I remembered the simplicity of Hmong tournaments back during my younger years growing up. I could visualize a time when these gathering were mere social reunions amongst friends and families sparing time to partake in a game or two of soccer, volleyball, or topspin.
I believe natural to our inherent bloodline as wanderers, as I’d like to always say that we’re nomadic by trade, though contrary to this there’s an opposite side in each of us that yearns to be around our people, which then gives us the innate gregarious characteristics of the partying clubs, tournaments, and festive Hmong New Year celebrations.
In the beginning, soccer led the way as the prevalent sport which was complimented by the ever growing popularity of volleyball. This, in turn, became one of the leading facets that helped launched the J4th tourney to grow even bigger to a grander scale that would attract thousands from around the nation, as well as the world.
In 1989, a Hmong band of youth who called themselves the Modern Day Youth sprouted as a novice volleyball team within this community of the Twin Cities, later to become recognized as one of the best Hmong volleyball teams in the nation.
I had a chance to get together with Tou Lee of MDY to discuss their aspiration as a rebuilding team. Primarily, in the topics of the many challenges that awaits them this 4th of July, as teams are getting younger and stronger, while their team, though, more veteran and wise. Here’s what he has to say to our Hmoodle audience.
Jerry: Could you give me a brief introduction on team MDY’s initial establishment as a Hmong Volleyball team? Give the Hmoodle readers a brief chronological order of your history as a team and your ultimate goal as a team.
Tou: Modern Day Youth shortened into the acronym MDY Volleyball was established in the spring of 1989, right here in our very own back yard of St. Paul, MN. The team was established and founded by Mr. Tou Sue Lee, brother of Tou H. Lee, MDY’s setter.
Believe it or not, Modern Day Youth was named after a very famous wrestler, “The Modern Day Warrior.” With his flashy moves and the silent fears of intimidations he injected on other wrestlers’ mind, it became Mr. Tou Sue Lee’s theory in putting this team together. His other visions and ideas of a modern theme for a successful volleyball team was a “zero tolerance” policy for all MDY’s recruits. It meant strictly no smoking, no drinking of alcohol beverages, and each player must have their parents’ consent before traveling with the team out of city or state. The average age of MDY players at the time was 15 years of age.
Although, Mr. Tou Sue Lee came up with the idea he, himself, does not play the sport. He was more of a Sepak Takraw (Kato) guy. With no knowledge of the sport, he relied on two unknown rookies, Tou Vong Yang, last known team played for, Team LYV, Sacramento, California and Tou H. Lee, MDY’s all time setter since the departure of Tou Vong Yang in 1990 due to schooling in New York. The foundation of MDY Volleyball rested on the shoulders of these two rookie individuals along with the fascinating Kou “Grass Hopper” Xiong, Kong Pao Yang, Asahi “Sneaker Boy” Yang, Phia Vang, and the well-known Ong Ly, who at the time was already an accomplished hitter with Lee Powers. The team also landed more players such as Sean Vang, Vue “Lefty” Lor, Kao Her (teams all time great middle hitter), and Tou “8 Baller” Vang, who became MDY’s all time kill leader, but the worst blocker of any volleyball player during that era
At the time the team was well-established, but there were already these other two power house teams in Minnesota: High Fly (Laotian team) and Lee Powers.
MDY stepped up to the challenge and hurdled to surpass both of these teams in a short period of time. In addition to this, MDY brought a new chapter in the creation of exciting plays unseen in the Hmong communities in the ingenuity of using fast action formations and gambling plays to confuse their rivals. Contradicting to the many claims by others, MDY was the godfather of all fast action formations during that era.
MDY’s splashed onto the J4 scene in the summer of 1989 was just the beginning of an exciting and fascinating era for Hmong volleyball fanatics. Without much time to work on plays and formations, MDY was the laughing stock of all volleyball teams. Playing for the first time and first tournament at J4 or anywhere else MDY drew the more accomplished and experienced Wausau Rebels. By sheer luck, MDY won its very first match, but went on to lose to the very same team on the 2nd day of the tournament. With the understanding that time, efforts, and training will payoff, the team continued towards their unlikely goal. To many, MDY surprised and accomplished it the following year to start the campaigns of many more victories to come.
Throughout the 90’s and throughout the 2000’s, teams began mimicking their fast formations and gambling plays as blue prints to becoming a successful volleyball team. On any given tournament and anywhere in the U.S. during these festive Hmong Volleyball tournaments, MDY became the main attraction, wherever and whenever they’d competed. MDY were two time Champions of J4, numerous runner-ups, and top 8 teams to make the playoffs at J4 almost every year, pre-2008. The team is very accomplished, well respected, and truly a household name as mentioned by others. MDY is the icon of Hmong volleyball in the Midwest.
