Cuddalore Hockey Factory: A coach who shapes dreams of underprivileged girls
Siva, a hockey player who could not make it to the top level, is helping a group of girls from his hometown so that they do not face the same challenges as him in their quest to play for India.
Cuddalore: Cuddalore is a port town four hours away from the city of Chennai on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. Known as the ‘Sugar Bowl of Tamil Nadu’ for producing sugar and chocolates, Cuddalore has been producing quite a few young hockey players lately.
A former player who couldn't make it to the top level has opened an academy to train underprivileged girls with the aim to power them to the top level of Indian hockey, something that remained an unfulfilled wish for him.
“My girls won the sub-junior title last year and eleven of them have made it to the state team,” the man behind the initiative, Siva Raj, told The Bridge.
“My aim is to take these girls to the top level. I couldn't play at the top level but I want my students to play for the country,” said Siva, who owns a small computer business in Cuddalore, but makes sure to find time to train these kids for free.
A tale of grit and determination
The feat achieved by the girls becomes more magnificent when it is seen from where they come from. Forget hockey facilities, these daughters of brick makers, masons and other daily wage workers are used to having access to little more than what daily wages can afford.
“We have to travel almost 30 km to play as there is no artificial turf in the city. The girls take the government bus to reach the ground,” Siva explained
If these girls were disadvantaged by lack of nearby grounds and equipment, they made up with their indomitable passion to play hockey.
“These girls come from very underprivileged families. Their parents are daily wage workers earning 150 rs per day. Despite all of these things, they have the determination to go and play at the top level,” he said.
Siva's motivation in training the girls for free comes from his failure to play at the apex level, a dream that remained unfulfilled.
“I wanted to play hockey but never had the opportunity and facilities to reach my potential. But since I have seen this problem first-hand, I don't want other kids to face it,” he said.
When Siva used to play at state-level competitions, it was mostly in the capital city of Chennai. But it was after he decided to draw the curtain on his playing days that he had an opportunity to finally realise his true potential - to rescue Cuddalore natives from the challenge that he had faced.
“I used to play 10 years back. After that, I got a government job in my hometown. Finally, I could exploring how the problem of hockey could be solved in Cuddalore. I completed my coaching course and started training these girls after that,” explained Siva.
Travelling from Cuddalore to Chennai for one hockey game
Training girls in hockey to give them a higher purpose in life is only one of Siva's agendas. One other major agenda is to see one of his wards play for the India team one day. And so as international hockey returned to Chennai, the site of most of his on-field battles in the past, Siva and his girls were there in attendance, having made the four-hour journey in a rented van.
When local boy Karthi Selvam sounded the board in the 15th minute to give India the lead against Malaysia in the group stages of the Hockey Asian Champions Trophy, the ecstatic girls danced their hearts out in the stands. Much to their delight, their heroes thrashed Malaysia 5-0 that day, making their visit worth all the effort.
“I have been playing hockey for three years. I used to play in school but I had no idea about rules,” said Jenisha, who plays as the left-half.
"I am having goosebumps. The way the crowd reacts and how everyone cheers good displays of hockey, it is really exciting,” Raghavi, another girl, told The Bridge.
Left awestruck by the environment of the stadium and how thrilling hockey is as a spectator sport, she said, "I am very excited to watch these players in front of me and I wish I can represent India someday."
As soon as the final hooter for the India-Malaysia game sounded, 'Siva's angels' rushed out of the stadium as they needed to reach Cuddalore so that the girls could attend school the next day.
The girls waved a hurried goodbye to the volunteers on their way out, the glow in their faces of having watched a live match still not having gone.
One day, maybe one of them will return to the turf of Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium in Chennai as an international player - a bridge that had remained too far for Siva.