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How the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry began |

For Men

How the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry began

POGI FROM A PARALLEL UNIVERSE - RJ Ledesma - The Philippine Star

It is the rivalry that has sold sports apparel, donuts and specialty drinks in convenience stores. It is the rivalry that helps Araneta Center and the SM Arena meet its profit margins. It is the rivalry that even has its own Wikipedia entry.

It is the rivalry that brings out the better in the bitter for those of us whose blood flows blue or green. It’s UAAP season and the sixth men on both sides can’t wait for the Ateneo-La Salle men’s basketball game.

In the first rubber match for the UAAP’s 76th season, it was the Green Archers’ turn at hardcourt glory. But who’s keeping count, really? (It is actually their 78th encounter. That’s 39 apiece for La Salle since 1939, if you count the years of 2003-2005 when La Salle’s championships were forfeited. Like I said, its own Wikipedia entry.)  

Yup, the rivalry runs deep in our alien blood. Which actually raises the question: How did the Ateneo-La Salle basketball rivalry start in the first place? And what has been the body count so far (since it doesn’t appear in the Wikipedia entry)?

When I thought I found the answer to that question, it appeared that this storied, generational (and even inter-generational) rivalry ran thicker than usual in my circulatory system.

It was before the invention of color-coding and before the invention of the cassette tape. Even before the invention of Facebook. The year was 1939, and the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) was in full swing. La Salle and Ateneo were both part of the league, but the rivalry of the day wasn’t Eagle versus Archer; it was Eagle versus another alpha-member of the animal kingdom: the San Beda Red Lions.

But it was in the NCAA’s 16th season that the seeds were planted for a future rivalry that has been the leading cause of heart attacks, hair loss and aneurysms among students, alumni and faculty from both sides: the first-ever championship matchup between the boys in blue and the boys in green. The Blue Eagles had been heavily favored to cop the 16th NCCA pennant and had won every game leading to the finals.

However, like any La Salle–Ateneo game, statistics were about as useful as the yellow lanes along EDSA. After a hard-fought rubber match where claw met arrowpoint, La Salle outscored Ateneo 27 to 23 (yes, you read the score right), with La Salle bagging its first-ever NCAA title.

Maybe it was the electricity from both sides of the court that powered the match or maybe it was all the testosterone bubbling throughout the game that put hair on the chest of those in attendance or maybe it was the intoxicating smell of pomade and gym socks wafting in the gymnasium, but the Finals match prompted the alumni of both schools to hold yearly La Salle-Ateneo “friendlies” (hee-hee, “friendlies” they call it).  I suspect that the friendlies were also a venue for them to grow more chest hair as well. So on Oct. 22, 1939, the first La Salle-Ateneo friendship game was held in Rizal Tennis Stadium with President Manuel Quezon tossing the first ball. 

“In the NCAA games from the very start, Ateneo and La Salle had a very heavy following because of the color that predominates whenever these two colleges meet each other,” read the article “Tale of Two Colleges” in RAH! — the 1940 commemorative program of the Ateneo-La Salle friendship games. “It is a matter of fact that these two colleges are mainly responsible for the introduction and development of organized cheering in the games. This ‘palabas’ is something which provides that intangible color in every game and adds to the thrill of watching a contest on the basketball court.”

The president of Ateneo, Fr. Carroll I. Fasy, SJ, added, “This yearly gesture of friendship and goodwill between our two colleges is a fine thing that deserves to become a tradition. La Salle and Ateneo have much in common. They have the education of the Filipino youth, the training of character by religion, the preservation of the glorious heritage of Faith in the Philippines, as the common aims. In the classroom and afterward in the world, La Sallites and Ateneans are imbued with and are guided by the same ideals.”

But of course, these friendship games were a great venue for both sides to slap on their tribal colors, do their war dances, and curse those on the opposite side of the hardcourt but in a friendly manner. The winner of the dual meet went home with the Quezon trophy while the loser, in the spirit of friendship, also went home with another trophy, the “Kalabasa.” Now, that’s a trophy you would want to proudly display inside your broom closet.

And since the universe demands a cosmic balance, the Blue Eagles won the first Ateneo-La Salle friendly after a hard fight. (But what Ateneo-La Salle game isn’t a hard fight?)

