Wannabe soccer stars practise at Birsa Munda Football Stadium in Ranchi on Friday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Amid the glut of bad press on crumbling multi-crore stadiums and players rusting for want of practice, here’s something for Jharkhand sports to cheer about.
Come & Play, an innovative scheme launched this February by Ranchi SAI-SAG centre for players between eight and 17 years, is on a roll.
The scheme banked on the time-tested formula of catching ’em young. Over 40 players, including a dozen girls, from Ranchi proper, outskirts Ormanjhi and Ratu, or Mandar and Bundu enrolled in disciplines like athletics, archery, football, hockey and volleyball for free or a small fee.
The participation of six cadets in national and international meets showed the plan was a winner.
Take Surya Tirkey, a 14-year-old footballer from a needy family in Ratu. Recently, All India Football Federation snapped him up for a two-year training stint in Calcutta.
“The federation held a talent hunt a couple of months ago in Ranchi and Jamshedpur. If I am not mistaken, two from Ranchi and Jamshedpur each were called for final screening in Chandigarh. A week ago we came to know Surya was the only one to bag a berth from Jharkhand,” said a proud SAI centre in-charge S.K. Verma.
Vijay Kumar Mahto, a 15-year-old footballer and Surya’s friend at SAI, said they had both represented Under-14 nationals in Chandigarh in 2010.
“Football is our childhood love. But we didn’t know how to hone our talent. That’s when we learnt about this scheme. Here, we pick up tactical skills. We can see the change in our game,” said Vijay.
There are many star athletes in the making, too. Cadets Rajesh Ranjan, Chandan Kumar and Manoj Kumar Munda clinched top positions in long jump, 110m hurdles and 400m relay at the 24th Junior Inter-zonal National Athletics Championship in Pune between September 22 and 24.
“I’m taking part in ties, winning medals. I feel confident. A player needs practice, coaching and access to stadiums. That’s why I enrolled in Come & Play,” Rajesh said.
The girls are also doing well, particularly in archery and football, said Verma.
“Three footballers — Khusboo Kumari, Reshmi Pal and Pratima Kumari — made their way to the 31 probables. They are being trained in Chandigarh for an U-16 tournament to be held in Sri Lanka later this month,” Verma added.
SAI authorities fight shy of hype. They maintain the success rate may seem less compared to enrolled figures and hope the feats of cadets over time speak for themselves.
But what is important is that Come & Play has helped players from all economic strata dream big.
“Each player shells out Rs 45 a month to us as fee. Girls and government school students pay Rs 15. Membership is free for BPL kids and young sportspersons who have played at international level or won medals at national and state meets. It is, as the name says, an invitation to play,” said Verma.