03 February 2017

The Little Olympics and Graduation


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I tried to use my trusty Adidas La Plata as much as I could, but by my senior year, it was just too worn out to continue playing with. Because I knew better than to ask my Mom for a replacement – she had sworn that she would never buy a replacement – I played varsity football during my senior year using sneakers.

I was tall and skinny but also strong and athletic. A pair of cleated shoes would have been nice, but despite playing with sneakers I seldom if at all slipped. God blessed me with a great sense of balance for which I would eternally be grateful. He also blessed me with speed. Once, a classmate timed me while I did the hundred meter sprint on my own. I clocked eleven seconds flat.

Because I had been playing football regularly for several years already and had fallen hopelessly in love with the game, I had also become very skillful with the ball. How good I was, however, I had no real way of knowing because we played so few official matches and I had no chance to really test myself against better opposition.

My varsity coach in my senior year was Raul Pondevida, an alumnus of the school who would go on and play for the Air Force and some commercial clubs as well as the Philippine national team. He also grew up inside the air base, so I somewhat already knew him when he became my coach.

In a football sense, however, I rather remember my senior year more for my being appointed coach of the school’s elementary team which was due to participate in the scheduled Little Olympics at the De La Salle College campus. Brother James de Guzman was still around; but in fact, it was he who asked me to take over the coaching chores of the elementary team. Thus, I got to participate in the Little Olympics, after all; albeit not as an elementary kid but rather as coach.

When the tournament began in December, to my surprise I was the only one among all the coaches of all participating schools who was still a high school student. All my players were farmed out to “foster parents” as was the practice whenever the Olympics was held; but I was billeted at the William Hall at the rear end of the university with the other coaches.

At the football field, my team was naturally fodder for the more experienced teams of the other La Salle Schools. I myself was still learning the game and probably had no business coaching yet. In retrospect, however, that experience was also the start of the journey that would eventually be a three-decade career as coach and probably gave me more insights than I cared to admit about the management of football teams.

I actually remember less about the tournament itself and more about the friendship night before we travelled back to Lipa. The conclusion to the affair was community singing of Christmas carols. All the other schools were assigned English Christmas songs. The emcee announced that “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” was being assigned to Lipa and sounded like she was doing so because we were Lipa.

How condescending was that? That was what La Salle ng Lipa did to us. It unfairly branded us as the poor cousins who did not speak English very well. I was so annoyed! And of course the kids from Lipa gleefully sang the assigned song, blissfully unaware that there was something almost derogatory about why it was assigned to us in the first place.


Finally, in late March, graduation from high school. It was a lot more subdued for me than elementary graduation was, since I failed to even reach the top ten of the graduating class. Did I have any regrets? A little… But only just. In retrospect, it wasn’t really a matter of my allowing my aversion for numbers to overwhelm me in high school and more a matter of my never really wanting to try. As I would discover late in my college years, if I really wanted to, I could do well in Math.

That was basically the problem I had throughout my high school years. The curriculum was heavily biased in favor of numbers, and they bored me to pieces. I gravitated towards subjects that favored the languages, and basically because these were effortless to me. Because I was a voracious reader, I was learning many other things that, while these did not help me to attain top honors in my class, nonetheless gave me so much more satisfaction.

Besides, there was the football. I would not have traded a bagful of academic medals for the sheer joy that came my way every afternoon that I was at the football field.

In my junior year, Mr. Salazar talked to me privately and criticized me for playing too much football. He did so likely out of a sense of duty. He knew that I was the salutatorian of my elementary class and also that I was not doing half as well as might have been expected in high school. How was I to explain to him? You have got to be a player to understand.

And because unlike in my elementary graduation, there would be no medals to hang around my neck, my Mom didn’t even bother to attend my high school graduation. I didn’t really begrudge her this because it was well known to the entire family that she had this quirky dislike for going to our schools.

Funnily enough, I remember very little about graduation day itself other than that my Dad accompanied me and we left school as soon as it was over. I don’t even recall that we had any real celebration afterwards. What I do recall is that graduation formally ended my association with La Salle in Lipa, or at least up to that point.

Now it was time for the anxiety to kick in as I wondered if the admission letter from the De La Salle College Admissions Office would arrive at all.

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