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Fire in the Gym!

Yes, before the SENTRUM became the place to play, there was the gym. That was how we called it when I was in grade school and high school: the gym.

Tambayan during Recess… Tambayan during lunch-break… Tambayan after school hours…

It was not until the eighties that the then-principal, a Brother Jaime Dalumpines, thought the gym ought to have a name. He thought, “Would it not be a great tribute to the school’s first Principal if we named the gym after him?”

So the gym was named the Brother Henry Virgil FSC Memorial Gym. Great! I was here as an elementary and then a high school student; but I did not know until good Brother Jimmy wanted a name for the gym who Brother Virgil was.

Of course, since for a long time it was the only gymnasium – and Brother Rafael, who had the SENTRUM built, always insisted the latter was a multi-purpose auditorium – then the Brother Henry Virgil Gym continues to this day to be referred to simply as the “gym.”

What many students – and probably even employees – of the present do not know is that part of the gym burned down in 1984. But I am once again getting ahead of the story…

When the school opened in 1962, there were just three buildings that had classrooms in them and a crudely paved basketball court with a roof over it. This was the gym.

Then, in the early seventies, Brother Crisanto Moreno and the late Brother Greg Refuerzo thought the basketball court should have wooden bleachers built around it.

The gym remained more or less the same until more than a decade later, when something happened that meant it would require a face-lift.

It was the 20th of January 1984; and if the date is easy to remember, it is because that is the day of the Lipa City fiesta.

I had arranged to meet some of my players so we could do the obligatory house-to-house as was expected on fiesta day. The first stop was a house in Villa Lourdes just across the school. So, naturally, our meeting place was the gym.

Brother Greg, despite the fiesta, was holding volleyball training in the gym. I remember even having exchanged pleasantries with him while waiting for the boys to arrive.

I also remember hearing the buzzing sound of the gym’s amplifier over the speakers. You know… The buzz of an amplifier turned on but not in use… I thought nothing of it at the time, but…

I thought no more of the incident as we embarked on the day-long house-to-house… By mid-afternoon, we were in the house of another player uptown. We had been eating sparingly in each of the houses we visited along the way; so that by this time, we thought dessert and a betamax movie would be fine.

I still remember the movie we were watching: Poltergeist!

Midway through the movie, somebody called. There were still no cellular phones at the time, so the call was, naturally, made by land-line. The gym was on fire, this player of mine was told; but the fire had been placed under control. Seriously? We were aghast; but we finished the movie, nonetheless.

I am not a hundred per cent sure – but I seem to recall that we passed by the school to investigate on the way home. I also recall seeing the stage burned down along with some of the wooden bleachers.

Rumor had it that the fire started in the stage area. Some student tambays and fiesta-goers in the subdivision across the street helped carry the books out of the library behind the stage to somewhere safe.

In a conversation later with Brother Greg, he mentioned that the authorities suspected an electrical trigger to the fire. That was when I told him about the buzzing sound I heard before we went on our house-to-house.

“You should have mentioned this to me,” Brother Greg said to me.

“But Brother,” I replied, “you  were also here! Did you not hear anything?” Besides, how was I supposed to know?

So there you are. Bet you did not know about this story I just told. The gym was, naturally, rebuilt. It was more or less accepted that there was – indeed – an electrical cause to the fire.

Except that an alumnus – more than a quarter of a century later – whispered that it was not the sound system at all…

But that was all he said…

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