As a young student at St. Paul’s Johnson High School in the 1980s, Lee Pao Xiong found friendship and community after class, rushing out to nearby playing fields with a hard plastic ball. None of the players, all young Hmong refugees like himself, was allowed to touch the ball with their hands. Sepak Takraw, or Kato, is like volleyball played with the feet, knees, chest, hips and a very hard head.
“It used to be rattan,” said Lee Pao Xiong, now a professor of Hmong studies at Concordia University in St. Paul. “When it hit you in the head, it felt like a baseball bat.”
Fast forward 40 years, and Lee Pao Xiong’s dreams of establishing permanent, dedicated space for his favorite sport appear to be on the verge of coming true. As chair of Sepak Takraw of the USA, Inc., he joined St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and St. Paul Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm at the Duluth and Case Rec Center on the city’s East Side to accept a $100,000 check from the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee.