Mang Rod could see it coming.
Arellano Chiefs' Ariel Atienza was probing UP Fighting Maroon Henry Asilum as he looked for a receiver just past the halfcourt line. The graduating point guard picked up his dribble. Fatal mistake. Atienza was a ball hawking and thieving type.
Mang’s Rod’s eyes bulged as soon as Atienza poked the ball free and before Asilum could react, the Chief, who is built like a Philippine marine, was high tailing it down the opposite direction.
Basket. Bucket. The layup dampened UP’s moment as they had cut down what was a double-digit lead down to six. Atienza’s bucket ignited a huge run for Arellano that put them firmly in control of the match that they eventually won by 15 points.
Rodolfo Yanuario didn’t shake his head. He bit his lip and urged his team to fight on.
If you ask folks associated with the Fighting Maroons’ basketball team, they know the rotund and amiable utility man by his nickname of “Mang Rod” more than his full name or even surname. I asked a couple of Maroons if they knew his real first name or his surname. One bravely ventured “Roderick” while the others weren’t sure what his last name is.
They can be forgiven, I think, because that doesn’t make their affection for Mang Rod any less. All they know is — as legend would say — he’s as old as the 108-year university. Mang Rod laughs at the assertion.
“It would be nice to have seen university’s beginnings,” he lets out a hearty laugh. “That would be interesting. Sad to disappoint them but I have served UP since 1971. In 1972, I began my long association with the Fighting Maroons as their utility man.”
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Yanuario used to dutifully work the UP Gym mopping the floors and making sure the facility was spic and span. He felt proud that the team worked out there and the facilities — at least back then — first-rate.
One day, then head coach Fely Fajardo spied him cleaning the basketball court. “He asked me if I played the game,” recounts Mang Rod. “He also asked if I knew how to officiate. I understood and played the game but not refereeing. He taught me how to do it in two weeks and from there on, he gave me a job as the team’s utility man (for extra pay).
Mang Rod has seen the university change from the turbulent First Quarter Storm to the even more frightening days that preceded the People Power Revolution. He’s been there for the good years of UP basketball and the very very lean years when they weren’t winning anything.
Thus, he too claims to have seen every single Fighting Maroons basketball game since he joined the team as a utility man/referee. Even when he was sick, he never abandoned his post. “That’s how much I love this team,” he proclaims.
He’s been through a veritable list of who’s who in coaching from Fajardo to Jun Bernardino, Dave Perez, Sigfred Guerrero, Joe Lipa, Mon Bernabe, Rey Madrid, Nic Jorge, Orly Bauzon, Eric Altamirano, Ryan Gregorio, Lito Vergara, Aboy Castro, Boyet Fernandez, Ricky Dandan, Rensy Bajar, and Bo Perasol.
As a tidbit, former FEU star and coaching great Arturo Valenzona coached the squad for one week before deciding the assignment was not fit for him.
Then like some sage sharing his wisdom, he begins to recount those days of how Benjie Paras used to be such a prankster, how Ronnie Magsanoc had to sit out games because of studies, the 1986 championship, the tantalizing years when they had Paolo Mendoza, Bryan Gahol and company, of players lost to academics and to the national team that stymied the Maroons’ efforts to win a crown, of big games and devastating losses.
“When Eric (Altamirano) and Ronnie (Magsanoc) were on the floor, we were almost unbeatable. And when Benjie came over… that was one of the greatest things to happen to us as a team and as a school."
“Bo (Perasol)?” shares Mang Rod. “He was the very studious type. He didn’t have the most talent but he gave 120% of himself all the time he was on the court."
Of everything that he has seen and been through, it is no surprise that he calls Joe Lipa’s three tours of duty with the team as those that he treasures the most. “Joe… is a gentleman and a genius of the first order,” Mang Rod says.
During Lipa’s first tour, he even would give his salary to Mang Rod to make ends meet. “I remember when Coach Joe handed me his pay,” recalls Yanuario with a tear in his eye. “I refused him, of course. But he put the money in my hand and didn’t want me returning it. All he wanted was for me to serve the team and the school.”
It has been 45 years and counting for Rodolfo Yanuario. Of his five kids, four studied at UP and graduated. He is retired from from the school and yet, he still serves the team.
However, this season is possibly his last on duty. He clearly cannot do what he used to do -- officiating scrimmages for the team, massaging players and coaches, carrying the team’s gear, and any thing else the coaches ask him to do. At 70 years of age, he now needs a cane to help him walk. He’s just there. Offering words of advice and still trying to prep the gym for the team.
This summer, the team has trained mostly outside the UP Gym as Perasol wants no one else outside the coaching staff and management present. They know that Mang Rod still prepares the gym and feels a little hurt that they aren’t there. “The coaches assured me that when the school year starts, they’ll be back,” he says.
The Fighting Maroons have gotten better over the past few years. With better team support, better players, things have been looking up for State U.
“The years where we didn’t win anything,” Mang Rod says, “they were tough to swallow. But my belief in them never wavered. It will turn around. And I think we have a very good coach.”
“In UP,” shares Ryan Gregorio, “after the Oblation, one other icon, especially those who are involved in the College of Human Kinetics is Mang Rod. He’s been there through thick and thin."
Although the Fighting Maroons succumbed to the loaded Arellano Chiefs, the team wasn’t too down. They knew that their foes were loaded with veterans while the Fighting Maroons were mostly a young squad.
“We’re working on some things, small things, getting better,” Perasol notes after the match. “The change won’t happen overnight. I am very familiar with the process.”
The players slap hands. “Next game. Next game,” cries third year guard Diego Dario.
“Next game,” repeats Mang Rod. He’ll be there. And maybe too for another season.
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