Volleyball coach Tan lifts Chong Boon Sec School to new heights
No nets, no poles, no jerseys.
That was nine years ago, when Chong Boon Secondary School had no boys' volleyball team, let alone a dedicated Co-Curricular Activity (CCA).
But fast forward to 2014, and the school from Ang Mo Kio is a big player on the national scene.
And it is all down to volleyball head coach Adrian Tan, a nominee of The New Paper's S Soocelaraj Award, presented by Soilbuild Group, in recognition of teacher-coaches.
The 35-year-old single-handedly set up the CCA when he joined the school in 2005.
Starting with a grand total of just five players, he had to build everything from scratch and overcome obstacle after obstacle - till today.
But Tan, who is also a PE teacher at the school, relished the challenge.
He also made it his mission to impart his vision on the team.
"This was the reason I didn't want to go to a top school like Catholic High or Zhonghua Secondary,'' he said. "I wanted the challenge.
"You can always go to another school that already has a team, but it's not exactly your team. Someone else started it.
"But here, I can safely say that every single thing started from scratch."
There were many difficulties during the formative years, particularly with the demographic make-up of the students.
"Chong Boon is a school with a very small intake, it has only about five or six classes per year," he said.
"And what made it harder was the family background of the students. About half of them come from single-parent homes.
"Many of them, right from Secondary One, you can tell that they are at-risk teenagers.
"Not many of them come from the best of homes, and some have poor disciplinary records."
But Tan pulled through, staying true to his philosophy of not only making the boys better players, but also better people.
Said Tan, who has been coaching volleyball for 14 years: "If you guide them well enough, you just have to point them in the right direction. To me, volleyball is a tool to lock them in.
"At this very volatile stage of their life, it's important for them to develop a passion, something that they believe in."
Eventually, the years of hard work paid off.
Tan finally led his B Division boys' team to the National Schools South Zone title in 2012.
This year, the team also entered the South Zone final in February when they lost 0-2 to Catholic High.
The long-awaited success comes at a price, though. Much of the additional costs of running the team came out of his own pocket - or the "Adrian Tan Scholarship", as he jokingly calls it.
He said: "Honestly, I don't think I've had a decent holiday for nine years.
"My few holiday trips to Bangkok were spent buying jerseys for the team, and anything else that they needed for the year."
As the interview ended, Tan sat his students down for a pep talk before their Singapore National Games semi-final against Presbyterian High the following day. Chong Boon Secondary lost last week's match 0-2.
The team now wear fresh new red jerseys and, as Tan stood in front of 20-odd players, it's not hard to imagine how far they've come.
If you guide them well enough, you just have to point them in the right direction. To me, volleyball is a tool to lock them in.
— Teacher-coach Adrian Tan, on giving troubled teenagers a purpose in life