Girls face off on the volleyball court but forge new friendships when the nets come down. Felicity Glover reports.
Ten schools, 97 athletes and 20 coaches. A logistical nightmare for some, but for the organisers of this year’s SAISA (South Asian Inter-Scholastic Association) Volleyball Tournament for girls, it was a roaring success.
But the three-day tournament, held at The American International School of Muscat (TAISM) in Al Khuwair last weekend, wasn’t just about sport and on-court rivalries. The theme for this year’s event was “trust” and “competing with heart” – and it’s safe to say that all the girls, ranging from year 8 to year 12, did just that.
Hunt Brandt, the athletics director at the Murree Christian School, a small school with just 37 students that is located at the foot of the Himalayas in Pakistan, says his team had an eye-opening experience at this year’s tournament.
“During this tournament, they have developed, and yesterday [Friday, October 24], they all worked up and became a team, which was beautiful,” he says.
“We came seventh overall in this competition and for the resources we have, for us that is coming first.
“On the first day, they lost all their matches. Yesterday, we won a set, which was a major victory for us, and today we are doing really well.”
SAISA gives students an opportunity to mix with kids from other schools, experience a variety of cultures, develop new skills and make life-long friends – on and off the sporting field – as well as stay with local families during tournaments.
Ten schools belong to the association, which was set up in 1972, and each year the schools compete against each other in a variety of sports, such as volleyball, swimming, soccer, tennis, track and field, and badminton.
Hunt says his team of eight girls live behind walls amid tight security on the school’s premises. “This visit to Muscat is exhilarating for them,” he says. “TAISM is a big school with all the facilities. The girls from Murree have parents who are missionaries and they live under poor conditions. For them, being here is like another world.
“But what is great is that they are connecting with other girls here. We are also being hosted by other families, which is a good experience for them.”
Mike and Mindy Sheer, the parents of Mackenzie, who was playing for Lincoln School, Nepal, came along for the tournament. They used to live in Muscat from 2010 to 2012, and are now based in Kathmandu, where they both work for the US Embassy.
“It’s an amazing programme,” says Mike. “The kids become friends. And they might have played on one team and then find themselves competing against their old school so they are old friends.”
That was the case for Mackenzie, who attended TAISM when they were living in Muscat. But this weekend, she was playing for Lincoln School, Nepal – and both teams met each other in the final – so she was playing with new friends against old friends.
The final – the best of five games – was a nail-biter, but in the end it was Lincoln School that came out on top, sweeping aside TAISM 3-0.
But winning or losing wasn’t the main driver of the weekend – friendships were made, old friends reconnected again and at the end of the day, the girls just wanted to have fun.
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