I’ve been asked to write about either a per­son or an orga­ni­za­tion that inspires or sup­ports or encour­ages par­tic­i­pa­tion in sports.

I can think of a hand­ful of peo­ple I know who have been influ­en­tial, although not in the way we’re accus­tomed to see­ing, in pro­mot­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion, and to a cer­tain extent, excel­lence in their field of sport.

I recall very fondly my rugby coach in Syd­ney, Frank, who was in charge of our hap­less MacArthur Mooses (rhymes with Losers) club’s men’s team, which was entrenched at the bot­tom of the NSWSRU’s 6th Divi­sion, and which didn’t look like win­ning a sin­gle match when I joined in the 2000 season.

With only about 20 play­ers to pick from, it was a hard task every week try­ing to form a team of 15 play­ers when a rough match the week before could dec­i­mate the play­ing stock through var­i­ous injuries, but Frank sol­diered on for some rea­son, and for some rea­son, the rest of the team sol­diered on with him.

Before you think there’s a fairy tale end­ing here and the Mooses go on to win the divi­sion and get pro­moted to the 5th Divi­sion, stop. They lost every match of the 2000 sea­son but one, and also in the fol­low­ing year.

Still I’m quite sure the team’s still in the com­pe­ti­tion some­where, play­ing and los­ing and the play­ers earn­ing Frank’s quite remark­able ire every time.

Frank used to run us through our drills every train­ing, very earnestly – shak­ing his head at every spilled ball, and egging us on with all sorts of vul­gar­i­ties – which we eagerly trans­lated to income via a swear-fine jar ($5 for every swear word).

And then there was one bizarre pre-match brief­ing which entailed Frank try­ing to hyp­no­tise key play­ers to help us play bet­ter. We lost that match 145–0, and urged Frank to try that trick on oppo­nents instead. He just sighed, swore under his breath, and took $5 out of his wal­let and put it into the swear-fine jar.

Not a poten­tial nom­i­nee for coach of the year, Frank. But what my team­mates and I liked about Frank and many other coaches/managers of the sub­ur­ban sport­ing leagues in Syd­ney was their unwa­ver­ing pol­icy of “giving every­one a go”. It didn’t mat­ter if you were tall, short, fat, skinny, fast or slow, he’d give you a run on the team at some point, whether or not you were a 100 game vet­eran or a new­bie who’d just only recently touched a rugby ball.

It was no sur­prise that the MacArthur Mooses com­prised Anglo-Australians, Pacific Islanders, Ital­ian Aus­tralians, Lebanese Aus­tralians, and at the end of the back­line, a Malay-Singaporean, a Chinese-Malaysian and of course, yours truly.

Every­one got a go, and I never once felt demor­al­ized at being on the wrong end of hun­dred point hid­ings, and nei­ther did my team­mates. We loved play­ing, and being on the field, and being part of a sport­ing cul­ture that embraced everyone.

Noth­ing sums it up more than one after­noon, while gear­ing up for another hid­ing on home ground, with my Malay-Singaporean team­mate in the stands in charge of the BBQ stall because he is out injured with a bro­ken nose. The ref­eree is about to blow the whis­tle to start the game when my team­mate yells:

“FRANK! Are these sausages HALAL? Because if they’re not, I shouldn’t be touch­ing them!”

Frank, to his great credit, did not utter a sin­gle swear word in his response, which was sim­ply a mea­sured: “For the lot of you, whad­dya think?”

If you, like me, are inspired by peo­ple who’ve pushed you to par­tic­i­pate in sport, and think that that per­son or orga­ni­za­tion deserves men­tion – do check out the Sin­ga­pore Sports Council’s POSB Every­day Cham­pi­ons and nom­i­nate them: http://www.singaporesports.sg/posbchampions/home.aspx

It could be your coach, your teacher, or your father who dri­ves you to train­ing every morn­ing – anyone!

Speak­ing of which, I recall a teacher from sec­ondary school at ACS who used to be in charge of our swim­ming PE lessons. Mr Goh, I think his name was, but which was often for­got­ten in favour of his more pop­u­lar nick­name, Darth Vader, on account of his raspy voice and stern demeanour.

Every swim­ming PE les­son, every boy in the class would be ush­ered into the swim­ming pool, and made to swim. No muck­ing about, no games, just swim, and swim laps.

Darth Vader would prowl the perime­ter, and although dressed only in his Speedos, would never actu­ally be in the water. In place of a light sabre, he had a broom stick or a swim­ming pool cleaner’s net, which he would use to prod boys who’d been tired enough to hang on to the side of the pool.

“SWIM”, he’d rasp.

“But sir, I’m tired”, would come the typ­i­cal response.

“THEN SWIM SLOW­LY”, he’d rasp again while pok­ing you off the side of the pool.

And so, every boy swam at every PE. (OK, I’m exag­ger­at­ing — some man­aged to get out of it totally).

And you might argue that the link is ten­u­ous, but in 1984, some of the boys who’d swum in that same pool (Shaw Pool, Barker Road): Ang Peng Siong, Oon Jin Gee, Oon Jin Teik and David Lim formed the Sin­ga­pore Olympic team that swam at the Los Ange­les Olympics.

It all starts somewhere.

Nom­i­na­tions open from 16 Oct – 16 Nov 2008

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