As the men kicked the small yellow ball up and over the net, using only their feet, heads and chests, it seemed that the game sepak takraw has little to do with American football or the Super Bowl.
All that changed Tuesday afternoon in St. Paul because of a $100,000 grant from the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Legacy Fund that will build the state’s first permanent sepak takraw courts. If you’re not sure what sepak takraw is, think volleyball played with your feet.
“This will really be great,” said Tyson Her, one of the players waiting to demonstrate the game.
The extremely popular Southeast Asian game will become more entrenched in Minnesota, thanks to the gigantic commercial influence of the NFL and the Super Bowl to be played next February in Minneapolis. The host committee plans to award money each week to efforts to promote wellness and activity in communities across the state. St. Paul’s Marydale and Duluth and Case recreation centers not only will be the state’s first sepak takraw courts, but the first in the United States, officials said.
It makes sense for St. Paul, home of one of the country’s largest Hmong communities. Last fall, the city installed the country’s first tuj lub court — think bocce ball played with spinning tops — at the park outside Duluth and Case.
Mike Hahm, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said the $100,000 grant should pay for construction of two sepak takraw courts at each recreation center before the end of 2017.
“Our parks are working to make sure they’re culturally appropriate and culturally relevant,” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman told the assembled crowd of schoolchildren and officials in the Duluth and Case gymnasium. “Thanks to the largest grant awarded to date, we’ll be able to fix up courts to make that happen.”
Even without the infusion of Super Bowl cash, sepak takraw has proved to be not only popular but successful in Minnesota. Two Minnesota teams in November finished first and second in a national sepak takraw tournament in Las Vegas, said Tzianeng Vang, vice chairman of Sepak Takraw USA, based in St. Paul. Internationally, the goal is to eventually make the sport part of the Olympics, he said.
“The Super Bowl Legacy Fund is excited to help St. Paul Parks and Recreation bring the first sepak takraw courts to the community,” said Dana Nelson, vice president of Legacy and Community Partnerships for the Super Bowl Host Committee.
In all, the committee hopes to raise $5 million to $7 million through its corporate partners over the next year to give away over the 52 weeks. The St. Paul project was the third to receive a grant so far, following the Loppet Foundation in Minneapolis and Olmsted County Public Health in Rochester.