The Player

It was the provincial meet in 1977. Early in the morning, I excitedly left home to watch what I believed would an exciting game.

People started filling up the bleachers when I arrived at the Garcia Sports Complex. But I didn’t join the crowd. I had other plans. I managed to squeeze my skinny body through a breach and I found myself on the field near the basketball court.

I had to get a good view. A classmate of mine was going to play sepak takraw. It was going to be my first time to watch that game. And a classmate was going to show me how, at the expense of his opponents. I had to see him massacre and humiliate his opponents who I was certain came from the public school and didn’t even know the meaning of difficult Latin words like “rosa, rosae”.

The crowd gathered in front of the basketball court. It was going to be used for the sepak takraw event. A major event it must have been, I thought. Right in front of the biiiig crowd.

I anxiously stood on one end of the court, underneath the basketball board, waiting for the game to start. Then they came, confident as ever and rearing to fight. Zosimo, the coach, was at the lead. His fighters, Dennis, Jeff and Pere, followed. They saw me and we exchanged pleasantries. I didn’t mind serving as the self-appointed water boy. I was glad to have mingled with THE players to watch. I would soon learn from these professionals and by next year be a player myself.

The opponents followed and nervously whispered from the sideline. They were not intimidating at all. They were dark-skinned, probably from hours under the sun playing who-knows-what. They didn’t even have socks on. But their shoes had some leather contraption that made the sepak takraw ball bounce and flew faster.

I remembered the week before that when Zosimo entered the classroom where all the H.S. students were gathered. He asked for volunteers for the sepak takraw tournament. Nobody knew what it was. So, no one volunteered.

Then he mentioned a free T-shirt to be given to the players. I saw several hands raised. Zosimo now had a grand time looking at the faces and choosing his player, asking each one if he played takyang. He finally chose Dennis and Jeff. Pere was not with that group but was probably chosen way ahead of time. And so it was … the elimination period for the elite IHMS sepak takraw team.

“Last call for sepak takraw boys. IHMS versus ----(I can’t remember now from what school)“, the unseen announcer finally said. The introduction of the players was brief. My classmate was chosen to play first. Soon, the game started.

The opponent tossed the ball to my classmate. It dropped harmlessly to the ground. The referee gave the opponent the score. He also talked to my classmate saying that he was supposed to kick it back. Ahhh… a minor miscue, I thought. The opponent could lead by a wide margin and it wouldn’t make a difference. My classmate was good.

As the game continued, I sensed that something was wrong. The opponent made a running kick, a head-on dive, a behind the back kick and even a dangerous somersault kick--and the ball always found its mark. My classmate, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to hit a slow ball. It must have been his overconfidence, I thought. But the score kept ticking like the clock of a time bomb. It was unstoppable. It was loop-sided.

The crowd ooohed every time my classmate missed the ball and ahhhed in prayer for a return ball. The opponent finally made a mistake when he did some acrobatic stunt. The crowd ahhhed in thanksgiving … a sigh of relief. A score was conceded by the opponent! Haay salamat! But soon, it was back to the ticking time bomb clock.

Our coach was encouraging, “Pugong lang. Pugong lang.” But there was no stopping the carnage. Soon the crowd had turned sideways to a more exciting and less bloody game of volleyball.

By then, I had started to move away from their bench and tried to merge with the crowd of players and officials on the field. I hurriedly left, fearful of the final outcome. It was indeed a massacre. I went home dejected and in a state of shock. My dreams of joining the elite sepak takraw team of IHMS suddenly vanished. (nox arcamo)