Forty years of health, happiness and hoops

Since 1968, the Seattle Chinese Athletic Association has been a place for community youth to participate in athletics. (Photo provided by the Seattle Chinese Athletic Association.)

By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly

In a nation that gets fatter every year, how do we encourage children to become active in sports? Playing Madden NFL ‘09 hour after hour on the Playstation does not count.

In the summer of July 1968, a small group of Chinese American men wanted to have their children discover the fun of participating in sports teams. They decided to meet with Ruth Smith, then-director of the Jefferson Community Center, to discuss how they could get their kids involved in sports.

From that conversation, the Seattle Chinese Athletic Association (SCAA) was born. SCAA began as a nonprofit organization that offered 35 Chinese American boys the opportunity to form teams and play basketball, tennis and softball.

Today, the SCAA operates like an extended family compromising of 75 volunteers who are dedicated to building the characters of more than 260 Asian American boys and girls. It operates without federal financial aid.

SCAA is now open to children of all Asian descents and has grown into 24 teams. Children in grades five through 12 regularly compete against one another. There is a clinic program for children in grades two through four. As one of the longest-running youth organizations in Seattle, SCAA will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year.

“The founders and I formed SCAA with the goal of providing a place for community youth to participate in athletics. Now, 40 years later, not only has our original goal been met, but it’s where nearly 8,000 boys and girls have experienced a sense of community and family values as well as developed lifelong friendships,” said founder Glen Yee. Other SCAA founders include Ed Wong, “Pudge” Eng, Dr. Eugene Ko, Cal Chin, John Dong, Al Mar and Phil Mar.

Cheryl Chow, president of the Seattle School Board and SCAA basketball coach, started SCAA’s girls program in 1974 at the request of her uncle, Dr. Roy S. Mar. She recruited enough sixth-and seventh-graders to form two teams. They began learning basketball at Kimball Elementary School.

Chow remembers how both teams won their first games “by one basket,” playing against boys teams one grade lower.

Tia Sonesouphab, 16, is a point/wing guard on her as-of-yet unnamed SCAA team. Maybe they should call themselves the Gigglers? “We’re best known for laughing on the court and having a lot of fun,” said Sonesouphab.

A Garfield High School junior, she joined SCAA five years ago when she was in the seventh grade. She loves traveling to play against teams in Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia.

“I’ve always had a passion for basketball,” Sonesouphab said. “I loved playing it. Also, in my freshman year, I played for my school team, and I didn’t have much of a bond with them even though I played with them every day. I come here once a week and I have a bigger bond with these guys than I will ever have at school.”

Her teammate, Tiffany Luong, 17, is also a point/shooting guard, joining SCAA in the fifth-grade. Luong remembers her first SCAA coaches being very supportive as she started learning the game’s fundamentals.

Also planning to play basketball through her senior year, Luong says she’s developed leadership skills and learned important lessons she can apply to life off the court, such as teamwork.

Luong feels a sense of responsibility and credits the lesson of giving back to the Asian American community to her coaches. “They’re not getting paid to do this. They’re coming to volunteer and teach us, younger kids, what to do. I think I would also love to come back and help.”

Both young women view SCAA’s anniversary as an amazing event. Sonesouphab hopes it gets the message out to other girls that SCAA is “an organization they can come to where they can be themselves and have other girls to bond with.”

One former SCAA participant enjoyed the game so much that he worked hard to improve his skills, starting in the fourth grade. His extra effort paid off when he was picked to play basketball at Franklin High School and later, Seattle University.

Dr. Trevor Tsuchikawa, a dentist opening his practice in Skyway, remembers “a lot of missed shots” in the beginning of his basketball career.

He says SCAA was “very inspiring” and became a positive influence in his life.

Now, a coach at Franklin High School, he said, “I try to teach my kids at the J.V. level the importance of being a good person, first and foremost, and being able to respect yourself and your teammates and your opponents.”

“The basketball will take care of itself,” he added. ♦

For more information about the SCAA 40th Anniversary Dinner and Auction, held on Nov. 22 at 6 p.m. at the Spirit of Washington Event Center in Renton, visit www.scaayouth.org. Contact Risa Woo at risadee@msn.combenjody2000@hotmail.com with questions. or Jody Patawaran at

James Tabafunda can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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