For Ateneo fans across generations, the traditional bonfire means much more

Nov 25, 2019

It was down to the last few minutes before Ateneo sealed their 16-0 sweep and emerged as champions for the 82nd season of the UAAP. By the time Blue Eagle big man Ange Kouame lit up the scoreboard with a massive dunk at 2:22 remaining, it was already clear: a massive bonfire celebration would happen that Saturday.

For many incoming freshmen, this would be their first. A lucky few even got to take pictures with some of members of the men’s basketball team. "They were pretty cool and they played really well. I’m now a fan," said Sheena Capinpin, who's currently taking BS ComTech, to SPIN Life. She couldn’t say that she was interested in basketball before, but her interest in the sport — and the league — were ignited during UAAP’s season 82. She was now looking forward to more seasons to come.

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Look up the word “dynasty”, the words “power” and “succession” appear — a fitting name for this year’s bonfire, which saw a three-peat championship, backed up by an undefeated season, cement the Mike Nieto-led squad’s spot in UAAP history. Right in time for the university’s 160th year, too.

At the Ateneo grade school parking lot, where the bonfire was being held, many alumni were present, as well as Atenean “families”, whose Blue Eagle bonds were passed from generation to generation. The team itself has at least two of those: Matt and Mike Nieto, whose father Jet also led his own squad to victories of their own back in 1987 and 1988.

While the Halagueñas may not have a basketball player (yet) in their family tree, they consider themselves as true-blue Ateneans. The men were homegrowns, while the women went to Loyola schools for college. Alana, one of the clan’s youngest members, says that as she was growing up, their family has never missed a bonfire and they used it as an opportunity to reunite. School spirit has constantly brought them together.

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"The bonfires signify camaraderie," said Butch Halagueña, among the clan patriarchs. "Even people from earlier batches go to support the current batch of athletes."

Alana added that she sees how much her whole family is grateful for everything that the Jesuit-run institution has given to them.

At last Saturday's bonfire, the community came together with the graduating Blue Eagles — Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, the Nieto twins, and Adrian Wong — to sing “A Song For Mary”.

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In this traditional hymn of the institution, sung after every UAAP basketball game, there’s a part that goes, “Eyes are dry at the last goodbye / This is the Ateneo way.” But with the Blue Eagle torch passed from team to team, from generation to generation, to light bonfires across the years, perhaps there never really is a final goodbye.

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