Remembering Ding Fulgencio

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 30, 2019 - 12:00am

While browsing the shelves at a Johnston & Murphy store in a New Jersey mall recently, a Filipina sales lady came up to me and offered to assist. She introduced herself as Denise Fulgencio and said her grandfather Edgardo played basketball for the Philippines at the 1948 London Olympics. “You mean, Ding?” I asked. In an instant, her eyes flashed. She never expected someone coming out of nowhere to know about her grandfather.

Honestly, I didn’t know much about Fulgencio. I remembered his name because I did a story on the 1948 Olympics as recounted by the late Ramoncito Campos. Aside from Fulgencio and Campos, the others on the Philippine team were Manolet Araneta, Eddie Decena, Andy de la Cruz, Fely and Gabby Fajardo, Pocholo Martinez, Bay Mumar and Francisco Vestil. FIBA Hall of Famer Chito Calvo was the coach.

London had not fully recovered from the devastation of World War II and the 1948 Olympics were called the Austerity Games as food and milk were rationed. The Philippine delegation was billeted at a Royal Air Force installation in Uxbridge, about a two-hour bus ride to the Harringay Arena where basketball was played. The Philippines finished 12th of 23 with a 4-4 record and its 102-30 decision over Iraq marked the first time any country scored at least 100 points in an Olympic game.

Fulgencio played on the Jose Rizal squad that won the NCAA title in 1948 and the FEU team that won the UAAP crown in 1950. He also saw action for Maurice Enterprise that took the MICAA championship in 1946. When Fulgencio earned his commerce degree in 1952, he retired as a player and turned to coaching.

I reached out to Denise’s father Ferdinand to ask more information about the former Olympian. I learned that Fulgencio and his wife Norma Desiderio had four children – Edna living in New Jersey, Nilda (died in 2011 of ovarian cancer), Edgardo, Jr. (retired Meralco accountant, living in Manila) and Ferdinand, living in New Jersey. They had seven grandchildren.

Ferdinand said unfortunately, his father’s basketball souvenirs are nowhere to be found. “The uniforms, banners, they’re all gone,” he said. “He kept a picture album of his travels but nobody knows where it is. My father always felt a sense of pride representing the Philippines. With the national team, he played both guard and forward.”

Although Fulgencio enjoyed a storied basketball career, he never lost sight of the value of education. He was 35 when he graduated at FEU. Ferdinand said the lesson he shared with his children was “that the gift of education is what will be one of his important contributions to our lives.”

Fulgencio never coached a commercial team, preferring to teach the game to collegians at FEU, Lyceum, Philippine College of Criminology and Polytechnic University of the Philippines. Beyond basketball, he was a business partner in a security services firm in the Philippines. When he was 68, Fulgencio decided to migrate to the US. 

“He actually retired in the US and had minor jobs from time to time,” said Ferdinand. “He was also involved in security in the US. For some reason, none of his children or grandchildren ever played basketball seriously. It was just for recreation. During winter, he would go back to the Philippines then return in the spring for as long as he was able to do so.”

Fulgencio died of emphysema in Union, New Jersey, in 2004. His wife passed away from kidney failure in 2013. Ferdinand said he will always cherish his father’s memory and remember him as “the father who gave very practical advice on real life situations and who looked after his children’s education.” 

Ferdinand said, “Before he passed, he was not able to speak much but his eyes expressed how much he was in awe of what he had accomplished in his lifetime.” His grandchildren were a source of pride for Fulgencio. Jennifer is a biochemist living in Massachusetts. Kristine is a computer science graduate in Holly Springs, North Carolina. Alex Robin is also a computer science graduate working for Hewitt and lives in Seattle. Kathleen is a mass communications graduate employed by Anne Klein and resides in Chicago. Denise is a fashion merchandising graduate who dabbles in culinary blogs and Brian is a psychology graduate with a minor in economics.

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