The city’s basketball beginnings in the early 50s owe so much excitement and glory to this lowly, open and “topless” basketball court known as the CYO playground. This city’s historical landmark has been entombed through the construction of the San Pedro Cathedral but its memory still lingers in the minds of those who witnessed the life and times of this great sports arena many decades ago.
Except for its standard court dimensions, it looked like a run- of-the-mill roofless backyard basketball court in some blighted nook and corner of the city. It had a thick overlay of cream-hued crushed corals to seal the mud and sludge beneath the playing surface during heavy downpours.
The PME (Pretres des Missions Etrangeres) Canadian Catholic Missionaries headed by the late Archbishop of Davao, Msgr. Clovis Thibault, devoted the property for the activities of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) resonating from the original CYO, a Catholic Athletic Organization for youngsters founded in 1930 during the great Depression by Bishop Bernard J. Sheil of Chicago.
Summer Basketball tournaments were the hottest events in the early 50s long before television came to town and recreational facilities, spas, and work-out gyms became popular. The town’s prominent families never fail to watch basketball games with teams like the perennial champs, Davao Kids, San Miguel Brewery, Santa Clara, Parada and Sons, LD Mills, Great Pacific Life, etc.
Inspite of its rugged and abrasive playing surface, which through the years, scraped, bruised and bloodied countless players’ knees, elbows and all, it owned a rare distinction of being the show window of outstanding basketball players of the city.
In the early 5Os, a Jesuit priest, Fr. Richard Cronin, S.J. became the coach of the Ateneo de Davao High School Varsity. His American style and intense passion for coaching molded and trained to the core, Loreto Carbonell, Francisco Rabat and Jose Bangoy of Ateneo de Davao who were the top players of the Summer Basketball champion team, Davao Kids. Due to their scintillating performances in the Davao leagues, Carbonell was later recruited by San Beda Red Lions while Bangoy and Rabat played for Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles in the NCAA wars. Carbonell and Rabat finally reached the peak of their careers by becoming members of the Philippine Olympic Team in international competitions.
Playing at the CYO was a great experience for kids in the 50s to late 60s. A youngster in those days would hock all his collection of marbles just to join a tournament on this venerable piece of church property. From the late 40s to the 60s, many youngsters worked their way to become altar servers and acolytes of San Pedro Church just to be in close proximity with this famous basketball facility and enjoy its playing privileges.
In the late 60s the Diocese of Davao planned to build a cathedral on the same site where the old San Pedro Church was located. Due to the urgent need for a bigger area, the design had to include the CYO playground. Sadly, that brought the final curtains down for the iconic CYO basketball court and the memories of a great place that brought joy and excitement to the Davawenos through the years. To be continued.