St. Paul Hmong community celebrates new sepak takraw courts

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Under a beautiful September sun, a small crowd, including several local dignitaries, gathered on Saturday in Saint-Paul on the grass of the city’s new sepak takraw courts.

The courts are the first in the country to be publicly built for popular Southeast Asian sport, organizers said.

“It’s a long time coming,” said Tzianeng Vang, vice president of Sepak Takraw of the United States, as he opened the ceremony at the Duluth and Case Recreation Center.

Nou Cam, from Des Moines, demonstrates sepak takraw at the opening of three new courts in Saint-Paul on Saturday, September 8, 2018 (Deanna Weniger / Pioneer Press)

Sepak is the Malay word for kick and takraw is the Thai word for a woven ball. It is played like hands-free volleyball, using only the feet, head, knees and chest to hit the yellow plastic ball over the net.

The Hmong community and officials at St. Paul have worked for years to build the $ 500,000 courts. In all, five courts were built, three at the recreation center and two near Lake Loeb in Marydale Park.

Lee Pao Xiong, president of Sepak Takraw of USA Inc., said athletes from the St. Paul area have represented the United States for years in international competitions such as the King’s Cup in Bangkok. Local businesses paid for their uniforms and plane tickets. He thinks the sport will continue to develop.

“When this becomes an Olympic sport, the team representing the United States will be from St. Paul, Minnesota,” he said.

Minnesota Senator Foung Hawj said he sees the courts as a way to share Hmong traditions with other communities in St. Paul.

“Everyone is going to come and play sepak takraw together, whether you are white, black, Hmong or Latino,” he said.

The courts build on the success of the adjacent Tuj Lub or top-spin playgrounds that opened in 2016. This game involves a rod and fishing line to throw a heavy spinning top down a long, narrow court.

The new courts were built mainly through donations. In February 2017, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee donated $ 100,000 to St. Paul Parks and Recreation for the project.

“I think it’s great,” said Jordan Hedlund of St. Paul. The company he works for, Flagship Recreation, installed the sod earlier this year. He admits to being confused as to what they would do, having never heard of sepak takraw.

“I definitely did YouTube and Googling,” he said. The company plans to install referee benches between the three courts.

The grand opening was hosted by Sepak Takraw of the United States, St. Paul Parks Conservancy and St. Paul Parks and Recreation.

Dancers at the inauguration of the Sepak Takraw Courts in St. Paul on Saturday, September 8, 2018 (Deanna Weniger / Pioneer Press)
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