But just why does blood run thicker for me when we it comes to this rivalry? Apparently, the idea to stage a dual meet percolated in the heads of Carlos Ledesma from La Salle and by Benjamin Arcenas of Ateneo. Carlos Ledesma was the first cousin of my lolo, Ricardo Ledesma. Meanwhile, my lolo’s sister, Corazon, was married to Benjamin Arcenas (Incidentally, Carlos Ledesma was the father of Cong. Jules Ledesma). In effect, my great granduncles are to thank for testing the efficacy of my hair-loss prevention every time there is an Ateneo-La Salle game (there is a reason my dad’s is now a reflectorized surface). But, more importantly, both Ateneans and La Sallians should thank them for helping build school pride. And Adidas, Krispy Kreme, 7-Eleven, Araneta Center, Studio 23 should thank them for helping build their profit/loss statements. 

However, was basketball the end all and be all of the rivalry between both schools? Or was there an even bigger rivalry between both institutions that led to that incendiary spark that has singed feathers and melted quivers? Could the spark have been the choice of school colors? Since the Jesuits were the first to arrive in Philippine shores, their school color was blue. However, La Salle’s school colors in the motherhouse were blue and gold. Did La Salle have to forcibly change its school colors to green because of the Jesuits? (The truth behind this is far less controversial: the green colors, which were first worn by the members of the varsity squad, betrayed the Irish heritage of the sports director, Brother Cerba John.) Or could the spark have been football, since it was a fanatically huge sport back in the pre-Azkal years of the 1930s, so much so that it was made a priority sport by the country’s physical director at that time, Dr. Regino Ylanan? Or could the spark have been with regard to which school had more coños in their roster? 

Apparently, the rivalry was deeper than all that.

It was a rivalry that got downright Latin. And we aren’t talking about Latin dancing.

It was so down and dirty that it had a whole article devoted to it in the Catholic Historical Review of 1990 titled “The Latin Question: A Conflict in Catholic Higher Education between Jesuits and Christian Brothers in Late Nineteenth-Century America.” (Can you hear the explosions in the background?) The article was written by Bro. Ronald Eugene Isetti, FSC, a history professor at St. Mary’s College, Moraga, California. But for purposes of cosmic balance, Fr. Wilfred P. Schoenberg, SJ who had written such books as A History of the Catholic Church in the Pacific Northwest and Paths to the Northwest: A Jesuit History, suggested changes and corrections to the final text of the article.

The article was a surprisingly intriguing read about a controversy that erupted in the late 19th century America between the Jesuits and the Christian Brothers — the two largest teaching congregations of the Catholic Church — as they stepped on each other’s educational toes in the vast Catholic educational system that the American bishops were crafting in the wake of their Civil War. There was enough intrigue, finger-pointing and ecclesiastical chess-playing over the controversy to fill at least seven seasons worth of a teleserye plus a movie spin-off.

Apparently in the “Old World,” the Jesuits and Christian Brothers had a long-standing albeit unspoken understanding between them when it came to their respective educational turfs. It was a “stick to what you know, we stick to what we know, and we won’t ruffle each other’s vestments” sort of an arrangement. The Jesuits would handle the classical/liberal arts education, while the Christian Brothers would handle the commercial and technical education.

However, the Brothers started treading into Jesuit territory when they introduced classical education (i.e., teaching Latin) at the secondary and collegiate levels of schools. It began when the Archbishop of Missouri Peter Richard Kenrick requested the Christian Brothers School in his territory to teach Latin to prepare parochial school graduates for the major seminary. Although the Bishop had been sending his candidates to the local Jesuit college for their secondary studies in preparation for the seminary, he was less than thrilled with the results. Instead of joining the Archdiocesan seminary, the graduates either entered the Jesuit novitiate (God forbid, as far as the Archbishop was concerned) or gave up on vocations altogether. Apparently, the good archbishop had no qualms over the Brothers educating his wards to prepare them for the priesthood since the Brothers had sworn off priesthood altogether to focus primarily on education (apparently, the archbishop wasn’t concerned as well that the Brothers might recruit his wards into becoming Brothers as well).

