SINGAPORE - Play finally resumed at the National School Games (NSG) on Monday (March 29) after the competition was halted for more than a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Several sports - volleyball, badminton, tennis, sepak takraw, table tennis and bowling - began with zonal or national preliminary matches as student-athletes were thrilled to be back competing on courts, even if all matches were held behind closed doors as part of safe management measures.
At St Hilda's Secondary School, the girls' B Division volleyball East Zone preliminary rounds saw teams from Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (PLMGS), Chung Cheng High School (Main), Dunman Secondary School, Dunman High School, Cedar Girls' Secondary School, Hai Sing Catholic School, Temasek Junior College and St Hilda's square off in the modified 3v3 format.
Chung Cheng High's Althea Ng, 16, whose team lost 9-6 to PLMGS, was still in high spirits. The Secondary Four student said: "A lot of us wanted to give up because we have O levels this year and our mid-year examinations are coming up. Also, those who were in CCAs (co-curricular activities) that were excluded from the NSG have stopped training, but we learnt to stay strong and united together."
The others are golf, gymnastics, rope skipping, shooting, taekwondo (poomsae) and wushu. As non-contact sports with no or little intermingling between students across different schools, they were considered to be of lower risk.
The Games' 17 other disciplines, including athletics, swimming and popular team sports like basketball, football and netball will remain suspended.
The NSG, which typically runs from January to August, is the biggest sports event in Singapore, involving about 60,000 student-athletes.
Last year's edition was cancelled for the first time in its 61-year history owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The A, B and Senior (Primary 5 and 6 pupils) divisions' competitions end on May 27. The C and Junior (Primary 3 to 5) divisions are expected to resume in Term 3, which starts on June 28.
A maximum of 50 participants will be allowed into competition venues at any one time and no spectators are allowed.
At St Hilda's sports hall, which was divided into two - one for the match, the other for warming up - and separated by a long curtain, only four teams were allowed inside at any one time while the remaining two had to wait outside the hall.
During the games, each team were spaced apart and had a bench for their substitutes, who had to wear masks.
For Dunman High captain Ng Yong Hui, whose team beat Dunman Secondary 12-3, the hardest adjustment was the new on-court rules.
"The previous mindset that we used to have when playing 6v6, we had to do away with that and had to be more flexible and had to play by ear," said the 16-year-old.
An opening-day victory was the ideal start and she summed up the mood perfectly: "We are very excited because we get to play again with other schools."