University of Santo Tomas: The Stanford of Philippine Collegiate Athletics

Jo-Ryan SalazarSenior Analyst IJune 9, 2011

We all know by now that unless an act of God happens in the form of Ohio State and/or North Carolina making their mark in June, the Stanford Cardinal are going to wrap up their 17th straight Director's Cup at the NCAA Division I level. In fact, this columnist, yours truly, is going to make the projection right about...now.

Meanwhile, my mother country, the Philippines, has a rough equivalent to such dominance.

Now, comparing Leland Stanford Junior University to the The Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, The Catholic University of the Philippines is like comparing apples and oranges. Or, if you are approximating colors to fruit...apples and lemons.

For example, basketball may be a sport the Santo Tomas Growling Tigers have dominated historically in the nation's top collegiate league, the University Athletic Association of the Philippines, or the UAAP for short (although the Blue Eagles of Ateneo de Manila and the always-fearsome Green Archers of De La Salle may have something to say about that), but Stanford could be out of even NIT contention and they still would have the talent to crush Santo Tomas.

And there are some sports that the UAAP sanctions that would pass here in the states as club sports, like chess, taekwondo, judo, beach volleyball and table tennis. Again, there's no comparison.

But in a league that includes schools like the Red Warriors of the University of the East (UE), the National University (NU) Bulldogs, the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws, the Adamson University Soaring Falcons and the Fighting Maroons of the University of the Philippines (UP), Santo Tomas is the king of the jungle like the Cardinal is the biggest tree in the forest of American collegiate athletics.

A little background for your readers. In Manila, there is this long, looping road that stretches for just under four miles from Quezon Boulevard to Taft Avenue called the University Belt. It consists of three clusters of colleges and universities. One of those clusters is the center of the belt, bordered by Quezon, Earnshaw Boulevard and A.H. Lacson Avenue.

The largest university in that cluster is Santo Tomas. UST was founded by Miguel de Benavides on April 28, 1611. That makes this school older than Harvard by more than a quarter-century. (Harvard was founded on September 18, 1636.)

Four UST alums went on the become president of the Philippines, the most notable being Manuel L. Quezon. Nine other alumni have gone on to become saints.

Of course, it's expected that there will be a saint or two at a Catholic university like UST; it's a given. The most famous Thomasian of all, however? Mr. Jose Rizal himself.

The university earned its Royal status in 1785, its Pontifical Status in 1902 and the designation of "The Catholic University of the Philippines" in 1947. So much can pass in four centuries, with UST celebrating its quadricentennial this year.

But I'm not here just to give you a history of the school. I want to explain why this university is the Stanford of Philippine collegiate athletics.

In 1932, UST seceded, along with UP and NU, from the National Collegiate Athletic Association to form their own league. (Yes, the Philippines has its own NCAA. In terms of caliber...nowhere close to even the Division III level of the NCAA you would be blind, stupid and possible dead to not be familiar with.)

Six years later, FEU joins, and so the UAAP was born. It was during the 1947-48 collegiate sports season that the UAAP would award a champion as the association's best program. Thus, the UAAP Overall Championship predates the Director's Cup by 46 years.

In the early years of the Overall Championship's existence, FEU dominated for more than a decade before UST broke the streak in the 1958-59 season. After a period in which the Growling Tigers (formerly the Glowing Goldies [very high school-ish in my opinion; as a side note, they have their own prep school/prep equivalent, just like all the other UAAP universities]) ruled the early to mid-'60s, UST, UE and FEU shared top honors before UP earned their first OVerall crown in the 1977-78 season.

However, it was during the 1983-84 season when UST left the competition in the dust. Since then, only two other schools have won the Overall Championship—National University in the 1986-87 season and UP in the 1997-98 season.

As of this season, Santo Tomas have won 38 titles in the seniors division and 13 titles in the juniors division for a total of 51 Overall Championships at all levels.

Sports the UST Growling Tigers specialize in include baseball (24 titles), basketball (18 men's titles, 11 women's titles and 11 juniors titles for 40 titles overall), swimming (30 men's titles, 32 women's titles, five boys' titles and eight girls' titles for 75 titles overall), table tennis, taekwondo (nine men's and women's titles apiece and eight juniors' titles for 26 titles overall) and tennis (14 men's and five women's titles for 19 titles overall). Their cheer team is also the best in the Philippines, with eight titles to their credit.

And apparently the University of Santo Tomas is not going to come down from their throne as kings of the jungle anytime soon.

A brand-new gymnasium, designed by a couple of UST alums, is set to be completed by August of this year. Well, there has to be some place to hang all those banners and house all that hardware. The project has a cost of over $18 million and has the okay from the Vatican.

Aside from a court that can accommodate up to 5,792 spectators, there will be classrooms; administrative offices; a concession canteen; a fitness center; a dance hall; and facilities for badminton, fencing, table tennis, indoor track and field and gymnastics.

To top it all off, there will be a museum in which the past glories of former Growling Tiger greats will be celebrated. If you want to recruit the best young talent in the Philippines, just give them the Thomasian treatment and watch the hardware come rolling in.

Now granted, I do not claim to be a Thomasian. My alma mater is Long Beach State, a university whose sports programs could also crush Santo Tomas; albeit the beatdowns might be a bit lighter. But I like a winner, and I really like a winner that comes from a university with an enviable history and an unparalleled tradition academically and athletically.

So in conclusion, readers, let us take this time to raise a glass to the Stanford of Philippine collegiate athletics. Here's to the kings of the jungle...the Growling Tigers of The Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, The Catholic University of the Philippines.

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