Saturday, May 5, 2012

Big Score for UNYP’s Silver Blazers

The story behind this year’s success in the International Sport League

By Danijela Demarin

After winning second place in a passionate battle against the famous ADsport.cz football team in Prague’s International Sport League, the UNYP Blazers became a symbol of school spirit awakening.

In front of a large audience at Sparta Prague Hall, the Blazers managed to reach the spring 2012 finals in the world of university and company team sports in Prague, and bring long-desired fame and pride to their university. On April 18, in an exciting and tempered game that ADsport.cz won by a score of 6-4, the Blazers secured second place in the ISL, a record achievement for the team.
Team members flanked by
Daniel Ribar and Fabio Lembo

Their success did not happen overnight. It is rather a result of a long-term commitment by the players as well as their coach and manager, who kept the team together. UNYP’s population is rather small and therefore the establishment and survival of any kind of sports team is always a question. Slovak Daniel Ribar and Argentinian Fabio Lembo, UNYP alumni and former Blazers goalkeepers, finally managed to overcome that obstacle.

“I think the single biggest achievement is that a group of people formed around the idea of the Blazers,” says Ribar, current director of UNYP Athletics, a department which is still under construction.

Established in the spring of 2005 by student Daniel Conk, the Blazers football team started as the only sports team at UNYP, consisting of a group of enthusiasts playing in quite humble plain shirts. During their first season, the team did not have a coach or mentor to keep them focused and motivated. A year later, faculty member Andrew Steven Harris became the team’s first coach, but his term ended a year later when he left the country.

The current Blazers coach is Fabio Lembo, a UNYP graduate who was a Blazers goalkeeper until he injured his knee and had to end his football career. He was replaced by Daniel Ribar, a former International Economic Relations student who played until graduating in 2010, when he departed for Beirut to earn his master’s degree. The duet brought the team back to life last year after they met in one of the MBA courses and decided to give their best and bring the school spirit back.

Post-game talk with the coach
Although the Blazers generally include both basketball and football, Ribar and Lembo decided to focus on football first, in order to start humble and later attract more people. Developing a plan of gathering potential team members, they organized a tryout where candidates were required to show their skills. After assembling a team, they received financial support from UNYP of over 50,000 CZK for gym rental and fees to play in the ISL.
Playing for the Blazers involves more than athletic skill. Ribar also insists on character and dedication to the team. “When it comes to team membership, each player has to look at being a part of the Blazers as a privilege and serious commitment,” he says. “Also, players need to be reliable, patient and responsible toward themselves, other team members, the coach and the school.” In order to keep standards high, members are given a contract to sign in which they pledge to follow certain rules and beliefs. Each member is obligated to attend practices and workouts, as well as to maintain a certain GPA level in order to avoid suspension.

Before this year’s success, the Blazers made it four times into a game for 3rd place. But they never managed to achieve recognition this high.

“Love for this sport is what keeps us motivated,” says Ribar. “Finding time apart from everyday work and MBA studies is hard, but it never stopped us.”

Both Lembo and Ribar work with the Blazers without any kind of compensation. Until recently, the team had the privilege to have a conditioning coach directly from Slavia Prague, Mladen Cuckovic , who had a contract with school to be slightly compensated for his willingness to help build the team. Due to his promotion to the Italian league, he is no longer with the Blazers.

David Bastidas mixes it up
David Bastidas, a UNYP student from Ecuador, was an audience favorite due to his unique “dance on the football field.” He joined the Blazers during spring 2012 and played in the championship game, where he scored the most points. “Sometimes I felt the lack of ambition and will to win within the team,” Bastidas says. “But me and other players were strongly grateful to people who came to watch and support us, which forced us to give our very best.”

Bastidas is leaving Prague in June, so he unfortunately will not be able to continue with the  Blazers. Still, he says he will remember the team for its very best effort. “There were tough and happy moments during the championship, especially because I cannot stand losing,” he says. “But if I have to summarize my opportunity to play with the team, I would say that it was so much fun!”

With fewer teams and almost no promotional banners in Sparta Hall, this year’s league was visibly affected by the financial crisis. So simply playing in the ISL was quite a success. “I am thankful to UNYP management, that they were not afraid to take a risk with me and committed resources to the project despite the times when others would have drastically cut these costs,” says Ribar.

UNYP supporters cheered until the end
Looking to the future, Ribar is planning on organizing regular tryouts for both Blazers football and basketball. And there is a possibility that a former Czech volleyball champion, Jakub Smutny, will take part in organizing a Blazers volleyball team. Still in theoretical discussion, it is hard to say if volleyball will come true without more enthusiasts such as Ribar and Lembo.

Ribar’s and Lembo’s ultimate aim is to create an Athletics Department that would enrich student life and motivate people to get involved and achieve great success, just like this year’s Blazers football team did.

“With newspapers, a dance team, sport teams and all kinds of other activities, this becomes a real university experience,” Ribar says. “Naturally, the size of our school is a factor and not everything can be done immediately. It is a marathon with UNYP students. But it is totally worth it in the end!”

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