SAN LEANDRO — In the world of competitive youth sports, it's supposed to be about learning and playing the game. But in reality, everybody knows it's just as much about winning.

Since they were in second grade, the boys of the St. Felicitas School basketball team have been outnumbered and outmatched in the Catholic Youth Organization. But even after losing nearly every season, they kept their heads high and played hard every game.

"They were getting killed and ridiculed, but every time, they showed sportsmanship," said Soliman Marasigan, the team's head coach.

Although season after season of losing to bigger, better and stronger teams often made them want to quit playing, their downtrodden spirits were recently revived when the team — now in seventh grade — finally got a taste of victory: a league championship.

But instead of basking in their recent feat — as most teams probably would do after losing nearly every prior season — the team has continued to stay just as humble as before, much to the surprise of Marasigan and parents.

"What we realized is that every game we played, whether we win or lose, these guys are here," Marasigan said. "They never showed an act of frustration."

Determination and humility are the pillars that have kept the team going over the years, he said, even when circumstances made it difficult to play.

Since St. Felicitas is a small parish with just one team, the basketball teamhas always been placed in the league's American Division, in which the very best players get cherry-picked by schools for their own teams.

Unfortunately, a rule at the parish requires St. Felicitas players to either attend the school or — if enrolled at another school — attend catechism every Sunday, often leaving the team to play David to the other teams' Goliath.

When the team reached fifth grade, it lost every single game, week after week. No matter how hard they practiced and tried, Marasigan said, the players were just too small in size and quantity to compete. Many wanted to quit, he added.

But their saving grace came when the California Youth Organization boys athletic director, Steve Mackin, accepted Marasigan's petition to move the team to the league's other division, where the boys would be better matched.

"It wasn't fair," Mackin said. "It just helped them to be more competitive since we don't get to draw from outside the parish."

The team bounced back after that move, winning more games last season than in the two previous seasons combined, and reaching the championship game this year for the first time since 1986.

The climax of the season came last Sunday when the team beat St. John the Baptist of San Lorenzo 62-50, clinching the title and putting St. Felicitas on the map for the first time in more than 20 years.

Marasigan said winning the game made them feel "like the teams I often see on TV celebrating their biggest victory."

"That feeling is something I'll always cherish," he said. "It's not that it's a first for the school. It's a first for us and nobody deserves it more than these kids. It's just like a dream."

But winning the title was just the beginning. Apparently, while the team was advancing toward the championship, the entire school was rallying behind it.

Some say the team's victory has now brought the tiny school notoriety throughout the area because many didn't even know it existed.

"They're not tall and strong," said Greg Jacques, a St. Felicitas literature and English teacher, who teaches most of the boys on the team. "They're scrappy and strong. And we're proud because they worked hard."

The ultimate victory, however, will come in a few months when the team's championship pennant is hung in the campus gym, not only marking a piece of school history but also symbolizing the boys themselves who stuck together until the end.

Next year, however, will be the team's last year together as the boys enter the eighth grade. But that won't matter, Marasigan said.

After being belittled, intimidated and embarrassed, he said, the pennant will represent the patience and dedication the team kept year after year, and the fact that even though winning isn't everything, it sure feels great when you know it was earned.