But teaching Latin posed a dilemma for the Christian Brothers of the United States. As a rule, the Brothers were banned from teaching all classical studies in their schools to close off any followers from a path leading towards the priestly vocation and ensure that the Brothers remained steadfast in their special mission in the Church of teaching basic subjects and religion to poor boys in their native tongue.  Moreover, in Europe, classical studies had long been identified with the upper classes. 

However, the situation in the “New World” was markedly different. Young men from immigrant families could improve their social standing in American society by climbing up the rungs of higher education, which meant they had to study Latin and Greek if they wanted to pursue a bachelor of arts degree (a secondary reason for the Brothers that made teaching Latin even more compelling).

So the Brother Principal of the school had to obtain permission from their “big boss” — the Superior General of the Christian Brothers — to teach Latin, a move that was met with much trepidation even among the higher officials of the Christian Brothers in Europe themselves.

This move put them on a collision course with the Jesuits, who wanted the Brothers to stick to elementary, commercial and technical schools, an educational line that had been clearly drawn in the Old World. In 1858, the Society of Jesus lodged a formal complaint with Holy See that the Christian Brothers in the United States were violating their charter within the Church by moving into educational territory where they didn’t belong.  As a result of their complaint, the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide (which exercised jurisdiction over the Catholic Church in the United States at the time) sent the leader of their American hierarchy to St. Louis to investigate the charges leveled by the Jesuits.   

Finally in 1894, during a General Chapter of the Christian Brothers Institute in France, the teaching of Latin in the United States was once again raised by the European-based Brothers who felt that it undermined the mission of the Institute. Thus, after decades of accommodations and compromises for the American Brothers, the General Chapter voted to maintain the articles of the Rule banning the study and teaching Latin “in their full force and vigor in all our establishments.”

Whoa. This decision dealt a devastating blow to the extensive United States school system that had been set up by the Brothers to prepare young men to enter the priesthood and help improve the standing of young immigrants in American society but it also derailed the plans of the American archbishops who wanted to build Catholic higher education in the United States. Despite representations made by American archbishops to amend this decision, the ban was upheld by the Superior General in 1895. (In a memorandum sent by Bro. Joseph Josserand, the Superior General of that time, he wrote “Our Brothers, in limiting themselves to technical teaching, will avoid arousing on the part of congregations whose end is the teaching of the classics rivalries which are always regrettable and which can only be prejudicial to the charity and union so necessary between religious institutes” which indicated his desire not to butt heads with the “Illustrious Society of Jesus.”)

However, It proved nearly impossible to convince the American Brothers that the Jesuits was not involved in this decision to uphold the ban, especially since an influential Jesuit Cardinal, Camillo Mazzella, had sat on the special panel (although based on the article, most charges of Jesuit interference were often based on circumstantial evidence). Despite the ban on teaching the classics, the American Brothers lobbied for its re-instatement almost to the point of expulsion. There even came a point when the Brothers taught Latin surreptitiously in an apartment owned by the school’s baseball coach across the campus (and when this was discovered by the Jesuits, the Jesuits promptly made them sumbong to Church authorities who had the storefront Latin school shut down.)

So, could the current basketball rivalry between Ateneo and La Salle actually be a remnant of the rivalry between the Jesuits and Christian Brothers in the United States? Well, some of the first set of Christian Brothers who set foot in the Philippines came from the US. But who petitioned the Brothers to come over to the Islands in the first place? Archbishop Jeremiah Hames Harty, the Archbishop of Manila from 1903 to 1916. Archbishop Harty was a product of the Christian Brothers School in St. Louis, Missouri, where the Brothers first taught Latin in the United States.  

The article ends by saying, “It is pleasant to note that today the Jesuit and Christian Brother high schools and colleges compete with each other without apparent acrimony or bitterness, except perhaps on the basketball court.” Hmmm. But perhaps, if we listen closely enough to a Jesuit or a Christian Brother in the heat of the next Ateneo-La Salle match, you might hear them cursing in Latin under their breaths. But in as friendly a manner as possible. Let’s find out in the second game this season.

Animo La Salle! One Big Fight, Ateneo!

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For comments, suggestions or incendiaries, please e-mail Follow @rjled on Twitter.

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