The Telegraph
Tuesday , September 11 , 2012
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Artificial turf lessons for real hockey heroes

Olympian Baljeet Singh Saini still remembers dribbling, hitting and flicking the ball with his hockey stick on the ground at 73 Paddapukur Road back in the 1980s when he was a student at Khalsa English High School.

On Saturday, his old school received the Special Honour as School of the Year at the 17th edition of The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence, for nurturing talent and promoting the sport of hockey in Calcutta and Bengal for over four decades.

From Olympian Saini to Class VII student Nitish Neopani — who recently played junior national hockey in Lucknow — the school has always nurtured sporting talent among its students and has produced several international, national and state-level players over the years.

“I followed in the footsteps of two of my brothers and started practising on the school ground when I was in Class IV. The school promoted the game and I owe my career and success to my school,” said Saini, who passed Madhyamik in 1986. “It is a proud moment for all of us and I still consider myself a part of the school. Even if it is a two-day visit to Calcutta, I visit my school and play hockey,” said the 2000 Arjuna Award winner.

Little has changed since the days when Saini honed his skills on the ground. But Nitish and other hockey players from the school no longer play on grass. The school boasts a pitch of artificial turf since April 2011.

The turf, spread across 9,949sq-m, was imported from New Zealand. “We wanted to give both our students and the city a better playing infrastructure. This ground has produced many players and has given recognition to many. A large number of those have also secured jobs because of the sport,” said Barinder Singh, the honorary secretary of the school.

The school recently installed floodlights for hosting night matches. There are also numerous closed-circuit TV cameras that can record players in action so that coaches can later watch and modify their action.

The school makes sure that students take care of the playing surface. No one is allowed to play wearing spikes; and throwing discarded chewing gum on it is a strict no-no.

The school coughed up more than Rs 50 lakh to import the turf. Now, it’s difficult to spend more to get experienced coaches for the students — not just anyone, but those who have experience of artificial turf.

The school authorities, however, claim that the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has been less than helpful.

“The SAI authorities had assured us of providing coaches to train our boys. We have repeatedly written letters and visited the SAI office in Delhi, but nothing has shaped up till now,” said Barinder, who gets local coaches to train the boys.

The turf recently hosted the Bengal state junior trials (hockey). Authorities and players from Melbourne’s Cosmos Club will play four matches on it in January.

The turf also doubles up as a tennis court for the likes of Vikash Singh, who won the 6th Ramesh Desai National Tennis Tournament in May this year. Students can also play football on it.