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Biological Age; Chronological Age

June 1993. A fairly decent team had just graduated and I was in the process of building a new one. For some strange reason, the sophomores that started arriving to join the team were mostly unusually tall for their age. I would say the average height of the new arrivals was 5’ 5” or 5’ 6”.

These new boys, I suppose, were just representative of the entire class of sophomores that we had in school. When the students lined up along the corridors for the daily ritual of the National Anthem, if you wandered along the sophomore wing, you would think you were in the senior wing. Most of the students there were taller than their junior or senior counterparts.

By July, I received an invitation to join a regional 14-and-under tournament that was to be held at UP Los Baños. I was more familiar with the under-16 and under-18 tournament formats; so I was not sure if 14-year old boys were eligible. I called up to verify. Indeed, the organizers told me, the tournament was for 14-year old boys and younger.

That meant that most of the tall boys that I had in the team were eligible to play. I hasten to clarify, though, the all these boys were beginners who were only just then starting to learn how to trap, kick and head the football.

Our regular league season in Metro Manila was not due to begin until mid-August. Therefore, since we were participating in an unanticipated tournament, we had to quickly scrounge for uniforms to use in the new tournament.

When opening day came and all the teams were kitted and lined up for the opening ceremonies, I immediately saw that there would be a problem. If there were 14 year old boys in the other teams, most of them were still pre-pubertal; i.e. they were still to undergo that stage in life when the hormones kick in to trigger rapid growth in the individual.

When everyone lined up next to us, everyone else looked like they were elementary schoolboys. All eyes, needless to say, were on us. These were accusing eyes. Everyone thought they were looking at a team with mostly over-aged players. In other words, they all thought we were cheating.

There was no way for anyone to see, of course, until we played our opening match that most of the boys that I had brought with me were actually hapless beginners. Meanwhile, we all had to stand under the morning sunshine and suffer the stares and the snide remarks.

Soon after the opening ceremonies, the organizers called for a meeting of all coaches. I had a bad feeling this meeting was going to be mostly about us.

Once all of us were seated down inside this dilapidated multi-function room in a building close to the field, one of the organizers – a military man involved with one of the participating teams – began. “We are all friends here,” he started. I was thinking to myself, “Here it goes!”

To make a long story short, the guy’s inspired and dramatic speech all boiled down to everyone knowing that there was a team among the participants that had over-aged players – and would the coach of that team please speak up. The team would be allowed to withdraw its over-aged players and would still be allowed to participate.

Nobody in the room dared to look at me; and for that alone, I knew I was the object of the inspired soliloquy. I did open my mouth, but only to verify once again that the tournament was for boys 14 years old and younger. I was reassured that it was; and so I returned to my defiant silence.

I was actually willing someone to point a finger at me so I could pay him back with vitriol. I was damned if I was going to own up to something we were not guilty of; and I was more damned if I was going to take any accusations lying down. Nobody dared, of course.

The military man then said that he, therefore, felt impelled to use his connections in military intelligence to verify the authenticity of the birth certificates that were inside the folders that he had in his hands. The subtle threat, of course, was made without ever looking my way.

Then, of course, we played our opening game. It was no more than a scrambling 2-all draw against a team from Canlubang. Although there were initially unfair insults aimed our way at the start of the match, seeing the clumsy performance from these supposedly over-aged tall boys allayed everyone’s fears about us.

If you think of it a different way, suddenly everyone did not seem to mind if my boys were over-aged since we were not very good, anyway.

A week elapsed; and we were back at the venue to play our second match. The very same military man who was stone-cold and downright hostile the previous week was suddenly all smiles and jovial towards me. He said he had all the teams’ papers verified – yeah right – and that all the papers checked out as authentic.

Oh really…

The guy was unfazed by my lack of enthusiasm; and went on by telling me that in his investigations, he discovered that one of my boys – in fact, the tallest one – turned out to be the son of a colonel who was one of his former bosses in the military.

Oh really…

I think we finished no more than fourth in the tournament; and after the initial hostility, everyone more or less just accepted that we just sort of had big boys in the team. Frankly, an under-14 tournament as opposed to a 14-and-under tournament would have done away with all the unfair speculation.

It was no more than a simple case of my boys being ahead of the other teams’ in terms of biological age – as opposed to chronological age. The two are not the same. Chronological age refers to the number of years a person has lived. Biological age is at the cellular and hormonal level.

Biologically, most of my boys had already undergone puberty; hence, the height and – in some boys – the coarser body and facial hair. It goes without saying that most of the other teams’ players still had not. Not that it really did us any good…

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