Reclaiming the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Cheerdance Competition title was a bittersweet moment for National University Pep Squad head coach Ghicka Bernabe.
It marked the triumphant return of her squad to the throne seven months after getting unseated in the return of much-anticipated spectator sports after a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19 pandemic.
But at the same time, it was the trailblazing mentor’s last dance as she bid her team goodbye after more than a decade to write a new chapter in her life.
“I’m actually not announcing or doing any posting these past few months. I don’t know why we’re talking about this, I thought we’ll just talk about the championship. It’s a very personal matter, not because of any problem with NU, but because I’m getting married,” a blushing Bernabe said during the post-event interview following her team’s Season 85 conquest Saturday at the MoA Arena.
“Nakakaloka na mga media na ‘to,” she quipped as reporters gave Bernabe and her Filipino-German fiancé who was inside the press room congratulatory applause.
The soon-to-be-married Bernabe will be leaving a winning legacy to a team that for a long time has been written off before she turned it into the country’s gold standard.
Under her 12-year tutelage, NU won seven titles in nine seasons, including a four-peat from 2013 to 2016.
“The seven championships that we won for the university, I believe, that’s an achievement. It’s a milestone for me as a coach because before I didn’t consider myself working as a coach,” the former Far Eastern University Cheering Squad flyer said.
Bernabe’s out-of-the-box ideas from Disney movie themes, eye-catching costumes, and catchy music choices complement the NU Pep Squad’s well-choreographed dances and stunts, pyramids and towers with risky degrees of difficulty became the signature of her team.
“My stay in NU is memorable, it’s very important and I’m just happy that many are happy with me. I’m really emotional because I’m happy for my team, we got the championship back, but it’s like technically it’s my last day,” Bernabe said after NU returned the trophy to Sampaloc after its short stay with FEU in Morayta since May.
“I didn’t expect a championship before, but now the blessings are overflowing with seven championships. Imagine that.”
“Even I didn’t expect that I’ll be able to steer a team that had been left out, unnoticed and that many thought was not good enough, into becoming a champion.”
Bernabe is leaving a team that is now just another title away from joining the elite club of CDC champions University of the Philippines Pep Squad and University of Santo Tomas Salinggawi Dance Troupe, who won eight crowns each.
Even rival coaches showered the head-turning mentor with high respect for her contribution to the sport that has evolved from being a mere halftime spectacle into a fiercely-contested event.
“She’s the heart and soul of NU,” FEU coach Randell San Gregorio said.
“So, not to take away anything from the other coaches, but Ghicka has a unique touch. If winning seven titles in the last nine seasons is not a high percentage, I don’t know what is?”
“She gave NU something that only she can offer. I’m sure NU will still be great even if you take her out of the equation but they’re greater or can be greatest with Ghicka.”
“I wish her all the best in the next chapter of her life as a married woman.”
NU has yet to formally name Bernade’s replacement but for sure she won’t have a hard time sustaining the momentum.
After all, Bernabe had already laid the foundation of a winning culture one stunt, one cheer and one dance at a time.