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Basketball giving girls a route out of the mountains

(Xinhua)    09:58, August 01, 2019

BEIJING, July 31 -- In the sweltering summer afternoon, three teenage girls practice shooting at the basket on the playground, sweat dripping down their faces.

Not minding the heat, 12-year-old Yao Xiaoni, one of the three players from north China's poverty-stricken Taiyue Mountain, enjoys every minute of it.

"It was not easy to get out of the mountain," Yao told Xinhua as she dribbles the ball at the Jinshan Middle School in the city of Taiyuan, Shanxi Province.

Back then, basketball was her only hope.

Born and raised in the remote village of Jingfeng in the Taiyue Mountain, Yao lived in poverty. The 2,000 villagers of Jingfeng couldn't even afford flour until 2000.

Yao's family was thrown into deeper poverty in 2013 when her father Yao Zhansheng suffered from uremia and required a kidney transplant. Her mother Duan Jian'e wanted to donate one of her kidneys to save her husband, but the family could not afford the operation.

With the help of local government and a loan from relatives and neighbors, Yao's father was saved but was forced to take long term medication that ruled him out of work.

The situation changed in 2017 when roads were paved to facilitate the development of rural tourism in the village during the government's poverty reduction efforts. Yao's family began to become better off and were lifted out of poverty in 2018.

It was around that time that Yao began to play basketball, and she showed her talent for the sport.

Despite its inaccessibility, the Taiyue Mountain basketball is a popular sport in the region. In the county of Qinyuan, where Yao's village is located and despite hosting a population of just 160,000, it has 306 basketball teams and 218 courts. The passion about the sport has always touched Yao's heart.

A basketball court was built in Yao's primary school in the village in 2017. And when Yao first started playing basketball there were only two teams formed in the school with just 37 students.

Last year, Yao Ming and the Chinese Basketball Association began to work to develop youth basketball for kids from the age of six to 12. The president of CBA promotes a "small basketball" program that includes a lower basket, smaller ball and smaller court.

"We must take part in the small basketball league," said Liu Yalin, the headmaster of Jingfeng Central Primary School.

The primary school basketballers wanted to play the real game held in the county. So Liu decided to hold a trial to see who would represent the school and Yao's team, all girls, showed the boys up and secured themselves a place at the county tournament.

However, headmaster Liu was asked to send the boys' team to represent Jingfeng, because none of the opponents had sent out a girls' team. A bold idea struck Liu. He established a team with a mix of boys and girls, and Yao was selected. The mixed team got the 4th place in the county tournament.

In the tournament, Yao's performance impressed all those in attendance and thus was named in the U12 squad of Changzhi City in 2018. In the provincial stage tournament, team Changzhi finished in the top four.

After watching Yao's game, Wang Gaihuan, head coach of Jinshan Middle School team, decided to recruit the girl.

"She wore a pair of cloth shoes to play, while other players have proper basketball shoes. She has a spirit of perseverance. She has impressed me a lot," Wang told Xinhua.

"When I asked her whether she wants to go on playing basketball, Yao said yes. At that moment, I saw hope gleaming in her eyes. And I told myself that I must try my best to teach her." Wang recalled.

Yao doesn't let him down. She trains hard every day after school. After beating poverty and all the difficulties in her life, she now yearns to beat more opponents on the court.

"I want to reach the podium of the national tournament in the future, and at that time, I'd like to go to Beijing with my family," Yao says.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Shi Xi, Bianji)

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