The legend lives on
In yesterday’s column, we reintroduced three-time Olympic basketball star Ramoncito Campos who passed away peacefully in his sleep at home last Monday. He was 92. Tito Ramoncito, as I called him, was cremated last Tuesday and his remains will be at the De La Salle chapel on Taft Avenue from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. tomorrow. A Requiem Mass will be celebrated at 6 p.m. after which friends and family will deliver their farewell tributes. The La Salle Alumni Association will host a dinner following the eulogies.
One of Campos’ closest friends was Tony Genato whom he fondly nicknamed Bulilit. Campos and Genato were teammates on the Philippine team that played at the 1952 and 1956 Olympics. Genato’s older brother Dr. Jose was Campos’ teammate on the unbeaten UST squad that won the UAAP senior basketball crown in 1946.
“Ramoncito and I used to talk to each other a lot on the phone,” said Genato who turns 88 on June 9. “But we always ended up crying. We reminisced about old times. We remembered our teammates who’ve gone ahead. Ramoncito was a very active guy and when he was too weak to move around over the past year, it took a toll. But he never lost his sense of humor. When one of our Olympic teammates Pocholo (Martinez) died late last year, Ramoncito couldn’t come to the wake. Ramoncito felt Pocholo’s loss. They were teammates at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, with UST and YCO. It’s sad but that’s life.”
**** It was Tito Ramoncito whom I ran to when nobody could remember Martinez’ nickname at his wake. I later phoned him to ask what it was and he quickly replied P-38, the all-purpose American fighter plane in World War II also known as Lightning. When Tito Ramoncito wanted to vent his disgust over the politics in sports, he called on the phone and we exchanged thoughts. When I needed information on the Olympics, he was the best resource person to contact because of his incredible memory.
One of Tito Ramoncito’s favorite stories was his experience in the 1948 London Olympics. “It took us five days to travel from Manila to London,” he said. “We rode on a propeller plane on the first Philippine Airlines flight to Europe. We had overnight stops in Bangkok, Burma, Karachi, Greece and Spain before finally arriving in London. The same flight attendants were with us throughout the trip. We were 23 athletes in all. Our delegation included Ambrosio Padilla, Jorge Vargas, Simeon Toribio, my father Dr. Ramon Campos, Sr., the team doctor, basketball coach Chito Calvo and boxing coach Aling Enriquez.”
London had not fully recovered from the devastation of World War II and the 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. “There was still rubble in the streets,” said Campos. “We could eat only one dish in restaurants. Sugar, eggs and milk were limited.”
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. “It was a wonderful experience,” said Campos. “Traveling is a great form of education, equivalent to a year in class. You broaden your knowledge. We made lots of friends and that’s what’s important. The Olympics are all about international goodwill.”
**** Campos worked hard to make it to the 1948 Olympic team but was left out of the national squad for the 1950 Asian Games. “I was so disappointed that I wanted to prove I could make it to a second Olympics,” he said. “So for three weeks before the tryouts, I trained in Bacolod. I did over 120 laps without stopping in my cousin’s pool and played badminton to sharpen my reflexes. When I showed up for tryouts, I was in the best shape of my life. My experience in London was my motivation to qualify for two more Olympics.”
Representing the country in the Olympics was a cherished memory for Campos. “I did it thrice and every time I walked on that field, my hair stood up,” he said. “I saw the crowd cheering, people taking pictures. Thousands of people were in the stadium. It was a great feeling to be with the best athletes in the world. My eyes were wide open. The atmosphere was unbelievable, beyond words. I hope more of our countrymen could experience the feeling, especially our basketball stars because they’re our heroes.”