He may be short, but he’s a cut above the rest

Dylan Tong

No one chooses to be short, but choice — and courage — are involved in joining a sport typically dominated by tall people.

 

At 151 cm, 17-year-old Dylan Tong was the shortest when he joined his secondary school basketball team at Bishan Park Secondary (BPSS). He is also the shortest in his current ITE College Central basketball team, and in Team BPSS which he played with at W.A.D! Games on July 20, 2013.

 

He had played other sports such as soccer and table tennis, but he found basketball to be his favourite, so he joined anyway. He has been playing the sport since the age of 13.

 

“People said I was short (and should not play basketball), but I didn’t care about what other people say about me,” he said. To him, he found that playing basketball was “very fun”, and that was more important than people’s remarks about his height.

 

He believes tall and short players each have their advantages and disadvantages. “Tall guys can be slow, whereas short guys are faster. Short people can also dribble the ball very low, so it’s difficult for others to snatch the ball.”

 

He tries to work on his strengths, being fast and accurate in shooting the ball into the hoop. He also learns from roles models such as Chicago Bulls’ player Nate Robinson who’s among the shortest players in the NBA (National Basketball Association).

 

Dylan said: “He wasn’t very good in his first few seasons, but he is someone who never gives up and will give his best. He became a role model for me because he’s short and yet he could get into the NBA.” Nate Robinson and another player, both 175 cm tall, are currently the shortest players who still actively play for the NBA, which is widely considered to be the premier men’s professional basketball league in the world.

 

To others who may struggle to stand out and be different, his encouragement is this: “Ignore the criticism. Know what your own strengths and weaknesses are. Be even better at your strengths, and work on your weaknesses.”

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Focused on the ball, and focused on his beliefs and convictions

“Some say it’s a sleazy sport, because of the gangs and vulgarities. But I think it’s a gentleman sport because there’s no physical contact,” said pool and snooker player Brandon Leow, who was gentlemanly enough to take the initiative in shaking hands with this writer before and after the interview. He is part of Team CHR (short for Christchurch), which played at W.A.D! Games on July 20, 2013.

 

Back in his primary school days, he was a more rebellious kid. He bit a teacher’s hand and applied glue on people’s chairs. But life lessons he learnt from his parents and primary school teachers brought about a positive change in him and have continued to stay with him, even when he is exposed to different temptations.

 

At pool saloon, “sometimes people get temperamental and hot-tempered but I try to be patient and avoid conflicts”, he said.

 

The 22-year-old started playing pool and snooker about five years ago, after being influenced by his father who also plays the sport. His parents were supportive when he played for his team in Christchurch Secondary, but his father also reminded him to stay away from people who could be of negative influence. “They are not the sort of people I want to become, so I tell myself to keep away from bad company.”

 

The thought he puts into striking a ball and his focus at the pool table plays out in how he makes other decisions as well.

 

Brandon said: “I think of the consequences. If someone wants to pick a fight, you have two options – either you get into a fight, or you step away. What benefits do I get from getting into a fight? If I want to vent my anger, I can just go home and vent it and yell into a pillow or something.”

 

“Always stand your ground and stay true to yourself,” he said, adding that learning to manage conflicts has also helped him be accommodating and tolerant of fellow national servicemen.

 

Brandon has a diploma in psychology and intends to get a degree in psychology after serving NS. He hopes to become a social worker or counsellor and help youth in society.

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Juggling different responsibilities, she still came out tops

A tchoukball competition overseas. Preliminary examinations. The SYF (Singapore Youth Festival) modern dance competition. More examinations. Another tchoukball competition overseas. Working part-time as a waitress to help pay for all the overseas trips. And then came the N Levels. All in one single year.

 

Yet Adalene Chua still managed to become the top Normal (Technical) course student in the N Levels, in the whole of Singapore. No wonder that she thinks 2011 was a “very busy but memorable year”.

 

The 18-year-old ITE College Central student started playing tchoukball when she was 15, and she initially played the relatively new sport with boys only, all from social work agency Youth Guidance Outreach Services. “I was known as a crybaby but the guys took care for me. But they also played seriously, and that helped to build my character.” Later on, she was helping another girls’ team to play, when she was talent-scouted by the national women’s team captain in 2010.

 

Playing for a national team was not easy at the starting phase. “At that time I cried alot, because I was asked to improve in different aspects. I was quite sensitive to small remarks like that… Sometimes I thought I was not progressing, but others kept saying I was.” Over time, she became more confident, and she remained open to feedback.

