Sunday, June 15, 2008

Barefoot Basketball Players

We were just nice kids on the block. One part of the Methodist Secondary School was called English Department and the other part was called Chinese Department. We had one Principal, and two senior assistants who each looked after the two different departments.

Students were wary of each other. One department had lessons all conducted in English and we were made up of Ibans, Chinese, Malays, Melanaus and a few Kayans. We all spoke English pretty well and all our books were in English.

The Chinese Department students were all Chinese and they spoke Chinese or their own dialects. It was not fashionable at that time for non Chinese to be studying in a Chinese school.

Socially we were quite divided by the language differences. Sometimes we had basketball competitions between the two departments. And we felt that the schism was also amongst the teachers although they tried to be very civil to each other, pretending that there was no divide.

On one of the tournaments I noticed that some of the boys from the Chinese Department were playing barefooted. But I knew that many students at that time did practice without wearing shoes.

"Kaki ayam" or barefootedness was nothing new to us at that time. It was either the boy could not afford the shoes or he was used to playing without shoes.

On the day of one particular game between Form Four Boys and the Senior Middle Class, the boys played on the hot cement court next to the library at about four in the evening. The Chinese boys of course played very well. One of the Chinese boys was barefooted.

Upon seeing that I sort of concentrated on the barefooted boy's playing. He played very well. He was just not conscious of the fact that he was barefooted. It was a heart melting moment for me. And not long after that I noticed to my surprise two of the boys in the English Department team also took off their shoes, the blue rubber and cloth basket shoes which today would be as cheap as peanuts for most people. This was a very impactful on me.

In spite of the differences boys could sense that perhaps fairness needed to be brought about.

Naturally the English Department team lost as they were weaker and less talented players. But the gesture helped cement the good relationship amongst the different races in the school. My heart still went out to any boy or girl who played basketball barefooted then.

Years later when I started teaching, after getting my qualifications, I went to teach in a government school where basketball was popularly played amongst the multi racial student population. And the boys and even the girls played either barefooted or wearing their school shoes. It was a kind gesture that the Principal who decided to pay for some of the basketball shoes for the students when they went on tournaments. The teams looked wonderful handsome and were full of new confidence. They won a few inter-school tournaments. The school paid for their jerseys.

Today life is just too good for our youths. They could buy the best shoes , with the best brands and for any kind of activity. With all the knowledge about sports injuries, most parents are absolutely careful and therefore would pay through their nose for the right shoes. But I am sure somewhere out there, there are still boys and girls who play basket ball barefooted.

I am glad that many of my humble friends go jungle trekking wearing 7 ringgit Sarawak Addidas.

Would you still play basketball barefooted today?

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