Cal Poly's Pilipino Cultural Exchange (PCE) competed in an annual competition against other Pilipinx collegiate organizations late October. Credit: Mia-Isobel Craig / Mustang News

Hundreds of students waited in line near the Student Recreation Center, buzzing with excitement. One student looked around, taking in her surroundings of the nearby gym, swimming pool and the crowd of people swarming the sidewalk. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone running toward her. The two hadn’t seen each other since high school but reunited at the annual Pilipinx Friendship Games. “Hanee!” she screamed.

After three years apart, the two old friends hugged.

About 100 other students around them chanted, “They know each other! They know each other!” as the pair caught up.

This was a common occurance at the start of the 37th annual Friendship Games (F-Games), with many more reunions and reunion-inspired chants to come.

The event, hosted by CSU Fullerton’s Pilipino American Student Association (PASA) on Oct. 22, had been held online for the past two years due to the pandemic.

“There was a huge lack of engagement during the virtual years,” said Zac Regner, Pilipino Cultural Exchange’s (PCE) previous event coordinator. “I think [the event] will be an amazing experience for younger club members that have yet to attend ‘F-Games.”

Friendship Games featured over 35 Pilipinx American Student organizations from northern California, southern California, the Central Coast and parts of Arizona.

These students came to participate in a day of friendly but competitive picnic games and performances. In doing so, members immersed themselves in their culture and met others like them.

The event was co-founded by Don Palpallatoc and Manny Gaudier in 1986 and started as a single, schoolwide competition. It was expanded to include cultural clubs from around California four years later.

“[Friendship Games] brings together, for example, the schools in the Bay Area, the universities in LA, or the universities in San Diego,” Regner said. “It builds that relationship further.”

The day started with an opening ceremony tradition known as Roll Call, where each club does a one-minute dance to represent their school. Most groups did modern dances to hip-hop or rap music, but a few included some traditional Filipino dances. One group did bulaklakan, a Filipino folk dance where women dance with floral garlands. 

For the next several hours, Cal Poly competed with 37 other schools, deciding which had the most “SPUF” (Spirit, Pride, Unity and Friendship).

“PCE [at Cal Poly], we’re like a community, but when you go to Friendship Games, it’s like thousands of people, and you’re like, ‘Wow, we’re part of a larger community,’” PCE co-president Halle Gotico said.

Gotico was part of the Roll Call group for PCE and got to experience her second Friendship Games.

Coming from San Francisco, Gotico was surrounded by a large Filipino community. When she arrived at Cal Poly, she didn’t realize how different it was from her home until orientation.

“Once you move to a space where that culture is no longer there, and the sense of community isn’t there, you start to really value it,” Gotico said.

Since it was her last year attending Friendship Games, Gotico said the event was bittersweet. 

As soon as PCE set its canopy spot up, the club started “SPUF-ing” with San Diego State University (SDSU). SPUF-ing is when two cultural organizations go head-to-head in a cheer-off and show each other the chants they practiced while feeding off of each other’s energy.

After SDSU finished one of their chants, Cal Poly replied with, “The Mustangs are back. Yeah, we’re here to win!” 

One way to garner points in Friendship Games is to SPUF with other clubs and be the most spirited out of everyone. Each SPUF had a theme, with Cal Poly’s being SLO Airlines.

Another way to get points is through relay races.

The first of two races, called Alpine Green, involved groups of four club members using wooden skis with foot straps to get across the field. Getting everyone’s feet to sync and lift simultaneously appeared difficult for many clubs, causing some groups to fall and restart.

PCE did not qualify for the finals, as they were not top three in their heat.

The second race was called Groundhog. The goal was to be the first group of ten to reach the other side of the field by crawling under each other’s legs. It was a test of endurance.

PCE got disqualified for breaking the rules, unintentionally, according to sports coordinator Justin Ferrales, because they didn’t keep their feet planted after each person crawled through the others’ legs. The people who played had to get bandaged up afterward — although the field is mainly grass, there are a lot of dirt patches that caused bloodied knees and elbows.

Around 4 p.m., the two event coordinators called all the clubs to the stage to announce that they were ending the event an hour early due to health and safety concerns. Neither event coordinator responded when asked for further comment on the health and safety concerns.

During the announcement, event coordinator Jaron Ramos made some teary-eyed closing remarks.

“I speak for all of us that we’re so happy that you guys could come out and support not only us but each other,” Ramos said. “It is still a success in itself to see all of us together again.”