|At Maximo's Thursday Night: Irene Tolentino, Pam Pessumal, Bing Babilonia, Janet Gotladera, and me.|
Mothers talk: A different point of view of a college basketball season
by rick olivares
Unless you played varsity sports, it is almost difficult to comprehend the trials and tribulations of a student-athlete. Not only do they practice — sometimes twice a day — but there are the games where they have to compete. If it’s a win, then it is generally good. If it’s a loss, not only to you have to contend with the negativity that pervades but one has to face questions, stares, and snide comments from schoolmates and the online community. They too have to go to school where it can be struggle as well.
In the years after the Ateneo Five-peat, there is general parity in the UAAP where teams are more or less capable of beating another on any given day. More teams now have a chance to win it all.
In the wake of the loss to La Salle to close out Ateneo’s first round, I had a long talk with Bing Babilonia, GBoy’s mother, about the pressure and tension brought about the current basketball season. She shared her thoughts about how she deals with it and prepares her son for the hardcourt battles ahead. From there, we thought about doing an article about the UAAP games from the mothers’ points’ of view.
For the parents who will read this, your loyalty doesn’t have to be with the Loyola Heights-based squad to understand. After that same match against La Salle, the mother of one Green Archer told me had they lost she was most certainly afraid her son would be castigated in social media and online fora. The win was a temporary reprieve from the daily grind of the online chatter.
Last Thursday evening, a few of the mothers of the Ateneo Blue Eagles met up with me — Bing Babilonia, Pam Pessumal, Irene Tolentino (Vince’s mom who flies in once in a while from Canada), and Janet Gotladera (who works as a stewardess at Philippine Air Lines) — at a restaurant in Katipunan. Mozzy Ravena and the mothers of Hubert Cani and Gwyne Capacio were supposed to join but couldn't because of prior engagements. What followed was a beautiful four hours of stories and sharing most of which cannot be reproduced in this article. Even without some of the meat to the story — remember it was four hours long -- this provides a fascinating look from the other side. I decided not to write a story but instead keep the interview as it is (minus of course stuff that is not for public consumption).
Rick: When your boy was growing up, did he say, “I want to play basketball?” Or did you push him to play basketball?
Bing: As you can see we are a basketball family. My husband (the late Gido Babilonia) played in college for UST and was a pro basketball player. We didn’t push the children to play. It came naturally for the boys. We didn’t force them.
Pam: My husband, Chandru, used to play basketball every week. Now he would take Von with him to his games. And no surprise, as early as three years old, Von showed an interest in basketball. So we didn’t push him but I can tell you that my husband was pleased.
Irene: For Vince, he’s always wanted to play basketball. His dad also played and that also influenced Vince who started very young. So that was the only sport he played.
Rick: Not even hockey?
Irene: Not even hockey. Or soccer.
Just basketball. That is his life. As parents, we didn’t want them to get into computers and those hand-heldgames. They had no choice. We made them pick a sport. And Vince chose basketball.
Janet: Alfonso’s dad is 5’11” who is a frustrated basketball player. From his father he got his passion for basketball. When he was young, his father bought him that Little Tykes adjustable ring. From three years old, Alfonso learned the game, dribbling, and shooting. One time, we went to Cabanatuan where my sister was based and that was the time when the Nueva Ecija Patriots were playing (in the now defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association). The father-in-law of my sister was one of the managers of the Patriots and he would take my son to the practices and games. And that helped in growing his passion for the game. Yung exposure niya to that kind of level when he was young. One time Willie Miller (then playing for the Patriots) saw Alfonso shooting the ball and he said, my son had potential. Kaya yun. He followed his passion. It is sad if he doesn’t make his goal which is to go pro.
Rick: Speaking of the pro game, it is every kid’s dream to play in the PBA. But there are few slots available. Not everyone gets the chance to play there. Not every good college player gets a chance to play there. Did it ever cross your mind to consider a different career path for your son?
Bing: Ours is more balanced. Even when GBoy’s dad was still alive, he would always say that if basketball is for you then it will find a way for you. I always believe that basketball is half hard work nd half luck. Kahit ganun ka kagaling, hindi ka nakakasiguro you will make it. So we made education a priority. Premium namin lagi. Even if you want it — a pro basketball career, paano kung hindi mangyari? So it is good to have a good education to help you get by.
