Tomorrow is Hari Sukan Negara. In our third of four stories, Star2.com celebrates how participating in sports keeps Malaysians healthy and fit. More importantly, sports also brings communities closer, breaks down barriers and encourages the pursuit of excellence.
Watching from the sidelines, there’s no denying Lum Chee Yang and his teammates’ passion for basketball. The fiery look in their eyes as they passed the ball from one player to another says it all. As one of them jubilatesover a basket scored, the others leapt with joy.
It may just be another training session but the players gave it their all for they are proud to be part of the Sg Ara community basketball team in Penang.
The players are local residents of various ages and backgrounds, united by their love for shooting hoops. They play at SJK (C) Chong Cheng’s basketball court on weekdays from 7.30pm to 10.30pm.
“The team comprises of about 40 players, aged between 14 and mid-30s. Some of them are former students of Chong Cheng. We go by the school’s old pupils’ association’s name for tournaments. But many players are also those who grew up and live around Sg Ara,” says team manager Hung Chun Kheng.
He stresses that all are welcome to play with them as the court is open to everyone.
The 38-year-old software engineer teamed up with two friends who are also fellow alumni of SJK (C) Chong Cheng, Teoh Kah Wei and Chew Fong Wah, to manage the basketball team two years ago as they wanted to continue and revitalise the community sporting tradition. Their responsibilities include coaching, managing and raising funds for the team.
“During my teens, we would play basketball from evening until 10pm,” he recalls. Back then, their Sg Ara team “was quite famous”, says Hung, and some players went on to represent the state.
“When I was a player some 20 years ago, we had weekly tournaments, a sort of inter-league in the south-west district of Penang. We’d compete in Teluk Kumbar, Gertak Sanggul, Balik Pulau, Sg Pinang, Pantai Acheh, Sg Ara and Batu Maung.
“During that time, we had tournaments during the weekends for probably two to three months, and that was fun. We went from one kampung to another to play,” says Hung. They were all the more motivated to revitalise the Sg Ara team when a friend told them about ongoing efforts to encourage the sports in other parts of Penang’s south-west district, to make “basketball activities happening again, just like in the old days.”
Lum, 17, is in his school’s basketball team at Heng Ee High School, but he also participates actively in his neighbourhood team.
“I have participated in tournaments in Penang as well as friendly matches. But playing here on a community level is equally as fun,” says Lum who plays with his primary school schoolmate Lim Zhan Li who now studies in SMK Sg Ara. There are also players who have left school and are working.
Hung says they make the effort to join basketball tournaments to motivate the players as only those who work hard will be picked to represent the team.
“Competing in invitation tournaments from other kampung in the district allows them to get to know other players,” says Hung who is appreciative of the community’s support for their efforts, from the primary school allowing them to use their court to individuals who fund the team’s participation in tournaments.
“Last year, there was a tournament in Pantai Aceh. We didn’t want the kids to ride motorcycles to the matches as the roads are dark. So, we had to find a sponsor to rent a van to transport them,” says Hung.
The biggest challenge though is there are not enough tournaments for players to participate in to gain experience.
He lauds the initiative by the government to organise Hari Sukan Negara.
“It makes people more aware of the importance of sports. They could also organise more open tournaments to encourage and attract more youths to participate in community sports.”
Despite his hectic schedule juggling work and three young daughters, Hung continues to commit to building the Sg Ara basketball team.
“A constant thought in my mind is that kids who play basketball don’t get involved in unhealthy and illegal activities easily. All their energy will be burnt on the court. Basketball provides a platform for kids to play, learn and grow.”