Cinderella team gets ready for new challenge
Taipei, May 8 (CNA) After clinching a national title against all odds in early April, an Indigenous basketball team from Taichung's Ping-Deng Elementary School will return to the court Sunday hoping for another dramatic run in the Elementary Basketball League (EBL).
The team of 10 Atayal girls from the tiny school of 39 students in a mountainous village in Heping District entered a national elementary school basketball tournament last month as complete unknowns.
But they defied expectations when they stormed through the draw and took the title in the B division.
The Ping-Deng Elementary School will try for another miracle starting Sunday at the EBL single-elimination tournament featuring 39 girls' teams from around the country that will be held on several courts in Greater Taipei until May 16.
The EBL competition is unrelated to the tournament the team won in April.
Morale is high among the girls after they emerged victorious in the April tourney, which made them an overnight sensation around Taiwan, and nowhere more so than in Huanshan Village, an isolated outpost 1,700 meters above sea level where their school is located.
Some teachers and students plan to attend the team's game in Taipei on Sunday after finishing an outing in Yilan, according to school principal Liu Tzu-fen (劉姿芬).
Sixth-grade student Hsu Chien-yi (徐千醫) said the team won the admiration of the school after the victory, and that her brother, a fifth-grader who plays on the school basketball team, told her he envied their success.
Just playing the game, however, has never been easy for students at Ping-Deng Elementary School.
The school does not have a gym, so the team has to practice outdoors regardless of the weather, and the only court that exists is marred by cracks and peeling paint.
That has not stopped the students. Chuang Hui-en (莊蕙恩), a fifth-grader who joined the basketball team last year, said she's happy as long as she can play.
Having played basketball and baseball at different schools, Chuang said she prefers basketball. "It's painful to be hit by a baseball. You can bleed," she said.
The school's basketball program is headed by 38-year-old coach Ho Ching-lung (何慶隆), who has built a passion for the game, to the point where the players on the boys' and girls' teams account for more than half of the school's students.
Under Ho's leadership, Ping-Deng Elementary School has nurtured excellent players over the years, including Owen Chen (陳將双), whose performance in the game for third place in this year’s High School Basketball League carried his team to victory.
In addition, Chuang Hsin-ni (莊欣霓), a key player in the sixth grade, has been invited to study at Dalun Junior High School in Miaoli County and join the school's basketball team, which finished runner-up in the Junior High Basketball League this year.
Thanks to basketball, she can be noticed by more people, Chuang Hsin-ni said.
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