Pam: We just play it by ear. I know Von wants to go there (PBA), but of course studies first. In case he doesn’t make it, he will have a good education to help him go in a different career path.
Irene: We have always supported our kids’ choice of sports. With Vince we have instilled in him that education is more important. We know he loved basketball but we also like the fact that Ateneo gives a lot of importance to education. We’ve seen how some of the best players on the team are not allowed to play because they do not have good grades and that impressed us as parents. We saw that the school was serious about education and our son’s well-being.
Coming here, I told him that he better makes sure that getting good grades is his priority because any failure he’s coming back home (to Canada). He’s used that as motivation for him to make sure that he is okay in school.
Janet: With Alfonso, he’s focused on his studies naman and I am glad. I always tell my kids that I will be more proud of them when they have a college diploma especially from Ateneo. I want them to finish college. Hindi naman tayo nakakasiguro na they will play professional basketball. Like all the other moms here, we want them to realize their dreams but we have to be realistic and practical. So studies are a priority.
During an interview, I was watching Alfonso and he was asked what was his priority and he said that it was to finish school. I felt so proud as a mother.
Rick: This is the follow up question, do you monitor their grades?
Bing: Si GBoy mahirap yung course but he has been making his QPI. Tinitignan ko talaga yung grades.
Rick: Di lumulusot sa inyo?
All moms: No!
Pam: With Von, I don’t have any problem with him. It helped that he was there from Prep so he understands what it takes to pass and then play basketball. He has very good grades so I am very happy. We don’t but yes, we do monitor the grades naman.
Irene: It is funny that you ask that question because I am that type of mom who waits online for Ateneo to release the grades. Honestly, I don’t expect much but I am there. He doesn’t give me his grades so I look it up. So far, he knows that we value education so much but it’s okay. We would like him to do better but it is okay.
Rick: Wala siyang lusot kahit nasa Canada kayo!
Irene: Lalo na doon. We make sure he knows where we stand on education. He is living his dream to try and make a basketball career but his studies are of the highest priority.
Janet: I don’t have problems with Alfonso even back in his Claret days (for elementary and high school until he transferred to San Beda) okay naman siya with his grades. He is inspired by getting good grades to maintain his varsity status. His answer whenever I ask about his grades, ‘Mama, relax ka lang.’ Hindi ko na-mo-monitor kasi I am always out of the country but I always make it a point to ask about them. And as always, his answer is, ‘Mama, relax ka lang.’ And he is all right thank God naman. He is such a worry-free boy.
Rick: Can you share a good anecdote about your boys?
Bing: Malaking bata na yan si Gib. While playing in the SBP, he would sometimes roam around the court even during a game. Walang ka muwang muwang talaga yung bata. But he learned the game.
Pam: Chandru would bring Von along when he would play basketball. When Von was in Grade Four (in the Ateneo Grade School), someone saw him shooting baskets in our backyard. We didn’t know anything about PAYA, SBP. Someone went to our house and asked if we would give permission for Von to tryout. Of course, we gave him permission. Bakit naman hindi?
If there were 50 who tried out, we were surprised to see him make it all the way without being cut. That is why he wears #19 because he was the 19th and last boy to make that team. The numbering for jerseys starts at “4” then they skip “13” and Von was the 19th boy. And that’s the story of his number. He made it and the rest is history.
Irene: As a mom, I am very proud of Vince's determination to make it here. After having lived in Canada his whole life, to do it alone without any family here, I am proud of my son. It was very difficult for me as a mom to see him go alone with none of us to accompany him here. What I admire most is to prove to himself is to follow a dream and do this on his own. Very rarely did he tell us about the difficulties of adjusting. I only found out about those difficulties later on. You see, I am a worrier. I worry so much and if he had told me early on, I don’t know what I would have done. He knew what kind of person I am so he didn’t want me to worry. He was very sheltered and protected in Canada but he is in his fourht year in the Philippines with his goals and frustrations but he is still here. He is going to keep going. And I will continue to cheer and support him and the team.
Janet: Alfonso was only nine years old when his father moved to Virginia because of work. So wala siyang father figure to look up to. So he matured quickly and became the man of the house. This translated to basketball too. Gusto niya siya yung nagde-decide about team matters. Para bang may leadership role. When he was in high school para siyang si Niño Mulach — small and stout.