Jerry: You advised Jabb Vue, our Hmoodle.com administrator, verbatim word for word, “…our team is down the last couple of years and still struggling to put a competitive team on the court”, and then leading to, “Perhaps Hmoodle can witness the comeback of Team MDY.” My question is: What acquisitions or changes are being made for you guys to be transition back to the upper echelon of the Hmong men volleyball circuit?
Tou: MDY volleyball team has been the weakest it’s been since the initial start-up as a team for the last couple of years. Many great players have moved on to other more important things in life. Most new recruits don’t plan out to be as advertised. Some are not committed to learning, some are not focused on the game plans, and more importantly, some don’t have what it takes to be a winner. Finding a gem in the rough is the hardest thing to do these days. The reason many lack is the willingness to accept and learn. Players are often lost when they jump on to a power house team like MDY. Automatically they think they have achieved their status as being a part of a well-known team, but that’s the number one mistake every young volleyball players makes.
To witness a MDY comeback would be a bold statement to say from my part. It may never happen, however the efforts will be there. Just to be in the middle of the pack requires serious training and the hard work that goes along with it.
At this time, MDY is starting with step one of the process again, and that is to weigh the interest of the veteran players. To emerge back to superstardom with a stellar performance requires serious veteran leaderships. Acquisitions of players are not in transition at this time, but it is our hope that we’ll have something cooking up real soon.
Jerry: I’ve heard rumors, fact or fictional, that this year’s invitation to the renowned July 4th tourney is changing its rules into opening the tourney to all races and ethnicities willing to compete. Could you give me your thoughts on their decision, as well as sharing the pros and cons of this very notion that may or may not hinder the very tradition that we, the Hmong people, has been putting together for that last couple of decades?
Tou: When MDY came on to the J4 scene back in 1989 and as we all recalled it, there weren’t any rules stating as to how many non-Asian players can be on the court at the same time. For all we knew, there weren’t such rules.
As J4 grew, so was the competition level. When the rules changed nearly a decade ago, it wasn’t changed (volleyball) due to complaints from the men’s teams. At the time, Team Matrix (all Caucasian players) came on board at the J4 scene. They were dominating, yet stoppable for top Asian teams. On the women’s court were also Caucasian players without limitations. It was brought to our attention about height and advantages and disadvantages on the women’s side. It was then, along with soccer coordinators, LFC decided to implement the 1/3 of athletes other than Asian rules.
To this day, the success of J4 turn-outs for teams competing are based on this very rule and the low registration fees.
The last couple of years, J4 have experienced the drop off in teams competing. It is not the 1/3 rules that failed LFC, rather it’s the registration and the rules of the game itself. The registration fees went up and prize either stayed the same or was reduced. The rules of the game changed from Hmong & Semi-US Volleyball rules to US Volleyball rules completely. Yet with the change, we don’t have the experiences to call the game the way US Volleyball rules applied. Furthermore, Volleyball Coordinator lacks the experiences to run an important and huge community event such as J4.
“The July 4 Festival rule change allows for the addition of Semi-pro (professionally managed and operated) teams to participate in the tournament. Now the rules have changed to allow unlimited numbers.
“We need to keep moving forward, the community is not growing up. We want everyone to attend and enjoy the event.”
This is a direct statement from LFC published in the HmongTimes
The elimination of the 1/3 non-Asian athletes on the court or field at the same time from what I’ve read is to draw more people, is it not? This is where I and along with many others are at a lost with words.
Looking back in time, LFC has always drawn thousands of people from across the country. The sole reason why past events were successful was because it once was a HMONG theme. It was a Hmong day to celebrate, to gather, to visit, and to play their hearts out. It was a time for athletes to compete among others from various states. The last two years, we saw the drop-off because we have lost our sports theme.
In the many years of experiences that I have with past LFC board members, coordinating and maintain a focus of the sports theme was a priority. It’s always an understanding of the community and it’s athletes, that athletes compete and communities comes out to support or stroll along the vending booth knowing that a sporting event is going on. If you don’t have athletes, you don’t have the community. If you don’t have the athletes and community, you have a drop-off. When you have a drop-off, the community is not growing up.
With this said, I see that by eliminating the 1/3 rules, J4 will eventually die out. There would be fewer teams competing in future events. By inviting professionally managed and operated teams to participate in the tournament, while it looks good when writing for a grant, it is the first step to terminating the Hmong atmosphere of a once great Hmong Celebration.
Jerry: I would like to thank Tou Lee in sparing some of his time in getting this interview done. To all the MDY friends and supporters out their, this team is hungry for a chance to reestablish themselves as either the top contender or as the best of the best, so be on the look out.
To all you athletes or teams out there who’d like to get a chance to be on Hmoodle.com wave your hand my way this J4th tourney and say hello. And to all you who have been supporting Hmoodle.com and would like to get someone featured, just simply hit me up at [email protected] Peace!