Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

WMU Midwest Games a touch of home for Malaysian students

Mike Lanka
WMU University Relations

Western Michigan University hosted the Malaysian Midwest Games over the Memorial Day weekend. The event featured a broad range of Olympic-style athletic competitions for students from Malaysia studying at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

If you stood in the right spot inside Western’s Student Recreation Center during the games you would have seen Malaysian students competing in table tennis, basketball and netball, all at the same time. They were just three of the sports featured in what participants call simply the “Midwest Games”.

Many of the sports featured in this year, like tennis, soccer and volleyball, are familiar to most Americans. But others might need some explanation, like sepak takraw and congkak. WMU Malaysian Student Association President Satveer Thind says sepak takraw is plated by three people on each side and is similar to badminton: "You can’t allow the ball to drop on the floor. If I’m not mistaken you have like three touches to get the ball to the other side of the court.”

Credit Aaron Fishell / WMUK
Netball competition in WMU's Student Recreation Center

Thind says congkak is a traditional Malaysian game played with marbles. The players who get their marbles off the board win.(P) Besides those games there were two other events that American spectators might find out of place in a sporting competition. One is FIFA 13, a soccer video game played on the PlayStation 3. The other is chess. Both are popular with Malaysian students in North America.

The Midwest Games’ official web page says the purpose of the event is to strengthen ties between Malaysian students and the United States, and to give students a chance to meet fellow Malaysians and represent their schools. It isn’t just about sports, though. The event also includes the Midwest Dinner, a time for Malaysian students to enjoy each other’s company, network, and eat traditional Malaysian food. Thind says Malaysian cuisine is very hard to find in the U.S. and many students miss it.

The Malaysian Midwest Games International began in the 1970’s. The 2013 competition was the third time that Western has hosted the games. They were also held in Kalamazoo in 1997 and 2001.

Credit Mike Lanka / WMU University Relations
WMU University Relations
Table tennis at the 2013 Malaysian Midwest Games

For some participants the Midwest Games may be mostly about meeting new friends, seeing old ones, and socializing with fellow Malaysian students. But for others, like Diyana Zainal and her University of Michigan women’s netball team, the competition is taken very seriously. For them the games are a chance to showcase their schools athletic prowess: "We wanted to represent our school and make our school proud, so we are here to play for the Wolverines. Go blue!”.

Netball is similar to basketball but with a few key differences. For one thing, there’s no backboard attached to the hoop. And when players get the ball they can’t advance it by dribbling, they must either pass or shoot.

Whether they came to win first place, just to eat some Malaysian food and have a good time with friends, or somewhere in between, the estimated 1,500 competitors who flooded into Kalamazoo over Memorial Day weekend made the 2013 Malaysian Midwest games one of the biggest in the history of the event.