Super skills and solid tackles
Reporter plays football with special needs boys and finds...
This was a football game I was fully expecting to star in.
I would be playing with and against mainly young boys from Minds Towner Gardens School, a special needs school in Kembangan that caters to children between seven and 18 with intellectual disabilities.
Thoughts of doing a Cristiano Ronaldo crossed my mind before the five-a-side game started.
But once the whistle sounded, I was blown away.
I was ball-picker more than player during the match.
The sports event on Friday morning was organised by Special Olympics Singapore, an organisation dedicated to promoting sports for the intellectually disabled. Besides soccer, there was also badminton.
It is sponsored by Proctor & Gamble (P&G) and NTUC FairPrice. Now in its third year, the event aims to raise awareness of the intellectually disabled.
I was in a team with three students and another reporter against NTUC FairPrice chief executive Seah Kian Peng, a P&G representative and three more students. At half time, the teams were shuffled.
Football spoke its own language. Despite the five-a-side teams being cobbled together at the last minute, tackles and passes flew fast.
More than showcasing my lack of fitness, the match proved that one's learning challenges is no indication of prowess on the field.
Like the scrawny but effervescent Ashraf who said he forgot his surname but was on a hat-trick by the end of the first half.
The 14-year-old was no more than 1.5m tall, but chased every last ball and ended the match with four strikes. He was my Man of the Match.
Or the infectious enthusiasm of goalie Mohd Farhan, 16, well-equipped with Lotto gloves borrowed from his coach.
Before the game started and worried that he would not be picked for his favourite role of goalkeeper, Mohd Farhan shot his hand up and exclaimed to Mr Seah: "Uncle! I want to be keeper!"
While some of the students have autism and Down Syndrome, Farhan's challenges in learning is unspecified.
His teacher, Mrs Sukvinder Kaur, described Farhan's grades as average, but he is undergoing on-the-job training every Tuesday at the Shangri-La Hotel, learning housekeeping skills.
The vocational programme is only open to a selected group based on their ability to follow and execute instructions, among others.
The match lasted only 50 minutes, but it felt longer (it's probably just me).
The boys played like it was the last day of school. An observer to the match could not have realised that some of them had limitations in their social, practical or conceptual skills.
Mr Seah, an avid sports fan, said: "The game really gave them an opportunity to showcase their talents and direct the game.
"Having sports in common is just one more way that preconceptions and false ideas can be swept away."
Mrs Kaur, who has taught at the school for 31 years, said: "In all my years as a teacher here, I have learnt more from them than I have taught them."
My team lost 7-3. My competitive nature means I am usually a poor loser.
But losing to these boys was different. I was overrun, but to opponents with big hearts and generous smiles.
In all my years as a teacher here, I have learnt more from them than I have taught them.
- Special needs teacher Sukvinder Kaur