Blame the Americans for incorporating Physical Education classes into our school curriculum. As a U.S. colony in the first part of the 20th century, American officials revamped our educational system, introducing such concepts as agricultural schooling, “pensionado” scholarships for Filipinos and importation of teachers known as “Thomasites”, who established the public school system with success.
School experience was never the same when the first American teachers, who were actually soldiers, traded their guns for text books. Wanting to infuse new interests previously unknown, they first introduced baseball to their students. Boys and girls alike took to the diamond easily, and soon, baseball—the pioneer of all ball sports and considered as America’s national game in 1872-- became a popular campus activity. Basketball (invented by James Naismith in 1891), track and field, volleyball, Indian clubs were other major sports that caught Filipino students’ fancy.
As if those were not enough, Americans cooked up events to showcase the results of their cultivation of physical culture. Mass calisthenics were always a staple performance during Garden Day celebrations. Inter-school athletic meets were also held yearly, which eventually expanded to include provinces and districts. The annual Manila Carnival (1908-1939) often featured sports competitions, which promoted pride and loyalty to province and country. The Misamis Indoor Baseball Team, for instance, won the championship in the 1915 edition of the Carnival. The team from Olongapo also were winners in previous baseball outings.
American teachers further emphasized the importance of physical education on the ordinary student by requiring a grade of 75% in order for him to be promoted above third grade. Other than calisthenics, favorite P.E. sports included marching drills, group games and folk dancing.
It is exciting to think that because of physical education, many Kapampangans took to sports and became masters of their game. Pampanga’s list of sports heroes is short but respectable: In basketball, we have Hector Calma, Charlie Badion, Ato Agustin, Hall of Famers Gabby and Fely Fajardo, Ed Ocampo, Yeng Guiao and 1936 Berlin Olympian Fortunato Yambao. Of course, Pampanga Dragons were the very first grand champions of the 1998 Metropolitan Basketball Association held right in San Fernando. On the distaff side, the Girls’ Little Leaguers of Pulung Masle, Guagua were Philippine champs in softball from 1994 to 1997 while the Juniors’ Softball Team from the same town figured prominently in the world championships. Even the sports that once was associated with istambays (hangers-on) and students playing hooky—billiards—gained legitimate respectability with the triumphs of Kapampangan Efren “Bata” Reyes and Francis “Django” Bustamante.
On a personal note, after showing indifference to countless school meets like PRISAA and CLRAA (Central Luzon Regional Athletic Association, held since the 1920s) and avoiding all kinds of sports in college, I became a sports jock of sorts when I turned professional. I swam competitively, raced in track and field meets, taught aerobics and lifted weights, sometimes twice in a given day. Belated though my interest in sports, I am sure that the Ghosts of our American P.E. Teachers Past must be very pleased.
(18 January 2003)