I didn’t expect him to grow and shoot up in height. At first, he got cut from Claret’s basketball team because of his age. But nag-practice siya at nag-practice. Talagang determined siya to make it. I also worried na, ‘Anak, baka ma-cut ka kasi hindi ka makatakbo?’ sabi niya, ‘Mama, relax ka lang. I will make it.’
Then they released the list of the players who made it. And his name was at the top of the list. We thought na baka alphabetical but the coach said he was on top because of his potential. Tinanong ko sa coach, ‘Kaya ba niya tumakbo kasi ang taba taba?’
Mama I can run. Then first game nila, he said, ‘You watch ha?’ I was excited kasi magba-basketball na anak ko. Sa game na yun takbo siya ng takbo. Ang cute.’
'Mama, pawis na pawis ako,' sabi niya. Proud siya that he made it. Then he said, 'Mama, can you buy me basketball shoes, shorts?” His papa sent him basketball clothes and shoes. Then tumangkad at tumangkad siya. Ayan na!'
Rick: O, maiba naman. Girlfriend, bawal, okay lang, or confirmed? O reverse tayo. We will go to Janet first. (laughter)
Janet: Meron na siyang girlfriend. (pauses but there’s laughter and surprise across the table) You see — selosa ako (wiping tears form her eyes). Naiiyak ako. Di ba ako lang mag-isa. Iniisip ko ako yung reyna ng puso ni Ponso. Wala daddy niya. Walang yung husband ko physically. So si Ponso.
Rick: Does he (Ponso) know?
Janet: Yeah. There was a time na sabi niya, “Hindi mo kailangan mag-react ng ganyan. You don’t have to feel that way."
One time, I just arrived from abroad. Kararating ko lang; galing ako ng Vancouver and was gone for 10 days. Baka pwede tayo na lang muna mag-dinner. Wag muna with the girl; tayo na lang. He said, “Mama, ganito. I will make it up to you tomorrow.”
Rick: Did he make up for it?
Janet: Yes, he did. (awws all around)
Irene: Sa akin naman kasi, Vince never had a girlfriend in Canada. When he came here, he didn’t say he found a girlfriend. I found out through Facebook!
Actually, I don’t do Facebook. One of my nieces told me that he had a girlfriend and the picture was going around. “Tita, here take a look,” said my niece. Sabi ko, “What!” And i had to ask Vince about it. He had a girlfriend about eight months after he arrived. The girl is from the United States and she understood what he was going through — the adjustment, the loneliness. She could relate. If you ask me, she helped him adjust and cope with life here. Kami naman it’s okay for him to have a girlfriend but not to take it to a certain level. He must know his limitations. His dad is always there to remind him of what his responsibilities are. But Vince is responsible naman.
So for me, confirmed. Am not worrying though.
Pam: For me, common knowledge yata my son’s relationship with his girlfriend. Like Janet, selosa rin ako. Pero okay naman. What I like about them is they are very disciplined. They don’t have to go out every time. I am sure they are in contact with one another. They have their responsibilities kasi. I am okay as long as it doesn’t affect schooling.
Bing: I am not there yet! GBoy hasn’t considered anything serious yet. Like Janet, ako lang rin mag-isa. Wala na yung daddy ni GBoy and I have three boys so kami lang apat. I tell them, ‘Basta, follow what daddy said na, ‘When you have a girlfriend she must be supportive of you as an athlete. Kung hindi kaya i-support, palitan mo na.’ So what does that mean? Supportive ako kasi hindi ako napalitan.” (laughter)
Rick: Jumping to the UAAP. Did you ever think that college basketball would be this stressful?
Irene: In Canada, the crowds aren’t as big as what we have here in the Philippines. Sa Canada, I am the loudest. I have my cowbells and Vince hates that. But I don’t care. I never had any clue that it would be this crazy here in the Philippines. My kids tell me, ‘Ma, bring your cowbells.’ I tell them, 'My cowbells won’t do any good because that is nothing to the noise here.’
This is crazy — the stress levels. This was during Vince’s first year and I thought at one point, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I said, ‘ano ba itong nararamdaman ko?’ It was so loud. It was all new to me these feelings. These raw emotions. The tension… even with Katrina (her other daughter who is supposed to play for the Ateneo Lady Eagles)… It is something else.
