By Sarah Chen (19S03C) and Shervon Lee (19S06A)
Photographs courtesy of Raffles Photographic Society
Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the FIRE Tourney attacked. Only the Basketball, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed it most, it vanished — into the hands of the players. Over the weekend, from the 18th to the 20th of January, the basketball courts of Raffles Institution (RI) and Singapore American School (SAS) were ablaze with players from different schools pit against each other. The squeaking of shoes on court, the dull thud of the basketball, and the musky scent of sweat in the air all amplified to a boiling point in the confines of the court — the game was on.
Jointly hosted by RI and SAS, this year’s tournament — in its fourth year running — featured 22 different teams competing in at least two 40 minute matches each day. First played in 2015, the Gryphons-Eagles FIRE Weekend Tourney gets part of its long name from some of RI’s own core values: Fortitude, Integrity, Respect, and Enjoyment of the game, four key points crucial for a fulfilling and meaningful match.
At this point, the emphasis on it being a friendly tournament might make it seem insignificant, even boring. Where were the high stakes to ignite the heated rivalries that make competitive matches so thrilling to watch? And yet, had you been down to watch the teams play on either day, you might have thought you were watching the interschools instead.
Days 1 and 2 were hosted by RI in our very own sheltered basketball courts. Despite its lack of publicity, the tournament managed to attract a small crowd of supporters on both days almost as if moths to a flame — some eager to support their friends and school, others simply curious onlookers with nothing better to do on a lazy weekend afternoon. The tournament began with both boys and girls teams playing group games to determine their ranking, which was then used to organise the playoffs.
Entering the basketball courts in between matches, one might have found players milling around, some relaxing on their phones, others laughing and taking pictures with friends from other schools. Despite the lack of nervousness and tension in the air off the court, the matches definitely satisfied the audience’s burning desire for a well-played and gritty game. Players scorched the courts with lightning-quick footwork, racing to block encroaching opponents and drop shots in when the ball came into their possession. All the while, coaches shouted instructions from the sidelines — at one point during a girls’ match, RI’s coach reminded her players of a strategy loudly, before joking “aiya, the other players can hear me also, you know!”, earning a few warm laughs. Shots were greeted with encouraging cheers from supporters and teammates, which fuelled the players’ drive to keep fighting on, snuffing out any fatigue from their faces with grins. “We take every game we play as our last, carrying our fighting spirit with us whenever we lace up on the court,” explained Boys’ Vice-Captain Adam Harith (19S03B).
Day 3. Far into the Woodlands and within the campus of SAS, the final matches of the tournament raged on. The air-conditioning provided a respite to the steamy players running around in the middle of the sports halls, whose sweat stood testament to the ferocity of the game. The game reached a flash point early on as teams ran on court to do their warm-ups before each game, shooting every ball as if every match was the finals of the interschools.
During the game, with players brusquely calling out formations (“1-2-2!”) to their teammates, strategising as a team and playing for the win. Matches were alight with tightly-coordinated gameplay as teams upped the ante for the finals; shots were constantly being made, with players on both sides rushing towards the hoop in a valiant effort to get the ball in. The competition turned the heat up still further in the boys’ game against SAS, where multiple time-outs were called in the fourth quarter right before the game ended, making every second on the court even more precious. Spectators were at the edge of their seats, eager to see if Raffles would make a comeback.
When the final buzzer sounded, the players were still in mid-run, showing their effort till the end. Despite the lack of a buzzer-beater from RI, the sweat-drenched players walked off court, having gained experience and new insights to their play. At the end of the day, RI placed overall 4th for both the boys’ and girls’ teams.
While the FIRE Tourney was not a tournament for #schoolpride or glory, it was far from insignificant. The sheer effort put into every match from all the players showcased not only their passion for the game, but also their hunger for improvement. “Tournaments like this really allow us to gain many meaningful experiences, such as handling tight game situations, that we won’t be able to experience during trainings,” commented Boys’ Captain Li Chenbin (19S03L).
On top of that, Girls’ Vice-Captain Bridget Lum (19S03C) added, “It was very fun playing against all the different teams that we might meet again in A Div.” With 2019’s season fast approaching, any practice they can squeeze in is valuable. Matches with potential future opponents allow the team to get a better sense of other schools’ play, an advantage Raffles Basketball hopes to make use of to gain the upper hand in future games.
Three consecutive days of hosting and participating in tiring matches definitely proved to be a difficult feat for both the Boys’ and Girls’ teams. But Raffles Basketball is far from losing their fire, and we look forward to their coming season. “[It’s] bound to be an exciting one where we will fight through any challenges that dare stand in our way. Stay tuned.”