Mum sticks by pool player Aloysius Yapp's brave move to drop out of secondary school

Aloysius Yapp, with his mum Angie Tay, is eyeing a chance to win a gold medal before a home crowd in next year's SEA Games.
Aloysius Yapp, with his mum Angie Tay, is eyeing a chance to win a gold medal before a home crowd in next year's SEA Games.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Decision to let him put studies on hold at Sec 2 pays off with junior world pool title

A mother's love reveals itself in many forms. It can manifest as dedication, sacrifice - or in Angie Tay's case, absolute trust in her child.

Her act of faith arrived in 2011 when her son Aloysius Yapp, then a Secondary 2 student in St Patrick's School, pleaded with her to allow him to put his studies on hold to pursue his dream of becoming a professional pool player.

"It was a very tough decision for me to make, especially as a single parent with two children," said the 50-year-old widow who works as a personal assistant in the civil service. "But he was so determined to succeed even at a young age and I knew he had the talent, so I believed in him."

Her conviction in Aloysius' gift with a cue stick was vindicated last month when the 18-year-old staged a stirring fightback in Shanghai to defeat Taiwan's Hsu Jui-an 11-10 and clinch the nine-ball World Junior Pool Championships.

"I finally achieved something and I couldn't have done it without my mum who has always believed in me," said Aloysius.

He became the first Singaporean to clinch a world title in the sport and received the nod as The Straits Times Star of the Month for November.

Maternal support also arrived in the form of his 10th-birthday present: a miniature pool table - seven feet long, compared to the nine-foot ones he competes on - which allowed him to play without having to tiptoe awkwardly around the rails. It meant he could practise at home when opportunities to train at pool parlours were limited owing to his young age.

Now, he hones his craft at the Chinese Swimming Club but the table remains in the living room of a Simei flat where he lives with his mother and sister Vanessa, 21.

"It's definitely a reminder of how I started," said Aloysius whose journey has already seen him beat Filipino pool legend Efren Reyes.

His long-time coach and mentor Paul Pang, 64, reckons there is still room for improvement in the teenager nicknamed "South-east Asia's Wu Chia-ching", in reference to the former Taiwanese child prodigy who became a double world champion at 15.

Said Pang who has guided Aloysius for almost a decade: "That's what the regional players like to call him and it shows how highly they regard him."

With few suitable sparring options available for Aloysius here, he has had to compete overseas to test himself against the sport's elite.

Such exposure does not come cheap.

While the Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim Scholarship and the Sports Excellence (Spex) Carding from Sport Singapore offer some financial help, it is not adequate to cover his expenses.

This year, he has earned around US$15,000 (S$19,700) in prize money but was still in the red after taking into account the cost of taking part in 10 to 15 international competitions.

Both Aloysius' 2013 and 2014 applications for the Spex Scholarship - which offers selected national athletes on a three-tiered scheme monthly stipends ranging from $1,200 to $8,400 - were rejected.

Since that historic triumph in China last month, two companies have expressed enthusiasm in working with him but, like his three current deals, the tie-ups involve only equipment sponsorships instead of cash.

Aloysius is undeterred, saying: "Hopefully, if I do well in some international tournaments next year, like the China Open where there are a lot of advertisers, I will be able to catch the attention of sponsors who might be able to help me."

Together with three-time billiards world champion Peter Gilchrist, Aloysius represents the Republic's best cuesports hopes at next year's Singapore SEA Games.

"I know nothing less than a gold medal will do," noted Aloysius who will compete in both the nine-ball individual and doubles events.

A victory will make him just the second Singaporean, after Chan Keng Kwang in 2005, to capture a gold medal in pool.

Said Cuesports Singapore president Christopher Chuah: "It would prove that our development programme is moving in the right direction and Aloysius would be a positive icon for young players."

Idol or not, he is already a darling to his beaming parent.

Said Tay: "I'm so proud of him. What he has achieved has convinced me that I made the right decision."

jonwong@sph.com.sg