While it may seem strange to travel hundreds of miles outside of Manila and share a room with 15 players who just weeks earlier you were trying to destroy, this is the norm for the Palarong Pambansa.
Different schools compete in the city level and then a regional team is built from a selection of participants from all those schools.
Back in the 90’s, I had an opportunity to be part of the Palaro representing the NCR.
Flying out from Manila to the host city Iloilo, I really had no idea what to expect. Being a 17 year-old high school student, I didn’t even know where the host city, Iloilo, was!
I think in the entire flight I was confused between the difference of Ilonggo and Ilocano. Damn, I knew I should’ve paid more attention to my social studies teacher!
After the hour or so flight, we landed in Iloilo and were taken to what would be home for the next week: an elementary school of about 25 or so classrooms. Makeshift showers and toilets were constructed to accommodate the NCR contingent assigned to that school. After seeing the toilet area, I remember saying to myself, “so that’s why it’s called a palikuran!” More on that later.
While the living conditions were satisfactory at best, it was understandable since you have to take into account how difficult it must be to accommodate the number of students from all the regions of the Philippines in one city. Plus, in the end, we were not here on vacation but to compete and win.
Compete we did.
Playing in front of a packed stadium day in and day out, it sure felt like we hit the big time. I mean, people were asking for autographs, taking our pictures and even asking us to be interviewed. These things never happened to us in Manila! We were the darlings of the crowd, or so we thought…
In the championship, we faced the host region, Western Visayas. We also learned a new word — regionalism. After days of being the darling of the crowd, cheers from days back quickly turned to jeers. We bade goodbye to the oohs and ahs, and were now introduced to the loud chorus of boos.
Regionalism! It was fun. The fans were so passionate you could feel the entire stadium shake with every emotion the players elicited from them.
We did eventually win the gold, beating out the hosts. That gold was pretty special since it was my first notable team medal in my career. But it also wasn’t the most important thing that I took home from the games.
For some, winning gold in competitions like the Palaro is the only thing. Believe me… it’s not.
The most beautiful part of competitions like these is that it takes you away from your comfort zone and allows you to try and maybe even adapt to new things. It gives you a chance to open your mind. It allows you to learn or maybe even unlearn certain things at such a young age.
I will say this: the Palarong Pambansa is one of the best learning experiences away from school that any student-athlete could ever have.
My advice to those who get the chance to be part of it, Enjoy! Enjoy the competition, enjoy the place and enjoy the camaraderie.
10 random things I learned in my Palarong Pambansa experience
1. Iloilo is in the south, Ilocos is in the north.
2. Ilonggos are the sweetest, sweetest…sweetest.
3. Makeshift toilets could be as simple as a hole in the ground a few feet deep.
4. Limestone powder can eradicate any smell…instead of water to flush, we were given limestone powder to cover up our business in the makeshift toilet.
5. Never trust what’s in the backyard of your school, yes our makeshift toilets were just a few meters behind one of the classrooms.
6. That batchoy stuff is really good. Except for that brown thing…that’s liver? No, really….thats liver?
7. I hate liver.
8. Work hard in practice and in games so you’re tired enough to sleep through people snoring.
9. It’s possible to shake a concrete stadium if you put enough over zealous people in it.
10. Sports unites.
Jason Webb played collegiate basketball for the UAAP and professional basketball for the Philippine Basketball Association. He works as a sports analyst and commentates PBA basketball games and UFL football matches. Follow him on Twitter: @Jason_Webb_Phil.