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Play Ball: Thai Marines Teach Devil Dogs New Tricks

By Lance Cpl. Chad C. Adams, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service

SONGKHLA, Thailand, May 19, 2000 – Several Marines were treated to a new sport here recently as members of the Thai Marines put on a show playing a game they call "takraw."

"It's very fun," said U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. Denny Meelarp, a translator with Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, who grew up in both Thailand and the United States. "It's a mix between soccer and volleyball, but it's real fast."

Takraw is a hybrid of soccer and volleyball. Players square off in teams of three, separated by volleyball net strung low across the court. A small, woven plastic ball must go over the net within three hits, but as in soccer, players can use only the head, feet, knees and elbows to hit the ball.

As in volleyball, teams score only when they have the serve, and games are played to 15. Unlike volleyball, a player can hit the ball twice in a row.

As different as takraw may be to any sport most Americans know, the most impressive aspect isn't the rules but the way the Thais play.

A volleyball team might bump the serve, set at the net and then spike the ball with a thunderous downswing of the hand. In takraw, a serve might be bumped with a knee or head; set by kicking, "heading" or kneeing the ball high into the air; and spiked via a back flip and Pele-like bicycle kick. Others might spike the ball by jumping into the air, extending one leg high in front of their faces with a Bruce Lee-style karate kick before bringing it down on the ball.

"Seeing them do that -- flip, kick -- that's awesome," said Marine Sgt. Michael G. Phelps, field wireman, Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division.

When two competitive Thai teams play, the action becomes a high-flying spectacle as players jump and kick at the net while opponents counter by trying to block the shot with their feet or heads. As much as NBA players play above the rim, these spectacular athletes definitely have hops – which explains why this age-old Asian sport is beginning to spread.

"It's actually a sport that's starting to grow in the states," Meelarp said. "It's kind of like our basketball back in the states or our baseball."

For a little while, Thai and U.S. Marines took time out from their hectic training schedules. They came together and overcame the difficulties of language barriers to create lasting images and broaden their worlds. They came together through sport.

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