capable of bigger conquests in much bigger stages. The motivation this time will be to give honor and prestige to the country. There is also the National Cheerdance Competition crown to defend next year. And, based on the fact that most of their players are still freshmen and sophomores, there is talk of a long dynastic reign in the UAAP Cheerdance Competition.
A few years ago, no one would have seen this happening. Not anymore. NU is now a force to reckon with. From National Underachievers, NU now stands for Numero Uno. NU is now on top of the world!!! Here’s the crown-clinching performance of the NU Pep Squad:
For more on NU’s march to respectability, please read: https://cbholganzablog.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/national-university-changing-the-game-for-uaap-cheerdancing-competition-this-weekend/
(Video courtesy of Chapark; Photos courtesy of Poch Chunsim, Raul Quintela, vinvinjack.com, gmanetwork.com, rappler.com, ph.sports.yahoo.com, pinoyexchange.com, philstar.com, fullcourtfresh.com, lifestylehub.net, pinoyexchange.com, elysplanet.com)