The place the Eagles call home

by Luther B. Aquino

THE AREA around Balara was still reeling from days of nonstop rain, and yet the show had to go on as planned. Luckily for the Jesuits, Divine Providence seemed to be on their side: the skies cleared up right before that very morning on December 3, 1949, when thousands upon thousands of people came to witness the christening of a new building.
The much-hyped structure—then called only as the Ateneo Gym—was as modern and state-of-the-art as its location was primitive and backwards. In fact, the building came on the heels of a very unpopular decision by then Father Rector of the Ateneo, William Masterson, to move the campus from Padre Faura to what was literally the middle of nowhere.

Yet the 6,000 in attendance were still thoroughly entertained throughout that eventful day; two exhibition games were held, and the enthusiasm and exuberance that the audience displayed served only to be Moro Lorenzo’s word incarnate. For earlier that morning, when Moro Lorenzo, that true titan among Ateneo sportsmen, addressed an eager crowd, his voice boomed with a heartfelt message: “We have a new gym. But this will not mean anything without the spirit that is found in the bleachers… and the members of the team that will play on the court.”

It was a new era for the Ateneo. In spite of all the doubt and pessimism that initially followed the decision to transfer to a new campus, the Ateneans who were present during that fateful day of December 3 were sure of one thing: truly, they have found a new place to call home.

Some people during those days would have argued the superfluity of the gymnasium, since Ateneo was still trying recover from a very costly war. But Fr. Masterson was no fool who’d go around erecting white elephants; the gym had a practical use as well.
Realizing the urgent need for funds, Fr. Masterson envisioned the gym to also be a source of income for the war-ravaged school. His calculations showed that the gym could earn as much as Php 120,000 annually, already a big sum during those days.
Yet even with such a utilitarian view of the gym, one cannot help but be amazed with how the building managed to outdo itself, how it demonstrated, as it were, its own capacity for magis. The structure ultimately proved that it was truly more than just a mere source of income, more than just a mere playground to shoot hoops in.
Ricky Palou would know. As part of the 1969 NCAA seniors basketball champion team, he experienced firsthand what it was like to play for the school in the storied halls of our home court.

“Of course, winning the championship was really something for us,” the university athletics director says. “But what I really, really recall [of the Blue Eagle Gym] was that every time we played, up on the gymnasium would be lots and lots of Ateneans… It was really the voices of the students and the alumni that you’d hear making all the cheers. It was fun playing for Ateneo.”

Palou says it was a different feeling when you play in the Blue Eagle Gym, compared to Rizal Memorial or Araneta; school spirit burned the brightest at home.
“Well, of course, we were very proud to have a gym like the Blue Eagle Gym,” he says. “None of the other schools had a gym as nice or as big as this… It’s something really special; it has been the venue for a lot of the victories of the sports programs of the Ateneo.”

Still, the victories the Ateneo has achieved within the gym hardly stops at sports. In fact, it goes to even far greater things.

“A lot of heroes have been made in that very building,” says Sandy Arespacochaga, assistant coach of the UAAP men’s basketball team. “The tradition and the legacy of that building, of the people who have been involved there—it’s very important, because we know that sports also plays a big part in shaping and forming our students.”
Arespacochaga says that during his practice sessions with the men’s basketball team today, he tries to pass to the current players the actual feeling of getting to play in such “a prestigious venue,” even if practices aren’t held there anymore.
Arespacochaga, who played for the Blue Eaglets for two years and for the Eagles for five years in the 90s, recalls his days wearing the Ateneo jersey in the spotlight of the gym. Now he shares his belief that the spirit and tradition that has been seen in the games held at the Blue Eagle Gym can still be passed on.

“I think it’s very important that we reflect and learn from the epic games held there, from the kinds of values espoused during the games and practices held there,” he says. “We can pass that on to the future generations.”

Indeed, if there is one thing Moro Lorenzo, Ricky Palou, and Sandy Arespacochaga knows, it’s that the Blue Eagle Gym is not just a mere structure whose value can go only as far as its physical goes. It is, in fact, an edifice enshrining the values Ateneans hold so dear to their hearts—magis, cura personalis, mens sana in corpora sano, and countless others in the same magnanimous tradition.

Even while the gym continues to age, the lessons we can learn from it as a community transcend all time and space. It’s been 60 years already and yet the Blue Eagle Gym is still standing tall and proud.

This one’s bound to outlast us all.