LEGENDARY coach August Santamaria loves volleyball so much that shortly after recovering from a massive stroke that sidelined him five years ago, the first thing he did was, well, watch a volleyball game live.
Santamaria was a can’t-miss figure at ringside during a recent game of the Shakey’s V-League Season 10 First Conference at The Arena, where he watched his beloved University of Santo Tomas team battle two-time reigning champion Ateneo.
The champion coach is still undergoing rehabilitation after suffering a stroke in 2008, but that did not stop him from travelling long hours from his hometown in Calabanga, Camarines Sur all the way to San Juan in Manila to be at ringside for a volleyball game.
Santamaria is best remembered as the longtime coach of several dominant UST women’s volleyball teams, which he last led to the UAAP championship in Season 69. Among the prominent players who played under him were Mary Jean Balse and Venus Bernal.
He is also a former coach of the national team - the last in the 1997 Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta - and to this day, remains one of the most revered figures not only at UST but in the entire volleyball community.
After the stroke, however, Santamaria never returned to coaching again.
People close to him said the stress brought about by his busy schedule of juggling his coaching duties at UST and other schools in the provinces contributed to the deterioration of his health.
But since his recovery, his son Karl Santamaria said his 64-year-old father has constantly followed developments in local volleyball even in far away Camarines Sur.
Whenever possible, the elder Santamaria would watch the game right where the action is, just like he did during the V-League opener.
“Kita mo naman na he is in good spirits,” the younger Santamaria told Spin.ph as he cast a glance at his dad. “Gusto nga niya lumuwas para makanood ng live games.”
The former UST mentor was actually at The Arena last December and witnessed how the Tigresses thwarted the La Salle Lady Spikers in five grueling sets to deal the only setback suffered by the reigning champions all season.
“Ang UAAP, kahit sa TV, he watches even the men’s finals. Talagang sinusundan niya. Gusto niyang makita ng live,” said Karl, who is also the head coach of the National University tennis team.
The younger Santamaria said his father is now doing well, although the effects of the stroke have been noticeable as he struggles with his speech and walks with the aid of a cane.
“Medyo getting better siya physically. Mas mabilis na ngayon. Mas energetic siya. ‘Yun lang speech lang niya, pero ‘yung mind niya andun pa rin. Nahihirapan lang siya kung paano sasabihin,” said the son.
The mind of the elder Santamaria remains very sharp that at times, he still makes gestures as if he was the one coaching, according to Karl.
“Kapag nanonood siya, minsan nag-ko-coach pa siya,” said Santamaria.
He is so respected in the volleyball community that former players who played under him such as Balse, Aiza Maizo, and Judy Ann Caballejo took time to greet him at ringside prior to their V-League game.
“Tinuturo pa niya ‘yung mga dati niyang na-train, so masaya talaga siyang nanonood,” said the younger Santamaria.
Karl assured the elder Santamaria will be seen watching the games live more often, so long as his health allows it.
“He is based in Bicol. But if he is up to it, manonood siya,” said he said.