Singaporean ultimate is just fifteen years old, but the small country will send three teams to Worlds this year. Learn more about another up-and-coming international ultimate scene.
August 1, 2014 by Alisha Schor in Preview with 3 comments
A tiny, island, city-state is looking to make waves this week in Lecco. Singapore, a barely 50-year-old country with a population of just over 5 million, is sending a mixed, a women’s, and an open team to WUCC. This year is the first that Singapore is sending an open or women’s team, a marker of the sport’s explosive growth in the country. Their mixed team, Shiok, is seeded 13th and will face off against home team Croccali in Saturday’s showcase game. Read on to find out more about this dynamic ultimate scene.
Ultimate Growing In Singapore
Organized ultimate in Singapore began roughly 15 years ago with the formation of the Ultimate Players’ Association (Singapore) in 2000, or UPA(S)1. As with many smaller communities, ultimate in Southeast Asia consisted of only mixed teams at that time, and ex-pats from the U.S. and Australia dominated the scene. In 2006, Singapore sent two teams to WUCC in relatively nearby Perth. These relatively inexperienced teams–Freakshow and Shiok–finished 29th and last, respectively. Soon after, though, the popularity and quality of Singapore ultimate began to keep pace with the rapid growth of Singapore itself. Club teams began to train seriously and attract locals, and a subculture developed. UltySports Singapore, for example, was founded by three Singaporeans in 2008 as a catchall company offering coaching, fostering team development, and–of course–selling swag. UltySports currently helps sponsor their Open WUCC team, Crackerjacks.
Singaporean universities, junior colleges, and polytechnic schools soon began to form teams (all mixed)2. Today, all post-secondary schools have teams, and the annual Institute Varsity Polytechnic (IVP) and and Singapore University Games (SUiG) are serious affairs. Meanwhile, the club scene continues to grow. Freakshow and Shiok still exist, and new teams continue to form. The UPA(S) national tournament has swelled to 16 teams, and the Singapore Open attracts top talent from around Asia every fall. Not bad for a metropolitan area about three-fourths the size of New York City.
“The sport is clearly booming in Singapore with a significant growth seen in the tertiary institutions. The Ultimate Players Association (Singapore) has seen its active membership jump 60% from about 500 to 800 in about 3 years,” said Angelina Dass, a player on Singapore’s new WUCC women’s team, Sin City, and the media and publicity representative of UPA(S).
For the 2010 world games, Singapore’s club teams temporarily consolidated. They sent a single team, also named Sin City, which earned a respectable 18th place finish. That same year, Singapore’s first single-gender tournament, GenderMah, took place3. Mixed teams from Singapore and the surrounding area, including Malaysia and Vietnam, split into men’s and women’s teams in order to participate. This year, Sin City and Crackerjacks used the 4th annual GenderMah as a barometer for Worlds. Both teams were created specifically with WUCC in mind, and are hoping to increase the visibility of their sport at home. In the long run, the UPA(S) is striving to be recognized as a Singapore National Sports Association (NSA) member. Fielding national teams in multiple divisions will bring them closer to this goal.
“What is important is that enough players are starting to value the international experience such that they are willing to raise funds (we have to sell discs, sell clothes at flea markets, and sell refreshments at tournaments), take leave… and work extra trainings into their hectic schedules to participate in WUCC. With that comes depth in the Ultimate community,” explained Dass.
So who are the teams making these great strides for Singapore? Let’s take a look.
The Veterans: Shiok
In Singaporean/Malaysian slang, shiok is an interjection that has the sentiment of “cool”, “sick”, and “stoked” all rolled up into one. Cheering “Shiok” at every tournament, game and practice is an embodiment of their attitude toward the sport: amped to play. Their program is a huge presence in Singapore, boosted by B and C teams. In 2013, in addition to being the Singaporean mixed national champions, their spinoff open and women’s teams won their respective divisions at GenderMah. In the last five years, they’ve medaled at numerous pan-Asian tournaments, rarely failing to make the semis.
Even with their recent successes, their desire to improve is insatiable. To prepare for WUCC, Shiok regularly logs 6-hour-long, midday practices on the weekends. At 1°N latitude this is a serious commitment–Singapore’s weather is a constant 95 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity that puts Sarasota to shame. The exception to the heat, of course, is when monsoons are flooding their fields. (Play usually resumes if the rain is short; maybe this will give them an advantage in Lecco?). The team that we’ll see in Saturday’s showcase game against Italy’s Croccali will be fit and explosive. Their throwers are crafty and their cutters are agile. With Croccali seeded just above them at 12th, it’s anybody’s game. A Shiok victory in the spotlight would be not only a great start for the team itself, but huge for the rise of ultimate back at home.
The Newcomers: Crackerjacks and Sin City
Unlike Shiok, Crackerjacks and Sin City don’t have a deep team history. Crackerjacks was formed in 2012 by player/coach Benjamin Ho, also one of the UltySports’ founders. Ho brought the team together with that idea that competing in the open division at WUCC would be valuable in increasing the level of play of ultimate in Singapore and Southeast Asia. However, starting an open team in Singapore proved to be a challenge.
“Some of players concluded that they would not be able to commit for an open team, as many of them were already playing for a mixed team,” observed captain Gordon Yeo. He also noted that since many of the players are young, they are still committed to Singapore’s compulsory military service, which limits their ability to practice. One player was unable to make the trip at all due to his military duties.
Due to their youth (most of their players have only 4-7 years of ultimate experience), they’ll rely on their athleticism and energy to carry them through games. To gain every possible edge there, they worked with ultimate fitness specialist Tim Morrill while he visited Singapore last year. At WUCC they are looking to break seed (46th of 48), which we can expect them to do with wily cuts and plenty of chest high layouts.
Singapore’s new women’s team, Sin City, was formed shortly after Crackerjacks, after confirming that Singapore had a women’s bid to WFDF. Like Crackerjacks, the members of Sin City are mostly Singaporean players that have come together from mixed teams. They practice together 2-3 times a week, on top of the practices that many of them still attend for their “usual” club teams. Similarly, 4-7 years experience is the norm for these women, while their newest player has just barely a year of ultimate behind her. This edition of WUCC is mostly an investment in the future for them.
“We’re here to learn as much as we can so we can help take our experience back to the Singapore Ultimate community,” Dass said. “We want to eventually see local women talent grow and this is one good way to start.”
In just a few short years, Singapore’s mixed ultimate jumped from the bottom half of the WUCC tournament to the top-seeded Asian team in their division. The open and women’s teams intend to follow suit. Being able to send three full squads to Worlds is a big milestone for a small country, and lessons learned in Lecco will be valuable in feeding the rapid growth of Singaporean ultimate. For the time being, Singapore is happy to be able to send so many players to ultimate’s main stage.
And being featured in the showcase game? That’s shiok, lah.
No affiliation with the former USAU entity. ↩
All three are part of Singapore’s tertiary (post-high school) education system, with junior colleges being a required step prior to enrolling in a university. ↩
Fun fact: GenderMah is an English/Mandarin pun. In Mandarin, zhēn de ma (真的吗) sounds like “GenderMah” and means “Really?”. Living in Singapore at the time, I had the privilege of participating in that tournament, for a pickup team called GenderLah, or zhēn de la (真的啦), which means “Really!”. The intonation is contained in the last character. ↩