20 November 2011

How ROTC Got Me Into the Football Team

I was born into and raised in a military family. Dad was an officer in the Air Force; and yes, if he had his way, I or either of my two brothers would have ended up in the military as well.

In all honesty, although he might have dropped a word or two, he was probably less insistent with me than my older brother. He was always aware that I had an aversion to Math; and this he knew from experience was what I would have encountered a lot of had I shown any inclination.

Which I never did, I hasten to clarify. Probably too strong-willed, anyway, to have readily accepted upperclassmen barking orders into my face which I knew that I would not be able to force myself to obey unless there was logic to them.

In other words, I was born happily civilian. Truth is, I did not even ambition to be an officer in those sundalong kanin days of the Citizens’ Army Training.

That was why, when I went to college, what immediately became my pet peeve was none other than ROTC. I tried one semester of it when I was still a freshman. But...

I am just the sort who always needs to understand what I am doing. Blindly following, that has never worked for me.

And I never could make myself understand that standing at attention under the afternoon sun and marching to and fro every now and again for four frigging hours was ever going to be essential to my college education.

On particularly sunny days, when we were dismissed from our platoons at five, only the left side of my face was burnt by the brutal afternoon sun. Who wanted to look like a freak for Monday’s classes?

Because ROTC I alone was more than what I could bear, by the second semester, although I had to enroll ROTC II, I had absolutely no intention of attending. In those days, military slackers like me heard it whispered by fellow slackers that somebody knew somebody somewhere who could fix ROTC grades for an under-the-table fee.

That was Option 2, which I could not consider as Option 1 because there was something just not right about asking one’s military officer of a father to cough up money so that one could slack from military training.

Option 1, therefore, had to be trying out for the varsity football team. Seems straightforward enough. Except that I used to play football in high school mostly for fun.

I don’t believe that I played more than 15 games in all three years of high school varsity football. Most of these were no more than kick-and-rush encounters against fellow provincial teams. But there was also the annual hiding from a visiting team from Greenhills.

I, therefore, had no pretentions about any plans that I might have been harbouring to try out for the football team. The farm team – or the reserve team – was all that I was aspiring for; and what I really wanted was to be exempted from ROTC.

It actually took me more than a year to summon the nerve to step on the football field to try my luck. As a college freshman and sophomore, during breaks from classes I would sit on one of the countless benches around the football field and watch the midday football team scrimmages.

There is something about watching – as opposed to actually participating – that makes those on the field appear far better than they really are. What I’m saying is that the more I watched, the more convinced I was that I just wasn’t on the same level.

Hence, every time that I thought I had finally made my mind up to go to the field to try out, I would end up procrastinating just like I did the previous time. This went on for more than a year.

Early in my junior year, somebody I knew who was in the farm team mentioned offhandedly that it was a good time to try because many of the players from the previous team had just graduated. As a junior, I was actually already taking major subjects and didn’t have a lot of time left to do something about my ROTC problem.

So, I forced myself to set aside my inferiority complex and went to the football field one training day. Once on it, the very same players that I used to be so intimidated about while watching them didn’t seem all that intimidating, after all.

In retrospect, it probably helped that I did not really have a lot in the way of ambitions because this allowed me to play more freely. Since all I wanted was an ROTC exemption, I did not care if I made it to the team or not.

Weeks later, it was time for the coach, Baltazar Dimasuay or Dima, as everyone called him, to announce the NCAA team. We were called to huddle; and he started reading out the names from a sheet of paper.

I thought he had finished; and of course, as I had expected, he did not call my name. But almost as a though an afterthought, he looked in my direction and said, “Torrefranca...”

It took me a moment or two to realize that he was talking to me. When I did, I politely said, “Torrecampo, Dima...”

“Yes, yes,” he said, “Torrefranca...” What was the point? I let it pass.

“I want you to train very hard because I want you to be in my team.” Because Dima’s English never was the easiest to understand, I only understood until the word “hard.” I thought that he was asking me to train hard because he was naming me among the alternates just in case one of those named got injured. This was still much more than I had hoped for. But those around me started saying, “Pare, swerte mo!”

“Bakit?” I had to ask. Then, they all told me, “Kasama ka!”

Incredulous, I rushed after Dima to verify. For my efforts, I got a reply that still makes me laugh each time I think about it, “Yes! You bah-stahrd! You’re in the team!”

Incredibly, in the dressing room, people were congratulating me and telling me how lucky I was. One guy who did not make the cut – he was one of the loudest officers in my freshman ROTC days but who turned out not to be so bad a person on the football field, after all – said something to me that I will never forget.

“Pare,” he told me, close to tears, “swerte mo... Ako apat na taon nang nagta-try out hindî nakuha, ga-graduate na ako. Ikaw unang try out mo kuha ka na agad.”

I honestly didn’t know what to say. All I knew was that, whatever my reasons were, I was in the team. And since I was, I thought I would just make the most of it...

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