Students of La Martiniere for Girls (left) and Boys play basketball.
The willow and cherry can rest awhile to let the city’s schoolkids try some jaw-dropping slam dunks like Kobe Bryant.
Basketball is the name of the game as boys and girls alike have taken a fancy to this quick-format sport. No, they are not adolescent hoopsters sporting trendy NBA retro basketball jerseys. These guys are serious competitors.
Viraj Agarwal, a Class XII student at La Martiniere for Boys, was crazy about cricket till he was introduced to basketball about four years ago. Dribble and net have since taken priority over bouncers and boundaries.
“I used to play cricket and badminton till I was in Class VIII. But now, basketball is my passion. It’s an amazing thrill when you net a ball,” said Viraj, the school basketball team captain.
More than 50 city schools have basketball as part of their extra-curricular activities. “Almost all ICSE and CBSE schools in Calcutta have made basketball a compulsory sport,” said Goutam Ganguly, secretary of the Bengal Basketball Association.
One reason for the sport’s popularity is that it requires little infrastructure and space. “Many schools don’t have large grounds, but enough space for a basketball court. You need just 28mx15m of playing surface. That’s why it’s easy to play as well as conduct tournaments,” said Abdul Samad, coach at Calcutta International School.
Sushila Birla Girls’ School has a court on its campus and has booked a local club ground for senior girls.
It’s just not the space but speed and intensity of the game that score high with the youngsters. “It’s a very fast game. Every second and every move counts. One basket can decide a game’s fate, which is really thrilling,” said Saumya Khaitan, a Class XI student at Modern High School for Girls and vice-captain of the school basketball team.
The sport’s popularity prompted the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to introduce a school basketball league in the city last year. Twelve boys’ schools and an equal number of schools for girls took part in the event organised by the Bengal Basketball Association. It was the first school-level tournament in the city offering prize money.
Schools too are encouraging the wannabe cagers. The Heritage School has two basketball coaches who train students from classes III to XII. Modern High School for Girls has engaged a second coach. “We also have a teacher-in-charge. Often mothers encourage their daughters to take up basketball...they want their children to be tall,” said Devi Kar, the director of the school.
“A large number of students apply for basketball classes but we try to restrict it to around 45 per class. So we select them through trials,” said Rajeshwari Dey, the chief coordinator at Modern High School for Girls.
Besides appointing a professional coach and holding regular training sessions, MP Birla Foundation Higher Secondary School has gone a step further to encourage players — a bonus of 25 marks to the school team members in the annual examination if they reach the final of an inter-school tournament.
Stuti Chakraborty, the basketball teacher at Loreto House, calls it the school game. “Girls start playing basketball from Class III. They love the game so much that whenever they are free, they run to the court,” she said.
Sunirmal Chakravarthi, the principal of La Martiniere for Boys, confirmed the growing craze. “When we hired a coach, there were few takers for basketball. Now, the boys are very enthusiastic. Recently they went to Doon School for a national tournament and reached the quarters.”
“I got introduced to the game by my cousin during a holiday in the US when I was in Class VI. I started playing at school and was spotted by the coach for the school team two years later,” said Raghav Prem Sehgal, a Class X student who has represented the Bengal under-16 team recently in the nationals and is a Miami Heats and LeBron James fan.
For Kaizeen Confectioner of La Martiniere for Girls, the game runs in her blood. “My grandmom and mom were basketball players. It had been my dream to play like my mom, a veteran of many nationals,” said the student of Class XII who has already represented Bengal five times.