 

“Sometimes people outside the court can see the game from a better perspective. If I want to improve, I must also listen to others, even if they were not playing in the court.”

 

Having to prepare for competitions in the arts, sports and academics in 2011, would she be willing to do it all over again if one could turn back time? Yes, she said.

 

“If I study all the way, it’d be quite boring. And when you grow up, you’ll have to juggle different things anyway. So this is a good opportunity to learn how to manage and juggle different stuff.”

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Aloysius Yapp chose the less travelled path to play pool professionally at age 16

Only 16, but all set on his pool dreams

When Aloysius Yapp calmly and flawlessly clears the pool tables without missing a shot, he looks nothing like the 16-year-old St Patrick’s Secondary student that he is, the one who professes to not being able to keep awake in class and struggles with his school subjects.

The tall and large-built teenager is a pool fanatic who owns a pool table at home that he can practice at for 16 to 17 hours a day. He is also on the national men’s pool team and has halted school for a year to focus on playing professionally.

Aloysius said his fervour for the game started when he was eight years old. He was flipping through television channels one day when he came across a game of pool and was immediately drawn to the many colourful balls.

“I told my mother I wanted to try it, and she was very supportive and found me a coach, Paul Pang, from The Q Shop, a local billiard place.”

That the legal age to enter a pool shop in Singapore is sixteen did not deter Aloysius who regularly started hanging out there since several years ago and waited until people left before he played.

“My dad also didn’t approve of my playing pool at first because he thought I’d mix with bad company at these places,” he said, “but my mum knows that I am not that kind.”

He recounted incidents where he was offered cigarettes by people from gangs but simply politely declined.

“These people treat me nice and I treat them nice, but I mostly ignore them until they speak to me. I never initiate.”

“My dad accepted my love for pool quite reluctantly after a while,” he added, but he passed away several years ago.

But his father’s death spurred him to train harder at the game. Said Aloysius, “He wanted me to be the best in what I want to do, so I’m trying to do that now.”

And it is satisfying, he said, to be able to do what he wants – to play professionally.

This year, he has taken part in two world tournaments – the 2012 World Pool Team Championship in Beijing, and the 2012 World 9-Ball Championship in Qatar. Although he did not win anything, he got to rub shoulders with top Singaporean cuesport players like Toh Lian Han who won bronze in 2009’s Sea Games’ 9-Ball doubles.

Yet, he sometimes also feels very alone in his ambition, he said.

“My schoolmates are all studying for a living, and my pool mates are playing for the sake of playing. I’m the only one who wants to go pro. It can get very lonely,” he admitted.

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STORY OF HOW LIM POH HAN STOOD OUT & BE DIFFERENT

“Tchouk, tchoukball? You choke the ball inside ah?”, Lim Poh Han pointed to his throat as he described his first reaction when he heard of the sport four years ago.

Later on, it would be this new and unique sport that helped in transforming this ex-gangster’s life.

The 17-year-old vice-captain of Team Mustang was one of over 200 participants at the tchoukball competition of W.A.D! Games, held at the indoor stadium hall of Raffles Institution on 14 July 2012. His team was 2nd runner-up in the under-18(men) category.

In the past, he had a string of discipline problems. “I used to be a gangster. I would smoke, drink, break into the school,” Poh Han said. He even stole cash cards and laptops.

In 2009, he was referred to Youth Guidance Outreach Services (YGOS), a youth services organisation. That is where he picked up the sport of tchoukball and dropped some of his bad habits.

“After playing tchoukball, I became less arrogant. I decided to smoke less because of the sport, because we wanted to train for the nationals.” He also drinks “a lot less” these days, especially after he saw how his performance dropped sharply when he went drinking before a tchoukball game in March this year.

Having played the sport for four years, he finds that playing tchoukball helps him to control his anger and become more disciplined. His family has also seen the change in him. Not everyone thought he would change though.

When asked how he would complete the sentence “Who says I can’t be a ________?” (seen on the T-shirts of the volunteers at WAD! Games), he admits that people have said discouraging words to him before, telling him that he cannot change for the better.

“Some of my friends said that it was too late to change. I want to prove them wrong. I don’t want to let them have the wrong impression.”

While waiting to enter ITE, he now works part-time at Settler’s Café and as a tchoukball coach at Assumption Pathway School.

He may well continue working as a tchoukball coach for a long time.

“I will play tchoukball until the day I cannot play.”

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“No Shortage of volunteers, what’s missing is engagement”

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— NVPC Chief Executive Laurence Lien

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