Taitung baseball coach hits home run with students

The baseball team from Fengtian Elementary School in southeastern Taiwan's Taitung County won local games earlier this month, and will represent the municipality next month in Taipei City for the right to play in this year's U.S. Little League World Series.

In recent years, Fengtian Elementary School has emerged as a major force among Taiwan's hundreds of elementary school baseball teams, having garnered first prizes in four national contests since last August. School Principal and team coach Fang Ying-feng is looking forward to leading his players toward the annual Williamsport tournament.

Fang set up the team in 2012 consisting of around 40 students who did not know how to play baseball. I taught them from scratch, he said. I didn't expect the team to grow to such a level.

Most of the team's current 56 members come from disadvantaged families in local aboriginal communities. Widely known as Fengtian children's baseball home, the team provides a channel for these children and offers free food and accommodation in addition to assistance with schoolwork on the road to developing their potential and building self-confidence in the most admired competitive sport in Taiwan.

Despite the limited number of indigenous people in Taiwan, athletes from the ethnic group are very active in the country's sports sector. Fang said that based on his more than two decades of baseball teaching experience, he believes children from indigenous communities are endowed with more natural talent in the sport than those from other places.

For the educator, playing baseball is an ideal educational discipline as it relies less on one or two star athletes and more on each player doing a good job in a certain position. It's just like the motto of every good teacher: No child left behind, Fang said.

After graduating from the physical education department of today's National Taitung University, Fang worked at elementary schools in northern Taiwan's Keelung and Taichung cities, training pupils in such subjects as baseball, basketball, and track and field. He later obtained a master's degree in curriculum planning and teaching from his alma mater.

When working at Taiyuan Elementary School in Taitung, Fang found great potential in the Amis student Jhang Jin-de and invited him, together with his brothers, to join the school's baseball team. In 2011, after graduating from senior high school, Jhang signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates to play in the farm system of the MLB team and is now heading to the majors. His two brothers are also professional baseball players in the minors and in Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League, respectively.

Pupils of all backgrounds should be able to develop their own areas of strength, he said, urging the school administrators to recognize a wide range of abilities beyond academic excellence, which tends to be the prevailing educational value in Taiwan.

Source: Taiwan Today