Chennai: Oversized jerseys, barefoot, borrowed shoes, improper diet – all these are common among sports players from Municipal Higher Secondary School, Zamin Pallavaram.
Recently, the students won the district-level, Chengalpet Division Hockey, beating all matriculation schools.
The surprising factor here is that the 18-member team does not practise on their school ground. Every day, they assemble at a ground 2 km from their school. Despite all these odds, the commitment to the game is commendable.
Jane Mable, their physical education teacher, says, “Since the school ground is small, the students have been coming to a nearby ground. They sacrificed their holidays and early mornings to play hockey.”
However, what makes Jane brim with pride is that the school was the only government school on the list, the remaining being matriculation schools. “It is a great achievement for the school and the students are excited.”
Jane Mable stays in touch with the players’ parents keeping them posted about the practice timing and visits their houses – after all, they come from poor families and pursuing sports is not necessarily a priority for them.
Most students being first generation learners, the parents cannot afford to provide jerseys, shoes or sports equipment.
But what they have in abundance is talent.
Sample this: Sandhya is a qualified national-level floor hockey player. But she practices on a ground with a plastic ball. Her father delivers water cans and ekes out a living.
Another player, K Chinna Raj (15), is a national-level player. “I have been playing for the past five years. I do not have shoes while practising. For the tournament, I borrowed a pair.’ His father works as a driver.
Jai Krishnan (16), a district-level player, says, “We practise at the Ambedkar Ground at Kavitha Pannai in the morning and evening. But it would be better if we had our own ground inside the school.”
It is mostly students from the government school who grapple with getting sponsors for their sports equipment and shoes. Another factor being the popularity of the sport. Those pursuing cricket and football have it easier.
State sub-junior captain of rugby team, B Manikandan (17), is a winner in his game, but in real life, an orphan and lives in poverty.
A student of Tiruvanmiyur Corporation School, his repeated appeals for better shoes and jersey through media have gone unheard; he does not even follow a healthy diet, often skipping meals.
Arul Venkat, a rugby coach, says, “If the players are going to represent bigger platforms, we try hard to get sponsors; for local teams, it is almost impossible. Playing sports without shoes is a dangerous thing to do. Playing barefoot once in a while for leisure is fine, but not on a daily basis. It also restricts the player from learning and playing it professionally. A good pair of sneakers can be bought at Rs 650 to Rs 1,000.”
An 18-member team of government school students without proper jerseys, footwear, beat all matriculation schools in district-level hockey tournament.