SINGAPORE - When Danny Wong returned to Dunman Secondary School after graduating from the National Institute of Education in 2006, he was handed a daunting task.
The mathematics and physical education teacher, who had taught at the Tampines-based school while at the NIE as part of his curriculum, was asked by a colleague to help set up a girls' basketball team.
He had no coaching badges and could only rely on his playing experience when he was a schoolboy, but Wong agreed.
"I didn't expect to be involved with basketball when I came here," said the 35-year-old, who played the sport from secondary school to university. To make the transition to coach, Wong turned to books and online videos.
Said Wong: "The teacher-in-charge of the boys' team at the time (Tan Jing Yang) was a close friend of mine and he asked me to set up the girls' team with him.
"We didn't have a lot of resources back then and, for the first few years, it was quite tough to really stand out from the pool of very good basketball schools."
After a series of top-four finishes in the East Zone competition, the big breakthrough came when Wong guided his first batch of girls to the B Division title in 2009.
It was Dunman's first basketball title.
It was the start of a golden run, as Dunman's girls' teams went on to clinch four more titles in the C and B Divisions, with Wong involved in three of them.
He then took on a co-coaching role with the boys last year after their first B Division win in 2011.
The result? A title win in 2012, followed by a third-place finish this year.
Dunman's rise to school basketball powerhouses prompted principal Beatrice Chong to nominate Wong for The New Paper's S Sooceleraj Award.
Supported by sponsors Soilbuild Group, the award seeks to honour teachers who double up and turn their student-athletes into stars.
"Under Danny's watch, Dunman Secondary has become one of the powerhouses in the national schools basketball scene," said Chong.
"Beyond those achievements, Danny cares a lot about the character and values of the students, using basketball as a means to teach them discipline, determination, hard work and teamwork.
"He also goes the extra mile and helps the students with their academic work by coaching them in mathematics."
While Wong rates the 2009 B Division girls' win as his most memorable achievement, nothing pleases him more than seeing his charges graduate with good grades as well.
It is a sign that the players have transferred attributes like a winning attitude, resilience and hard work from the court into the classroom.
"As a teacher-coach, I want to see them excel in their O levels," said Wong.
"That, to me, is the most important thing as it is quite a challenge for us to make these players achieve more than is expected of them in terms of academic results. Whenever we see them go to JC or poly with a good O-level score, we feel a sense of satisfaction that we've done our part."
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