Nation’s first sepak takraw courts to be built on East Side


The Southeast Asian game of sepak takraw is played by using only the head, feet, or knees to knock a plastic ball back and forth. Hands cannot be used and players go to gravity-defying measures to ensure the ball does not fall on their side.

Soccer-like game is a tradition for Southeast Asian cultures

The East Side is about the become one of the first neighborhoods in the U.S. to receive permanent sepak takraw courts. The Duluth and Case Recreation Center on the East Side and Marydale Park in the North End neighborhood will each receive two new courts.

Sepak takraw, a traditional sport played in much of Southeast Asia, involves teams of three players passing a ball over a net. Players can use any part of their body, except their hands, to get the ball over the net. The game could be described as a cross between volleyball and soccer.

The courts will be built using a $100,000 grant to St. Paul Parks and Recreation from the Minnesota Super Bowl LII Host Committee Legacy Fund, which was announced during at event at the Duluth and Case Recreation Center on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The grant will also be used to fix tennis courts at St. Paul recreation centers and parks. 

In preparing for hosting the 52nd Super Bowl next year, the Legacy Fund is awarding one grant every week until next year’s Super Bowl. This was the foundation’s third grant so far.

“We need to leave a legacy for our state,” said Maureen Bausch, Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee executive board member. “We’re showing the world what we Minnesotans do, and you’re a part of that.”

Tuesday’s event included fourth-grade students from Jackson Elementary, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, state Sen. Foung Hawj and St. Paul city council member for Ward 6 Dan Bostrom.

“This helps us bring our community’s dreams to life,” said Mike Hahm, St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department director. 

 

Home of sepak takraw pros

While it is not known where in Southeast Asia sepak takraw originated, the game is played in Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines and Myanmar. 

While each country had its own name for the game, once international competitions began and formal rules were established, it was decided to create one name, sepak takraw. The name consists of two languages; sepak is Malaysian for “kick,” and takraw” is the Thai word for “ball.”

Sepak takraw was introduced in Minnesota by the first wave of Hmong immigrants 40 years ago. 

Some Minnesota sepak takraw players, who are a part of Sepak Takraw of USA, Inc., are award winners. In December they came home with first and second place from SkillCon, a convention where unique skills and competitive sports compete.

Lee Pao Xiong, chair of Sepak Takraw of USA and a professor of Hmong Studies at Concordia University in St. Paul, said the organization was established about six years ago and has been working with St. Paul parks staff to build sepak takraw courts in the city.

They have also competed at the King’s Cup in Thailand, the Super Bowl of the sepak takraw world and the Super Series in Malaysia.

Sepak Takraw of USA, along with sepak takraw organizations from Southeast Asia, are working to make sepak takraw a part of the summer Olympics. 

The sport is hugely popular during the annual Hmong Fourth of July celebration in Como Park, known as Hmong Freedom Celebration Sport Tournament or “J4.”

Gao Chang, secretary for Sepak Takraw of USA said the game is fairly easy to pick up and understand, but that to be a pro takes a lot of work. Professional players are often defying gravity by jumping in the air and spinning to kick the ball over the net.

Chang said these courts at Duluth and Case Recreation Center are history making for the Hmong community in St. Paul. He added not only will these courts benefit Southeast Asian descendants in St. Paul, they will benefit everyone in the neighborhood. 

 “We should embrace our cultures,” Chang said.

Tzianeng Vang, vice chair for Sepak Takraw of USA said to have St. Paul be home to the first sepak takraw courts in the U.S. “means a lot for the older generations” and is a way for the younger generation to connect with their culture. 

 “It makes it more visible,” Vang said. 

To see a video of how sepak takraw is played, go to Lillienews.com.

 

Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

 

 

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