Sports Tourism: Playing with Hornbills and meeting Strangers in the Night

Sun Rise players pose with another team during a friendly match recently.

Lau Boon Hui of Sarawak Hornbill in action at a recent tournament.

KUCHING: One is led to believe that a group of 26 Singaporeans can’t wait to jump out when their plane touches down at Kuching International Airport at 2pm today (Nov 3).

As one of them told The Borneo Post, they are “so very excited” to reach a destination they have targeted for some time.

But it is true that 16 of them can really jump. Perhaps not as high as they once could. For they are members of Singapore’s Sun Rise veteran basketball team. Accompanied by spouses and friends, they will be in Kuching for four days till Monday to play two friendly matches.

It all started about six months ago. Retired army officer Wong Hen Jeng told his long-time Kuching friend, who previously worked in Singapore, that his teammates were interested in coming over to play against local veterans.

After some enquiries, phone calls and emails, they got in touch with Voon Soon Leong (chairman), Peter Ho and Raymond Teo (vice chairmen) of the Kuching Division Basketball Association. Sun Rise Team secretary Thomas Ong coordinated matters on the Singapore side.

Sun Rise was formed 15 years ago by a group of friends who have played together since they were young. It has now grown to 55 members aged between 38 to 81 and dedicated to the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle and friendship.

Playing an average twice a week in community courts in the city-state, they are well-travelled and have played friendly matches in China, Macau, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.

Occasionally they compete in veteran tournaments. Their players stress that they are focused not on results but rather that “every player has playing time regardless of his skill level.” When their trip to Kuching was confirmed about a month ago, Ong emailed this message: “We look forward to having fun with our counterparts in Sarawak!”

Their first match will be against the Sarawak Hornbills, an illustrious name in local basketball circles. In recent years their veteran team have also travelled to neighbouring cities to compete in the annual Asean Veteran Championships. Just last month, they finished third at an international tournament held in Johor Baru.

Sun Rise will next have a rendevouz with ‘D’ Stranger, one of the most established local basketball clubs. ‘D’ Strangers are actually no stranger to local youth, open and veteran tournaments which their teams have participated for nearly 40 years. Their veteran team is one of the few local ones who play together regularly rather than just assemble for a tournament only to disperse after it.

On the eve of their visit the Singapore players have expressed anxiety that the two Sarawak teams could prove too strong for them.

Are they playing mind games? Or is it just their brand of ‘basketball diplomacy’? Trying to address this concern, the doyen of the local basketball fraternity and former national player Voon said, “Aiyah! It’s only a friendly match. Everyone is getting old. Whoever win or lose is not important, right?”

Members of the public are invited to find out.

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