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How the Namakuzhy Sisters popularised volleyball for women in India

How the Namakuzhy Sisters popularised volleyball for women in India
Indian volleyball under KC Elamma and Namakuzhy Sisters

Md Imtiaz

Published: 1 Feb 2021 12:03 PM GMT

Volleyball is being played for over seven decades across the length and breadth of India, yet it barely draws attention at the national level. Though an Indian Volleyball team has never participated in an Olympic Games, the country has enjoyed some success at the regional level. Though it was informally played for a long time, the first interstate volleyball championships were held by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) in 1936 in pre-independent India. The sport gained proper structure with the formation of the Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) in 1951, and the erstwhile interstate tournament evolved into the Senior National Championships, with the first edition held in 1952. It helped the nation discover several talents who went on to play with great distinction for the Indian volleyball team.

Though volleyball is played widely across the country, the southern state of Kerala has been the true powerhouse of the game producing generations of volleyball players for the Indian team. In fact, two years ago, almost the entire Indian women’s volleyball team for the Jakarta Asian Games hailed from Kerala.

Kerala has been at the forefront of many sporting revolutions in India, be it football, athletics, snake boat racing. Similarly, volleyball remains to be a popular activity in the state. In almost every city, village or suburbs one would see young people engaged in playing volleyball as one of their favourite past-time activities. The culture of the sport among women in Kerala is deep-rooted.

The first name that flashes in the minds of Malayali when they think about volleyball is KC Elamma. She is one of the best players the Kerala Women’s Volleyball team had ever seen. The first Malayali woman to secure an Arjuna award.

Elamma secured a place in the hearts of volleyball lovers with her thunder-like smashes in the court. Though she is retired, the veteran is still active with her unending love for the game. There was a time, when an eighth standard girl of GHSS Namakuzhy School in Piravom used to watch the senior girls playing volleyball on the school ground. She picked up the balls, that go out of the court, for them happily. The life track of KC Elamma starts from being that ball-girl to the captain of the Indian volleyball team.

The place Namakuzhy holds a distinction in producing some of the best volleyball players in the country. In 1957, George Varghese, a volleyball coach and a reputed player of the past, joined a trainer at the Namakuzhy school who had created many volleyball geniuses from the school. One day, while teaching volleyball to other students, George called Elamma and asked to do a serve. Elamma obeyed without any nervousness. Seeing her serve, trainer George asked her to come for training the next day onwards. Under the coaching of George, Elamma learned the techniques of the game and gained a place in the school team and soon, reached the state team.

The school in Namakuzhy became famous for women's volleyball. With Elamma as the brightest face, other players like P. C. Eliyamma, P. K. Eliyamma, V. K. Saramma, V. V. Annakutty, V. K. Leela, M. N. Ammini

P. I. Leelamma joined the bandwagon and formed a strong contingent of women's volleyball created miracles in and outside Kerala. They were no blood relatives, but still had a bond that was deeper than kin. Their combination in and outside court proved it. In 1962, the Namakuzhy School staged a state-level competition to change the perception of the people in girls' volleyball.

The name ‘Namakuzhy Sisters’ was given to them by then journalists. It became their tag and made them popular. With their performance, they took the women's volleyball in Kerala to surging heights. From them, Elamma secured a place in the state senior team. Women players from other states began to imitate the Namakuzhy girls who planned and played.

At the Shillong National School Games in 1965, all the 12 players of the Kerala team were from the Namakuzhy. In the 1971 national championship that took place in Jamshedpur, Elamma and her team created history by winning the trophy. Kerala’s women’s team retained the trophy in the national championship that took place in Thiruvananthapuram in 1972.

The Namakuzhy team was inducted into Kerala police in 1972. Job and training were at Thiruvananthapuram. The police team captained by Elamma performed spectacularly in and outside Kerala. She and the team brought many trophies including the national championship trophy to Kerala Police.

Also read: National Sports Day: The thriving volleyball culture in Kerala

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