Pam: I have been watching the UAAP since high school so I know what this is all about. But we try not to show it to Von that we too are affected or concerned. If he has a bad game but you have to tell him about it nicely. We watch the replays together and talk about it. In high school, puro panalo. Now in college, after the five-peat, it’s different.
Sometimes, I look at Twitter to see if people are saying anything about my son. So far okay wala pa ako nakikita. But I am afraid. What if si Von biglang magkamali?
Janet: This is my sentiment as well. Nase-stress ako. To be realistic, natatakot ako na pwede ma-blame si Ponso for a mistake that will cost the team a win and I fear for that.
Rick: But he has generally done well since coming over from La Salle.
Janet: Ay, thank you. But my worrying doesn’t stop. That is why I don’t sit sa patron section. Hindi ko kaya yung stress. Tumataas BP ko.
Rick: Where do you sit?
Janet: Sa lower box.
Rick: Do you go out at some point in the game? I know people who do that kasi hindi nila kaya yung stress.
Bing: Yes. Sometimes.
Janet: Basta ako I don’t stay sa patron. My father-in-law stays there. Ayaw din niya kasi tumataas BP niya. But I tell him that Ponso needs to see someone from his family. But I always make it a point that he knows my location. We have a secret call na kahit ang daming tao kahit maingay na maingay he knows it’s me. He will look at me and okay na siya.
When I am flying nakikinood ako sa kaibigan ko na may TFC. If I am onboard a flight, nagdadasal ako. Nagro-rosary ako sa flight.
Minsan the following day, he had a picture in the newspaper. Nag-collect yung mga stewardess ng newspaper with Ponso and they all put it in my mailbox. Nakaka-touch.
Pam: During games, I cannot go inside without my regular Coke. Not Coke Zero but the regular Coke. You know I have a problem with my sugar so I need to have my Coke. Sometimes, I don’t look at the game anymore and just bend my head. I just wait for the crowd’s reaction to know if we won or not.
Bing: Kahit matagal na kami sa basketball, nandun kami sa labas because of the stress. But I tell myself, ‘Dapat masanay na ako kasi my son needs me inside the venue as well.’ Every game I tell myself to watch. Pag-dating sa dulot atdikit yung labas, nakayuko na kaming lahat (the parents). We are all covering our ears and eyes and just asking people, 'What is happening? What is happening?’
Like last year that game against FEU. Ubos yung tissue ni Mrs Tolentino (Irene) sa kakaiyak namin. Oo. Ubos. No matter how much you tell yourself that I will watch when you get to that situation you cannot. Hindi na ako ma-se-strees? Pagtunog ng mga cheers, lalo ka nate-tension. Gusto mo na lang matapos yung laro.
What if magkamali yung anak mo? For every little thing that they do. Even one single rebound. One single stoppage of the ball. Grabe yung happiness mo. Tapos the following day, Mozzy (Ravena) will call, ‘O, buy all the issues of the newspaper. Your son is there!" Kahit nakatalikod siya sa picture bibilhin namin yung newspaper.”
Rick: Do you google your son?
Pam: Sometimes. Sabi ni Von I am his great stalker. (hearty laughter from all).
Irene: When he was knew here, I would but Vince told us not to read what is in social media. So we don’t. There was one game where Vince was in the newspaper where Vince got hit. I cut every little article with ‘Vince Tolentino’ in the article no matter how little.
Janet: Hindi ako nag-go-Google. My friends know that after every game, I post pictures of my son. So I tell them pasensya na because I am so proud of my boy. Minsan naiisip ko yung time na yung maliit pa siya with a dream and I see him play for Ateneo and he is on TV — ang yabang yabang ko na. I have friends in PAL (Philippine Air Lines) who are also fans and they help collect articles and pictures. Nakakataba ng puso.
Rick: So what about that coming out game of Ponso’s against La Salle? He played well.
Janet: I came from San Francisco. And during that flight back home, all I did was pray the rosary. Hindi ako natulog. Para akong goldfish ang laki ng mata ko. Pagdating ko sa bahay, Ponso was just watching cartoons. I said, ‘Anak, Ateneo-La Salle game ngayon’ — I was thinking that he’d be resting and focusing on the match. He said as always, “Ma, relax ka lang.” When he told me that, I ask the yaya, ‘Anong kinain ni Ponso?’ Wala pa raw. ‘Okay ba gising?’ Okay naman daw. “
Si Ponso kasi pagmaganda mood niya he would always say, “Good morning, Ma.” Even in the evening, “Good m
Nung game na yun nasusuka ako. Literally, tumakbo ako sa CR at sumuka. Nung first half, naka-score siya ng six points. Ginising ko mommy ko sa Indiana na you have to watch sa TFC. Yung daddy niya nanonood. Masarap yung feeling maganda laro niya.
