By Christopher Ong
WEST Spring Secondary in Choa Chu Kang is hardly the sort of name that springs to mind when one meets to discuss sports excellence.
Wrong. For it is among several neighbourhood schools that are stamping their mark on the schools sports scene, in particular on the newer events.
West Spring won three national titles this year from the air pistol event. Of the four B and C Division titles on offer, only its B boys drew a blank, losing out to ACS (Independent).
According to principal Seet Tiat Hee, the success is due to strategic planning.
When he became West Spring's principal in 2005, he knew the school had the infrastructure in place as it was one of the few to have an air-conditioned shooting range then.
It had also been hitting the bull's eye in the air rifle event at the Zone level.
With the event set to be introduced in the 2006 Singapore Schools Sports Council (SSSC) calendar, Seet was quick to realise West Spring's potential in air pistol.
Said Seet, who is the schools' national convener for shooting: 'When air pistol was introduced as a B Division event in 2006, I knew we were entering into a level playing field.'
That year, he also wasted no time in preparing his Secondary 1 shooters for the C Division event the following year.
In the intervening years, West Spring has capitalised on the strong financial support of the school's advisory committee, upgrading its shooting range to match Safra's Yishun range, where the Schools National competition is usually held.
The school had an electronic target training system installed for the air pistol shooters to monitor their progress, and it has bought 30 new pistols since 2006.
The school also employed full-time coach Abdul Rahim, a South-east Asia Games medallist in the 0.22 rifle 50m prone event.
The investments have paid huge dividends. West Spring has won six schools national titles in air pistol since 2007.
Another school to benefit from a similar formula is Teck Whye Secondary.
It was quick to jump on the floorball bandwagon when the sport became recognised by the SSSC in 2007, and won last year's C girls' title.
The school is often tops at Schools National hockey tournaments, so it was easier to coach the hockey players in a related sport.
Teck Whye's head of department for physical education, Ralph Roche, believes in doing his homework to see which new sports are gaining popularity in schools. Guided by the statistics, he has been able to gauge the likelihood of their inclusion in the Schools National competitions.
Now, Teck Whye is almost certain to benefit when archery becomes an SSSC sport next year, having introduced it in the school since 2002.
He said: 'I knew it would happen one day because I had scanned the market and seen more schools moving into it.'
Still, there are some neighbourhood schools who have stuck with a non-SSSC-recognised sport out of passion.
Doing a non-SSSC-recognised sport means that students are not eligible for Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) achievement points and Colours Awards.
Despite that, Bowen Secondary has had taekwondo and girls' football as CCAs since 2000 and 2002 respectively.
The football team's passion has already paid off this year when they won the inaugural B girls' football title.
Similarly, its head-start in taekwondo should come in handy when the sport becomes part of the schools' calendar next year.
Said Loo Wee Boon, Bowen's HOD for PE and CCA: 'In both cases, we were surprised to learn that the sports have become official SSSC competitions. It's certainly a bonus.'
Naturally, he is planning to build on Bowen's advantage, saying: 'We will channel more resources into football and taekwondo and scout for talent.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.