With the aim of making women visible in PBA, Belen forges her path at TNT
When a door was shut on Maureen Belen, another one opened. Not just a door, actually—a huge rollup steel gate leading to the brightest lit sporting arena in the country.
Unable to snare a gig in the trailblazing Women’s National Basketball League, Belen instead found herself making history in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) as a member of comebacking champion mentor Chot Reyes’ coaching staff at TNT.
“I get chills really just thinking about it,” Belen told the Inquirer recently. “Most girls [in this sport] have been working hard and dedicating so much of their time [to their craft]. And they are doing so without seeing any finish line.”
She’s giving those girls something new to shoot for, an added proof that the PBA’s glass ceiling isn’t unbreakable.
“When they (Chot and Josh Reyes) welcomed me to the team, they [told the team] … whatever words that would come from of me, take it as words coming from them. There’s the utmost respect. Grabe.”
She insists she isn’t a pioneer, just a face in a league that has embraced diversity in bits and pieces. Former Sen. Nikki Coseteng was once a team owner in the league. TNT alone had several women in its franchise, including former manager Debbie Tan and current nutritionist Jeaneth Aro. The team also had a female physical therapist when it was known as Mobiline.
Weight of opportunity
But no other woman has breached the coaching staff of any squad until now. And the weight of the opportunity is not lost on Belen, who knows that the door leads to several more steps to her noble goal of “making the woman seen.”
“I can’t wait for the day to be on the court, even if it just means handing a bottle of water to Chot Reyes,” she said with a hearty laugh.
“Really, all it takes is one girl to see, ‘Hey there’s a woman in there!’ ‘If she can do it, why can’t I?’”
Belen knows that from here on out, things are only going to get tougher. She is fully aware that the days ahead will be filled with testy moments.
“My dad and my partner told me: ‘There will be men who won’t be happy. Sure, there will be the likes of Chot Reyes who are very inclusive, open for diversity, but he’s only among the few. “‘There will be plenty who’ll be intimidated, there will be a plenty who’d ask ‘why are you here?’ ‘Why are you jumping the line?’ ‘Why are you shouting at me?’
She then whipped up a quick math to make it easier to understand.
“[I]magine, at TNT, I’m coming to a place where I’d face 15 men—some players, some coaches. There’s the utility, and there are managers, too. What more if it’s a complete team meeting? That’s easily 30 men. And this is just one team,” Belen said.
“We’re talking about 30 men from each of the 12 PBA teams that I have to deal with and whom I have to make myself included,” she added.
“I can’t behave like I’m special just because I’m a woman.”
So to prepare for that, Belen looks back at a simple tip Reyes shared during one of their virtual chats and phone messages.
“You know, coach Chot taught me something. He said I really have to get that core conditioning in. It’s not for the abs. It’s for you to be able to stomach the things you never thought you’re going to have to stomach,’” she recalled.
Belen went on to identify them one by one, matter-of-factly: “Catcalling, misogynistic remarks, locker room jokes. There’s also the comments behind your back; comments on the way you talk, the way you dress, the way you do your hair—pretty much everything about being a woman.”
“I can tell you that I am prepared [for all of that],” she said. “I’m really focused on one thing—and that’s to showing them why I’m there in the first place. I know I’m going to work doubly harder. But women are already used to that. The pressure has always been more than what men have to go through.”
And she knows what it would mean if she succeeds at TNT.
“This is for all the girls who worked hard for years,” she added, while tipping her hat to veteran coaches Haydee Ong, Ai Lebornio and Julie Amos.
“What is important now is that we’re here—and that our time has come.”
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