By Ashley Tan
“Clickity clack clack clack!”
In a blink of an eye, the cups are collapsed from their stacks of 3, 6 and 3 into a single stack of 12 cups. Then just as quickly, restacked into their original stacks.
Welcome to the world of competitive speed stacking, where athletes from as young as 6 and below to seniors 75 years and up compete to see whose hands are the fastest. And they are fast: The current world record for the 3-6-3 event is 1.863 seconds.
This year’s World Sport Stacking Championship is held in Singapore this weekend (Apr 7 to Apr 9) at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). Run by the World Sport Stacking Association (WSSA), this annual event — the first fully in-person event since the pandemic — brings in 368 athletes from 17 countries all around the world.
This year, 65 stackers from Singapore are part of that competition.
And some of the athletes representing Singapore this year are a little more special than the rest.
Meet Team Singapore’s special-needs stackers
When The Pride met the four special-needs youths from Special Stackers, the athletes were strikingly different when they were practising speed stacking as compared to during their interviews.
Fiercely competitive, in full concentration, their hands moved faster than my eyes could follow when the timer started. Yet, when I interviewed them on camera, they struggled to enunciate their words.
But you can tell how much they wanted to do a good job whether they were at the cups or in front of the camera.
Talking to me with their mums and speed stacking head coach Allan Ong in close attendance, they tried their best to express themselves in simple phrases and sentences. Prior to the video recording, they repeatedly rehearsed their answers to the questions.
“Can I try again?”, “One more time, one more time!” they insisted when they felt that they could answer better during a second, third or fourth take. I might not have captured their passion on camera, but their perseverance to share their feelings and experience spoke volumes of their character as special-needs athletes.
How Singapore’s Special Stackers started
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In 2017, Noah Tan, then 15, was at special needs non-profit Rainbow Centre when he discovered that he enjoyed playing with stacking cups.
His mother, Rosyniah Wang shares: “One day, he told me, ‘Mummy, I want to play the cups’ when we went home. So I bought him his first official WSSA stacking cups.”
Rosy began to realise that Noah had a genuine interest in cup stacking and decided to look for a coach willing to teach a boy with special needs.
She explains: “In 2021, I found WSSA Singapore online so I called them and asked if they took in special-needs learners. That was how I found Coach Allan. And the rest is history.”
In 2022, she invited other special-needs athletes from Special Olympics Singapore (Noah has been a special needs bowler for nine years) to join cup stacking, hoping to build a team of special stackers to compete in team events.
She recruited bowler and speed skater Vince Tan, 22, (with his mum Reny Lee), bowler Muhammad Hakim, 24, (with his mum Rosmawati Rusli) in January. Swimmer Benson Tan, 32, (with his mum Mimi Tan) signed up in October.
This year, the Special Stackers (there are nine in total), as they call themselves, are eager to show their stuff with the 56 other Team Singapore athletes at the WSSA World Sport Stacking Championships.
Stacking at WSSA World Sport Stacking Championships
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Sport stacking is an internationally recognised sport that develops skills like hand-eye coordination, speed and focus. Open to participants of all ages and backgrounds, it also cultivates values like confidence, teamwork and good sportsmanship.
Coach Allan shares: “Basically, anyone can do sport stacking. However, only those who are committed and dedicated, determined and tenacious tend to do sport stacking the best.”
Last year, Noah, Vince and another member of Special Stackers Team SG, Siau Ek Jin, competed in the 2022 WSSA World Sport Stacking Championships, emerging with medals for their events.
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This weekend (Apr 7 to 9), the Special Stackers will be competing in various individual and team events against special-needs athletes from Australia, Malaysia and Chinese Taipei at the WSSA 2023 World Sport Stacking Championships.
And it’s a big deal for the boys, especially since it’s on home turf. Coach Allan explained: “To be in the first World Sport Stacking Championships in Singapore means a lot to the special stackers.”
Building the right mindset
Says Coach Allan: “I hope that Sport Stacking would bring both the special needs and neurotypical athletes together as they learn from one another about competition, winning and losing and about life.”
Noah’s mum Rosy adds: “Special needs athletes like Noah do face some challenges but through determination, perseverance and support , he is able to enjoy sports and participate in competitions like any other athlete.
“Sports has made a positive impact on athletes with disabilities not just in terms of their physical health but also their mental and emotional well being.
Being able to participate is encouragement for the special-needs athletes and their caregivers. Says Vince’s mum Reny: “Actually, for Vince to be able to participate in any competition, we are very happy and will be supporting him all the way.”
Said Noah: “People are impressed knowing that I am a competitive speed stacker!”
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The competition is from 7 to 9 April 2023 and it is open to the public. For the championship schedule and more information, visit the WSSA website.
Support Team Singapore and cheer our athletes on at SUTD if you’re free this weekend!