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Tuj lub courts are coming to Milwaukee's Carmen Playfield

Tuj lub, clovernook park 2022
Mallory Cheng
Kou Lee (middle holding the blue tuj lub top) stands with younger tuj lub players at Clovernook Park in Milwaukee's Silver Spring neighborhood.

Once spring hits in Milwaukee, tuj lub (pronounced too-loo) players set up mats everyday at Clovernook Playfield in Milwaukee’s Silver Spring neighborhood. Tuj lub is a 5,000 year old game played within the Hmong community and it’s been passed down for generations. And soon there will be permanent courts at Carmen Playfield, the first through Milwaukee Recreation.

Currently, tuj lub players set up their own courts at Clovernook Playfield every day. But with the new courts, all they'll need is to bring their stick and top.

Tuj lub players at Clovernook Park in Milwaukee's Silver Spring

Tuj lub generally translates to "spin-top." Players use a tuj lub stick that is about two feet long with a nylon fishing line attached at the end. And that string is wrapped around a large spinning top that is about four to five inches wide. Two teams, with six players each, compete for eight rounds to try to hit the other team's spinning top. And with each round, the tops are moved farther and farther away from the starting point. By round three, they sit lined up together.

Kou Lee, has been leading the Milwaukee area tuj lub group for over ten years. He started playing the game in the 1990's, when a growing Milwaukee Hmong population played more frequently.

tuj lub, 2022, Kou Lee, clovernook park
Mallory Cheng
A tuj lub is a large spinning top that is about four to five inches wide. The Milwaukee-area group makes their own custom tuj lub.

"Back in the 90s the old Hmong refugee people came here. And then, you know, they started to see a lot of sport going on. And then they started to get some plastic, make top. And then they started to play and then a lot of people like it," Lee says.

Cities like Minneapolis and Denver have permanent tuj ;ub courts and oftentimes host national tournaments. And with a growing Hmong population in Silver Spring neighborhood, Milwaukee Recreation collaborated with players to build three permanent tuj lub courts in the neighborhood.

Shannon Arms, the project supervisor of design and development at Milwaukee Rec, emphasizes the importance to support all the diverse communities in the city and involving the tuj lub players in the construction of the courts.

"It was a lot of conversation. And we're out with them sort of looking at different material samples and making choices. So they've really been, you know, intimately involved in not only how these are going to function, but what they're going to look like," Arms says.

Arms hopes that like other cities, that tuj lub tournaments and classes could take place. And the younger generation of tuj lub players are equally excited for the new courts to continue the 5,000 year old tradition.

Clovernook Park, Tuj Lub, 2022
Mallory Cheng
Tuj lub players compete at Clovernook Park in Milwaukee's Silver Spring neighborhood.

Mike Xiong is a recent high school graduate, who was introduced to the sport by his dad. "And I made some friends and just play top. I'm really proud to continue this sport," Xiong says.

Soloman Xiong is in his early twenties and has always wanted to see tuj lub courts in Milwaukee. "I'm pretty excited because I see videos on YouTube in Minnesota has two of those, and then Colorado has one too, and I know there's players in Milwaukee, Wisconsin too. And it made me think, 'why not us?'" Xiong says.

Tuj lub players in Milwaukee's Clovernook Park

The Carmen Playfield is set to open in the spring of 2023. The tuj lub players will be out on the courts with their sticks and tops.

"Tuj Lub is a sport that is not new to the community. So, welcome, everybody. We don't pick color. We don't pick race, everybody come and play," Lee says.

Mallory Cheng joined WUWM as a producer for Lake Effect in 2021.
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