McALLEN — By this time, members of the Filipino Student Association chapter of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley should have been in College Station, participating in sports and dance competitions of the state-wide organization’s annual conference, GoodPhil.

Instead, the group of more than 100 club members met at the Zinnia Park here Saturday afternoon, because the highly anticipated event was canceled as a precautionary measure to constrict spread of the novel coronavirus, which has prompted local officials to urge residents to not attend gatherings of 250 or more.

The group was heartbroken.

Members of the Fillipino Student Association of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley perform dance routines Saturday, March 14, 2020, at Zinnia Park in McAllen. (Photo by Diane Nunez)

Thirty years in the running, GoodPhil is when the thousands of FSA members across all UT schools meet and celebrate the Filipino culture through dance and sport competitions. Last year, the three-day conference drew nearly 6,000 students. This year, it was supposed to take place at Texas A&M University in College Station.

The club’s president, Kate Astom, got word that the event was canceled Wednesday night, a day before they were supposed to leave, two hours after their last dance practice.

However, officers of the UTRGV chapter decided that the work of the club had to be shown. So they took to social media to invite family and friends to their “mini-GoodPhil,” where they performed the three dances they spent months creating — a spirit, cultural and modern dance.

Such is the event’s meaning to its organizers that chapter president Kate Astom became emotional at the onset of the first performance when describing the struggle to hold GoodPhil amid so many changes brought on by coronavirus preparedness measures.

“With sanitation and Lysol stations everywhere, sports athletes would not be able to shake hands or share high fives,” she said. “We would not be able to properly hug our friends from other schools we had not seen in a long time. In the end, it was decided that we had to put safety and our health first.”

She turned around and was embraced by the other officers.

“In the end, we knew that everyone was glad to avoid the risks, but we were also extremely heartbroken to receive this news, a day before competition, and two hours after our last dance practice,” Astom continued.

She then asked all 85 FSA members who were planning to attend GoodPhil to gather at the center of the field. By a raise of hands, she asked the club how many of them were participating in one dance. A majority of them did.

Hands stayed up when asked if they would participate in two, then three dances. That pattern repeated for sports competitions.

“Some of these people are not dancers, but we made these performances together anyway. Most of these people aren’t athletes, but they were going to compete anyway,” Astom said. “Although we are extremely saddened by this, we are here today, and staying home is a blessing in disguise.”

Astom’s older sister was a founding member of the chapter at UTRGV, and said that before becoming a college student, she knew she was going to be a member of FSA. She has gone to GoodPhil all three years, and this was going to be her last time there.

While it may not have been the crowd they anticipated performing to, those who showed up portrayed FSA’s spirit of family, Astom said, as former members from as far as Houston and Mexico came to show their support.

The student organization, which started in FSA in 2012, works to bring together Filipino students at the university, and teach others about the culture. About a third of the club’s members are not Filipino.

The first performance was a spirit dance, where students show pride in their university. The mixtape they danced to included modern pop songs, classic Filipino songs and reggaeton songs.

The second performance was a rendition of the Banda dance, also known as the pot dance, a ritual of tribes in Kalinga, a province in the Northern Philippines. The dance portrays the strength of women fetching water, and men as warriors, protecting the tribe.

For the sports coordinator of the club, Pam Lim, the situation became a reality the morning of the event.

“I woke up at around the same time that we were supposed to be taking everyone to the recreation center at College Station. That’s when I realized that I missed out on this huge day that I have been looking forward to all spring semester,” Lim said.

The chapter takes part in five sports: football, volleyball, kickball, ultimate frisbee and basketball.

Lim played basketball in high school, but was not able to continue playing competitively in college. FSA gave her the opportunity to do so.

She stressed: “Playing sports competitively in such a huge scale, and doing it with a bunch of Asians — coming from the Valley you don’t see a bunch of Asians, or you don’t see people who look like me everywhere; then the fact that a lot of us are high school athletes, and we have not been able to compete in anything and to have that kind of team chemistry and bond — this is where we get to do that.”