SINGAPORE - Table tennis was not an official co-curricular activity (CCA) at Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) when Ryan Chong and his teammates from ACS (Junior) entered the school last year.
But, driven by their passion for the sport, the group of boys decided to form their own team to represent the school.
Putting together a team of seven players - the minimum number needed - just two weeks before the start of the South Zone C Division boys' table tennis championship, they went on to win an unprecedented bronze medal last February.
For their unwavering passion for the sport, the team comprising Ryan Chong, Silas Chua, Ethan Ong, Ryan Eng, Benjamin Wee, Ethan Chua, Ryan Tan and Seth Wong have been awarded The Straits Times' Young Star accolade backed by 100Plus and given to school athletes who shone during the National School Games in 2018.
They are also nominated for the Young Star of the Year gong, and are the only team among five nominees.
Team captain Ryan Chong beamed with pride when told of the accolade.
"It makes me feel very happy, because my friends and I worked very hard to achieve what we did," said the 13-year-old.
Ryan explained that he and several teammates who had played table tennis together for ACS (Junior), like Ethan Ong and Ryan Eng, had discussed the idea of forming a team once they entered ACS (Barker Road).
Said Ethan: "Our seniors in the table tennis team at ACS (Junior) had also wanted to form a team once they got into ACS (Barker Road), but did not manage to.
"So I was quite sad thinking that I would not be able to play any more.
"Initially, we thought there was no hope, but we thought about it and decided we should just try to talk to the principal."
With the help of their parents, the boys began a dialogue with ACS (Barker Road) principal Loo Ming Yaw.
Despite having many challenges to overcome, all parties pulled their weight to make the boys' ambition to represent the school a reality.
Parents took turns to prepare lunch and ferried the boys to a table tennis club in Aljunied for training after school, where they also paid for private coaching.
The school supported the newly formed team by arranging for transport and deploying teachers to chaperone them at competitions.
The boys themselves had to juggle other CCAs they had signed up for, meaning many late nights completing homework or using the weekends to catch up on their studies.
But all their sacrifices proved worthwhile when they clinched the bronze at the zonal event.
The team welcomed their eighth member, Ethan Chua, soon after and competed at the National School Games, but were knocked out in the preliminary round.
Said principal Loo: "The school is proud of the team and their achievements.
"More than that, we are proud of their commitment to their area of passion and their dedication to improve themselves and achieve their goals.
"The (Young Star) award is a recognition of their attitude as well as the support of those around them - teachers, parents and coaches.
"Commitment is one of the school's values and we are pleased that the students were able to live out that value in the pursuit of their passion."
Said ST deputy sports editor Lim Han Ming: "Passion, initiative and commitment are key tenets in sport and the ACS table tennis team exemplified those values.
"Their ability to surmount obstacles will put them in good stead as they pursue their sporting goals in the future."