THE Baguio Cinderellas earned the sobriquet for their having to scrounge for funds just to reach playing venues for soccer football tournaments they were a cinch to win in close to two decades of glorious campaign.

They never heard again of Roberta Sandejas, the 16-year-old from La Salle High School who gave them the golden goal in overtime in that final against Davao in the 1995 National Ladies Cup in Sta. Cruz, Laguna.

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Until one morning, when a front-page feature item appeared in The Philippine Star. The boxed story was headlined “Roberta’s blind courage.” Somebody had thrown acid on Roberta’s face, disfiguring and rendering her blind. She was undergoing a series of skin-graft surgery, even as she expressed optimism about her eyesight being restored – and, perhaps, hope that she would be able to play football again. 

After the hand-wringing, nail-biting and eye-welling, the girls knocked on doors, collecting empty bottles and old newspapers they converted to cash at the junkshop. At Christmastime, they came up with a little over P20,000, which they asked Peewee Agustin and me to deliver to the girl’s home in Paranaque. 

Roberta’s brother and sister told us their mother had brought her to the United States for a series of tests and surgeries. The siblings phoned their father, who dropped his work and rushed home to meet us.

Somebody from La Salle told us later that Roberta had married and later passed away. A check on the internet somehow confirmed the transition.

“We are deeply saddened to report the death in the early morning of Sunday, November 7, of Roberta Sandejas Shroyer, who volunteered for many months at the National Center before joining the national staff in May of 2004,” said a news item posted on Braille Monitor. “She was born in Manila, Philippines, where in high school and college she was a talented soccer player."

After being badly injured and blinded in a tragic incident in her home, she left Manila and moved to Baltimore, where she graduated from the rehabilitation program at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). There she met her future husband, Justin Shroyer. Before recently requesting to be assigned the job his wife had done. Mr. Shroyer worked in the Materials Center.

“We enjoyed Mrs. Shroyer’s easy laugh and great sense of humor, her excellent cooking at various chapter functions, her enthusiastic participation in our many activities, and her positive outlook in life.”

Some of the girls eventually faded out to pursue careers, - sisters Monique and Julie Jacinto to vegetable trading, goalie Luz Pacubas to medical technology practice, her sister Mian and Virgie Tibaldo Bungay to business, Cheng Mendoza to teaching. Sisters Anna and Vangie Umoc played for a while with the sepak takraw national team. Some fell in love, married but continued playing in tournaments, bringing along their babies to be watched by the second or third-generation drafts and those who drove them to the venues.

To them, football is art, winning secondary. Instead of blasting from a distance, they would shepherd the ball - as in slalom – as close to the net as possible before tipping it in, a practice too agonizing for their handful of fans to watch. More often than not, they would come home with the MVP and Fair Play awards to add to the team title.

They take wins almost as a matter of course, for, almost always, there’s not much to celebrate a victory with. Driving them home from a seven-a-side victory, Randall Dampac of the Benguet Electric Cooperative just couldn’t take it. (The BENECO and the city were always there when the Cinderellas needed help most.) He stopped beside Jollibee in Tarlac, counted what he had, woke the sleeping girls and announced he was treating them to supper.

Younger recruits the likes of Maggie Pakipac and Judith Doctolero were more open in ribbing Peewee, melting his heart soon enough for him to stop beside the first ice cream parlor along the way.

When they could, the girls would ask pioneer striker Grace Carrera to bake cake and then repair to the Busol watershed to celebrate a victory by planting pine seedlings.

At last summer’s end, two teen-agers appeared at city hall with the team’s latest report card. The Cinderellas had just beaten their sister team at Benguet State University in the  Ladies Open of the Pine Cup 2010 hatched by the group of Homer Alinsug, a lawyer and football fanatic like the rest of the world outside his own nation.

Jerelle Tabisula, now 17, whose mother, striker Richelle Ranchez, works in the Middle East, and Jana Cabanilla, 15, Anna’s daughter, wanted to add the team’s latest trophy to the row at the public information division of the mayor’s office.

The lineup the two kids submitted reflected a mixture of all ages and generations, of experience and youth, with Vangie Umoc—Gigan adjudged the best defender and fellow pioneer Virgie Tibaldo-Bungay bagging  the best mid-fielder award.

The card showed Jana had scored a goal to add to two each from her mother and forward Judith Doctolero. The lineup included her sister Luisa Marie and second and third generation recruits Melody Buccahan, Luz Talabis, Carol Banguitan and Rachelle Gasigas, almost enough to maintain a team, shallow it may be, once all the pioneers retire from competition.

Enough manpower to mount and host sometime a tournament in memory and in honor of Roberta.