Cedar aims to build on sterling track record

Cedar Girls' Secondary School students at the 1998 National Inter-School Track and Field Championships at the National Stadium. Above: Athletes from Cedar Girls' Secondary at a recent training session. In the almost 50 years since 1968, the school ha
Athletes from Cedar Girls' Secondary at a recent training session. In the almost 50 years since 1968, the school has clinched 40 "B" and "C" division championships in the National Inter-School Track and Field Championships. ST PHOTOS: LIM YAO HUI
Cedar Girls' Secondary School students at the 1998 National Inter-School Track and Field Championships at the National Stadium. Above: Athletes from Cedar Girls' Secondary at a recent training session. In the almost 50 years since 1968, the school ha
Cedar alumna Desiree Tan flanked by current student Joleen Ho and fellow alumna Tan Xin Ning (far right) during training. Current and former students train together under an alliance among Cedar, Victoria School and Victoria Junior College to share facilities and coaches.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAO HUI
Cedar Girls' Secondary School students at the 1998 National Inter-School Track and Field Championships at the National Stadium. Above: Athletes from Cedar Girls' Secondary at a recent training session. In the almost 50 years since 1968, the school ha
Cedar Girls' Secondary School students at the 1998 National Inter-School Track and Field Championships at the National Stadium. ST FILE PHOTO

Track and field team a big source of pride for 60-year-old school

Ask any former Cedar girl about her time at school, and it will not be long before she tells you about the mandatory jogging sessions.

Said Ms Tan Ee Sze, 52, who did long-distance running at Cedar in the 1970s: "A lot of us became used to running, not that we liked it."

Ms Tan, a technology news editor, added: "If you had an MC, but were still able to walk, you were expected to walk one round around the track with the teacher."

No one wanted that, so they would run any way.

Back then, the girls had to jog two rounds around the school's 400m track every school day.

The school, which is into its 60th year, has kept the tradition alive - only now, the girls circle the school compound twice, during one to two jogging periods every week.

Cedar Girls' Secondary has long been known for its track and field excellence. In the almost 50 years since 1968, it has clinched 40 "B" and "C" division championships in the National Inter-School Track and Field Championships.

One factor behind its success is a 400m track - originally made of bitumen, and the first of its kind for a government school when it was completed in 1972.

The iconic track, located in a parcel of land behind the school, will make way for the new Bidadari estate when the school's lease on the track expires at the end of the year.

Many have fond memories of the track. Ms Lenis Phoa, 23, who represented Singapore in volleyball in the 2015 SEA Games, said: "When students go back, it's the one spot they choose to take a picture at."

Cedar girls held fun fairs and walkathons to raise $250,000 for the track, which used to be part of the school until it moved to an adjacent site in 1994. Still, the track and the tiered seats next to it, previously a hang-out for students busy with homework or drama rehearsals, were left in place. Around 2009, the tier seats were removed when the school was upgraded.

The school also has a 110m track, which is being extended into a 280m circuit track by June.

Cedar has produced many top athletes, including former national netball team captain Jean Ng; Singapore Sports School's deputy director for sports Chan Wai Lin; and Maimoon Mohd Abu Bakar, one of Singapore's athletics pioneers.

The school, equipped with two sports halls, a student gym and outdoor basketball and netball courts, also offers badminton, basketball, netball, table tennis and volleyball.

The teacher behind the legendary jogging sessions is retired sports coach N. Subramaniam, who was at Cedar from 1961 to 1976. Said the 79-year-old: "It helps develop aerobic fitness. It becomes a lifestyle." Sure enough, old girls like Ms Tan still meet up regularly to run together and race.

But building a strong athletic culture was never just about the track. Caring teachers played a part, too.

Seeing that some girls were undernourished, Mr Subramaniam got the school to supplement their diet with milk, eggs and multi-vitamins.

As the track and field team grew from strength to strength, it became a big source of school pride.

During national championships, the entire school would go down to the old National Stadium, showing support in a roaring sea of blue.

Singapore's record holder for pole vaulting Rachel Yang remembers what it was like at the old National Stadium in 1998 when she took part in a relay. "It was electrifying. They brought drums, there were so many of them we could only hear the Cedar girls cheering. Our competitors were intimidated."

Ms Yang, 34, who did athletics, badminton and volleyball at Cedar, added: "It was very competitive, but the teachers taught us very well how to handle stress."

As early as the 1970s, all Secondary 1 students have had to go through track and field trials so anyone with potential is spotted.

The 120-strong track and field group is a close-knit community. The girls go out together and help one another with schoolwork.

Said department head for PE and co-curricular activities Chai Ying Chung, 53: "Even though it is an individual sport, they treat one another as a team."

Former throws captain Desiree Tan, 17, now at Victoria Junior College, said: "The juniors push the seniors, and the seniors push the juniors. Competition is within the team before it's with other schools' athletes." She returns to her alma mater to train, thanks to an alliance it has with Victoria School and VJC to share facilities and coaches.

Ms Phoa also returns once a month to help with training.

"There's a very strong sense of pride about being part of the school... You feel you are part of something much bigger," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'Cedar aims to build on sterling track record'. Print Edition | Subscribe