Tubigon Bohol struggled in its first six games in the 2021 Chooks-to-Go VisMin Super Cup.
But on the Mariners’ seventh game Saturday afternoon, an unexpected guest was watching alone in the stands of the Alcantara Civic Center.
It was their boss, Gel Jao.
Jao — who, at just 28 years old, put up a team — decided to show up to not just throw support for the Mariners. He also wanted to show the country that despite the controversy around the league, Tubigon Bohol is here to play the game and play it right.
“The competition has been controversial. But then again, the reason that I showed up is to show that we are here to play. As an athlete myself, I know what it feels like,” said Jao, a two-sport athlete during her collegiate days.
“Kung may hocus-pocus man sa other teams, that’s not us. Because of my dad [Tubigon Mayor William Jao], I have learned to always do the right thing and do it straight. It’s a huge expense but it’s heartwarming. The satisfaction I get is priceless.”
Jao herself knows the plight of an athlete.
Growing up, her dad William enrolled her in MILO Best camps in both basketball and volleyball. It resulted in her getting to be part of the varsity teams of both San Beda in high school and Southville International School in college.
Her most glorious athletic triumph happened when she was taking her Master’s Degree in Ateneo Rockwell. She led her team to the inter-school championship against La Salle during her senior year.
Fast forward to a few years later, she had the chance to put up a team when the VisMin Super Cup formed. The league had shared her vision of promoting the south and giving exposure to players from Visayas and Mindanao.
“When I first heard of VisMin, it triggered my interest to start up a team. It was about time for Visayas and Mindanao to rise up. It’s always been about the PBA and the UAAP but what about our region?” she shared.
“This tournament has a lot of potentials to be not just one of the top professional leagues in the country but also to showcase the people of Tubigon, Bohol. There’s a lot of good players in Tubigon but they never really had a chance to be seen, invited, or even recruited. As a Bisaya, lagi kami ina-outcast in a lot of things.”
But her first foray into sports management proved to be a struggle.
The Mariners ended up as the whipping boys of the other teams while they struggled to find their groove.
Despite the losses, Jao shared that it did not dampen her spirits. After all, the most important thing for her is that she is able to give jobs to these players and coaches in an uncertain time.
Yes, winning is just a bonus in her first foray.
“What made me join at an early age is that I think that I have the means to support the team. I have a lot of businesses besides having a 9 to 5 job. The reason I formed this team is to provide jobs. We are in a pandemic and we don’t know when this will end. Having a team is like hitting two birds — showcasing Tubigon and giving jobs. It warms my heart to help these players and coaches,” shared Jao.
“What will these players do since we are in a lockdown? It will cause them depression and anxiety. That’s why we wanted them to do something.”
But all streaks are meant to be broken. And it might just be a coincidence that Jao, who had to undergo tests and days of self-quarantine before entering the venue, was up in the audience section.
Against Tabogon, Tubigon played inspired basketball.
Pari Llagas finally showed what many expected of him, dropping 35 points on 15-of-17 shooting along with 10 boards. Homegrown player and fisherman by trade Joseph Marquez tallied 15 points, six assists, five rebounds, three steals, and three blocks while Wade Cabizares and Jonathan Ibarra had 11 points and 11 assists, respectively.
“They made me proud,” was all Jao could say about it.
“Siguro I’m their lucky charm? I don’t know.”
Jao knows that she is just a rookie in the sports business. But she is in it for the long haul.
Though she could not go visit her team in the dugout, she made sure to call up her head coach Gino Enriquez.
“Of course, we are going to full-on and all-out if this league continues. If the team is performing as they performed today, we have so many plans laid out already. We already talked to Coach Gino about it,” she bared.
“If this league pushes through, ayoko maging talunan. We have to go hard.”
When she overheard her players asking for a win bonus, Jao then gave a curt reply to them — “Manalo muna tayo ng championship!”
Yes, the boss has spoken.