A golden era begging to be remembered
The tall, firmly built man in a gray shirt moved in with the sports exhibit viewers at the Resorts World, paused, and singled out a black-and-white frame on the main wall with his forefinger.
“They slept in tents, they ate in barracks, excelling with the barest of necessities,” explained the tall guest with the mild dignity of a former Olympian.
Ramon Avena, 81, pointed to a blown-up picture of some dozen Filipino athletes who were dining out in the open. He next turned to a group picture of the Philippine national basketball team that won the Far Eastern Games basketball championship in Osaka, Japan, in 1923.
On the second row of the picture, he zeroed in on a shortish, moon-faced figure in white suit and black tie.
“His name is Ycazas,” the tall exhibit visitor said. “A successful trader, he offered to spend for several national teams, joining several expeditions abroad.”
Avena said the man known only as Ycazas died a poor man, and it took his father to help bury the forgotten national sports backer.
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Ramon Avena is the son of Vicente Avena, who played center for the national squad that topped the Far Eastern Games basketball championship in Shanghai 1921, Osaka 1923 and Manila 1925. Avena’s teammates in the 1925 team were Augusto Bautista, Dionisio Calvo, Mariano Fulgencio, Joaquin Inigo, Pedro Robles, Jose Rodriguez, Alfredo del Rosario, Luis Salvador and Mariano Sangle.
In a notation submitted to the Inquirer, Avena said: “The Far Eastern Olympic Games (FEOG) from 1913 to 1934 were the first Olympic Games that the Philippines participated in. Three countries from Asia, namely, the Philippines, China and Japan participated in the FEOG held also in these three countries. The games were held every two years and the events were basketball, volleyball, swimming, tennis and track and field.”
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In an article for the Official Bulletin of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Frederick G. England (Honorable Secretary), said the Philippines should take great credit for the organization and growth of the Far Eastern Games.
“The organization and growth of the Far Eastern Athletic Association are intimately associated with the organization and growth of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation. It was the PAAF which took the initiative in the summer of 1912 to organize international athletic competition in the Far East,” wrote England.
As a result of American influence in the Philippines since 1898, England noted, “athletics in the Islands had gained a firm foothold.”
The Philippines was athletics champion from 1913 to 1925, yielding the crown to Japan only once in 1923.
The Philippines was also dominant in baseball, a power in swimming and volleyball, but it was in basketball where the Filipinos were most feared, topping the field from 1913 to 1925, except once in 1921 when China won the championship.
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Avena said his father used to tell him how he and his teammates would travel at sea for over a week to reach the competition site in China.
“They rode a small, shaky boat and would arrive at the game venues giddy, reeling with seasickness, but they didn’t mind,” Avena narrated. “They had to cook their own food, would have only one set of uniform, a pair of competition shoes.”
These hardy Filipino athletes were just too happy and greatly honored to be able to fight for the Philippines and don the national colors.
Meanwhile, Avena said he was deeply thankful to the “Pagpupugay” tribute to greatness in Philippine sports the past 100 years mounted by Taas Noo, Inc. at Resorts World from June 1 to 15.
To accommodate Avena and countless others, Taas Noo plans to make a school tour of the successful exhibit, while looking for a popular Metro mall which could accommodate it for the general public to appreciate.
A replay on television of the “Pagpupugay” tribute is being lined up.
But going by what has been narrated about that forgotten era in national sports, authorities should come to their senses and put up a permanent detailed memorial of this lost golden age and the honest heroes that made it possible.
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