01 February 2017

First Time Being Part of a Football Team


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Having taken a real interest in the game of football, when there was an announcement in the daily bulletin that try-outs were to be held for a grade school varsity team, I was naturally all ears.

The coach-cum-trainer was an Ilonggo Brother from Bacolod named Jaime de Guzman. Everyone called him Brother James.

I was among the first at the field for the try-outs, wearing as I did those ankle-high canvass basketball shoes that we were required to have for PE classes. We didn’t even know at the time that there were such things as football shoes, those with cleats underneath them and were universally known locally as “spikes.” Besides, even when we did later, these were regarded as too expensive, anyway. The ones who could afford them were the kids of wealthy families. My Mom would have died of a heart attack had I asked for those.

Because of the instructions in the game that I had already taken at the air base from the student officers, I took to Brother Jimmy’s training like fish to water. Piece of cake, really! Wink.

We were told that the varsity team was being formed for the Little Olympics. Repeat, Little Olympics. Bummer. And it was going to be held in Bacolod, many, many islands and tiny little islets from Batangas. What had I gotten myself into?

I decided that I wanted to become a varsity player first and really learn the game then make up my mind later about going to the Little Olympics, if at all my parents would even remotely contemplate letting me go after the previous year’s fiasco. It was not as though my Dad could simply drive over if chronic homesickness struck me again.

I do not recall that the football team went to Bacolod at all; but I am certain that if it did, I did not go. We were so few in the team and most of my teammates were really no more than beginners. The ones who weren’t were, like me, also from the air base.

What I do recall is participating in a triangular meet against the grade school teams of Greenhills and DLSC. Of course, we got served for breakfast each time. The games were held at the Taft campus. Yes, Virginia, there were elementary students at the Taft campus up until the time I was already a university freshman there in 1975.

Who would finish last was always a foregone conclusion, but there was a healthy rivalry between the Taft team and Greenhills. We cheered the team from Taft notwithstanding the fact that they passed us to oblivion on the way to winning 11-nil. We quickly became friends with some of their players who were very nice guys and even willing to teach us some of the finer points of the game. In contrast, the boys from Greenhills were these English-speaking half-Caucasians who made no effort to socialize with us, as though it was beneath them.

Just as a side note to this story, the ball that we used in those games was a Size 3. Years later, I would tell some of the boys whom I would subsequently coach that the reason behind my close ball control was because I learned my basics using this tiny coconut of a ball. Anyone who could control a small ball, I would say, would always find a bigger ball so much easier to deal with.

As our elementary days drew to a close, attention naturally swung to the impending graduation and who among us would be taking top honors. I had been caught up for the longest time in something of a two-horse race with my good friend Danny Marella, whose father was a surgeon in the Air Force and whose mother was a good friend of mine.

In fact, every time I ran into her, I expected her to ask how things were between Danny and me. It was probably the same with Danny and my own mother. Things were always fine because I had known Danny since we were snotty little Kindergarten kids back at OLRA. We did not move in exclusive groups but ours was a small and compact class made up of boys who had known each other for many years. I used to visit Danny’s home near the Redemptorist church countless times, especially when we were still at OLRA.

That we were in the so-called race at all was merely incidental; and probably meant more to the people around us that it did to the two of us. I would have been happy to have finished anywhere in the top five with a medal or two; and I certainly wasn’t exerting any extra effort to get there. Now that I come to think about it, I don’t think Danny was, either.

In the end, he took valedictory honors; and I was happy for him. I took salutatory honors and the best fringe benefit to doing so was that my mother felt she was obligated to attend graduation. She had her hair coiffed but did not even buy a new dress, preferring instead to wear this sheeny green evening dress that she had already worn to one of the Air Force’s gala nights.

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