GOING down South and passing cemeteries reminded me of the time when our high school football team spent All Halloween’s eve near a cemetery in South Cotabato. We were in our senior year and we were playing in the meet just before the Provincial Meet and the powers that be thought the Halloween break was the best time to hold it.
Things were done way differently back then. We were billeted in a school that could barely hold our delegation and had no lights. So we spent our first night in tents, gazing at the stars. The defenders had other ideas and sneaked out and in the next night, we the forwards joined them in the lone store in the area that was open and was serving cold ones.
I tell you, security was so relaxed that I don’t think our delegation even had an idea of security. On our way home, we passed by a cemetery and seeing some of the candles left behind, one teammate—who went on to have a career sneaking into places for the military—led a team to commandeer a few of them so we would have something besides stars to illuminate us. We won the title, by the way, not because we were good but because we happened to come from a town that was big in sports. The other teams, it seemed, only learned their football the previous week.
If I remember it right, the accommodation, despite its state, was the best thing in that meet. The field we played on was a farm lot converted into a football pitch. On the first day, the match referee didn’t even know that he was supposed to have a couple of linesmen. Boy, did we have fun when we realized he had no idea about the off-side rule. I spent the whole game standing inside the opponent’s penalty box.
We went on to play in the Provincial Meet, which our town hosted, and faced a hated rival who happened to have the governor’s son with them. I tell you, it was the first and only time I saw a squad of marines—one with a machine gun and all—stand guard by a freaking football team’s bench. We lost in the finals, to the marine-guarded team and for most of us, it was our last match as student-athletes.
Football has grown stronger in our town, thanks to former teammates who now lead the sport and teach the sons and daughters of former classmates. Hopefully, the kids these days don’t go through what we went through.