I told him after wards to keep his feet on the ground.
Irene: Everyone was so proud of him after that game.
Bing: Ang hirap kasi may halong gigil si Ponso but he did so well. Ako I am so happy when the sports photographers take pictures of my son and they share it with me. They mean a lot to me because he reminds me so much of his dad.
Pam: Nung first game this season, Von just came from high fever and we asked Von if he wanted to play. he wanted to play kahit masama pa pakiramdam niya at hindi pa siya 100%. Knowing Von, he will play if he has a game. He has always been like that. But we don’t want to explain to people that he wasn’t feeling good. You can see from his demeanour sa sobrang lambot. But I am glad na nakabawi siya.
Irene: You know during the Adamson game, that was the most minutes Vince played. But he was playing with one eye. His contacts came off and he couldn’t see everything. But he didn’t want to tell the coaches that because they were not going to put him back in. So he was playing with one eye. And all my kids have a very high prescription. It was a long period where he was playing without contacts. When the team went back into the dugout, he almost tripped on a chair because he couldn’t see. So we asked him how he did it and he just said that he wanted to play so badly. He said, ‘I have to play!’
Every minute that he can play he has to make the most of it.
In Canada, it is about one in the morning (4pm in Manila time) during Ateneo’s games and we scream like crazy when Vince enters a game. My sister-in-law is worse than I am. One time, our neighbour forgot that Vince was in the Philippines. So he came over to the house and asked, “Is everything okay? Did something happen? My relative said that something was happening.” When I said that Vince has a game he said that it’s okay, “We can scream like crazy."
Rick: How do help your son through this rough stretch?
Bing: Right now, it is all positivity. The 4-3 record isn’t too bad. Syempre, mas amganda yung 6-1 but there’s the second round to make up for it. At home, I try to keep it light. I cook for GBoy and he loves to eat. We eat out. Watch a movie. Talk at night. I do anything and everything to keep it light for him. Just to help him.
Janet: Ako naman I tell Ponso that we have his back. I am here to support him. I make sure to talk to him. Like, we still have the second round. He says as always, ‘Relax lang, mama. Kaya namin ‘to.'
Irene: I have to keep quiet. It’s the dad who plays that role with the advice and pep talk. I just try to be more positive and give him what he wants to eat. Vince prefers to deal with his dad through times like this.
Pam: Same as Irene. It is my husband who talks to Von. As much as they can. Ako lie low. He knows naman all out support ako. I know a lot of people do not like the games at MOA but for me, I love it. In those hours in the car, it is just me, my husband, and Von. And we get to talk. We bond. As a mother, you enjoy every moment of that because there will come a time when you have to let your children go.
Rick: The season is eagerly anticipated but also dreaded for the stress it brings. What are your thoughts?
Pam: We look forward to the season. Of course nandun yun kaba na, ‘kaya ba nila?’ For Von, he is very disciplined. Hindi kami nagkaka-problema sa kanya. Basta we have to be hopeful and to support him.
Irene: As a mom, all I can do is offer prayers. I am positive.
Janet: When we senior moms get together — iba pala. Iba pala yung stress ng senior mom. This is his last year. Especially for Ponso dito siya sa Ateneo nag-bloom.
Bing: Sometimes, I wish daddy (Gido) was here because he can take the pressure more. But GBoy is strong.
When we were in San Beda, when Gido passed away, I told our maid not to let GBoy out of the house. But he left. May game kasi yung Red Cubs. Hindi pa alam ni GBoy what happened to his father. When he got to San Beda during the round robin sabi ng referee sa kanya, ‘Ano ginagawa mo dito? Kamamatay lang ng tatay mo.’ Walang alam si GBoy. He went up to Tito Mari (Lacson, San Beda’s representative to the NCAA Management Committee) and asked about his dad. Mari confirmed it. GBoy went to the locker room and cried. Then when the game was about to start, he went out to play. He said, ‘My team needs me.’ That is why I know my son is strong. And he will be there for his teammates.
Watch out for Part 2