In 2019, a young hockey player from a home for disadvantaged children in East Bengaluru went to the European Hockey League to play for Racing Club in France.
Rajendra M, 20, who grew up at St Mary’s Orphanage in Cooke Town in Bangalore, was discovered by a hockey coaching program for underprivileged children which the Jude Felix Hockey Academy started running on the orphanage grounds in 2008 as part of efforts to develop grassroots hockey talent and give direction to the lives of underprivileged children through sport.
“We tried to give them hope that even if they come from a disadvantaged background like an orphanage, they can dream big,” said former Indian hockey player and coach Shanmugham P, 48, honorary secretary and administrator of Jude Felix Hockey. Academy.
While former India international Jude Felix, a well-known hockey star and coach, has been the face of the academy, fellow hockey fan Shanmugham has worked behind the scenes to turn the academy into a talent pool. hockey in Bengaluru.
Since starting in 2008 in the humble mud pit of a pitch at St Mary’s Orphanage in East Bengaluru, Felix, Shanmugham and several volunteers from Karnataka’s capital hockey fraternity have worked through thick and thin to keep the academy going and to support their own interest in ‘nurturing life through hockey and other sports’ – including two Covid years where business suffered a setback.
The purpose of the academy is not just to impart hockey education, but to provide life skills such as discipline, dedication, teamwork and bonding to children from disadvantaged homes, who would otherwise have very limited means to broaden their horizons.
St Mary’s Orphanage, which houses children whose parents cannot care for them, was the seat of the academy. The orphanage is linked to the Maria Niketan School, where students study up to class 10.
“The connection wasn’t just about hockey. It was said that those who were in the program had to do something other than hockey. There is pressure on some children to start earning money and some children want to continue their education. We’ve supported kids like that,” said Shanmugham, an academy trustee.
“In 12 years (minus two Covid years), we have brought the sport to around 5,000 players. We have developed sports facilities for St Mary’s Orphanage and Maria Niketan School. For nearly 2,000 children, we have laid the foundation for a sports culture,” Shanmugham said.
Around 10 players from the academy have represented Karnataka in domestic tournaments as well as all over India and have played for reputable teams like Canara Bank as guest players. “One of the biggest achievements was that a player from the orphanage, Rajendra, played in the European Hockey League – in 2018-19. We’ve always wanted to show kids that you can play too and be educated said Shanmugham.
“There was another boy, Praveen Kumar, who was good at studies. He played for school and district teams, but wanted to have a professional education. We helped him complete an engineering course and now he works for a software company,” said the former hockey player and coach.
“We produced good players continuously from 2008 to 2019. St Mary’s Orphanage only cares for children until they reach class 10. We have sought to retain children who have graduated from school. We started helping them find jobs while still playing hockey,” Shanmugham said.
But the Covid period has dealt a blow to the prospects of a few players being groomed at the academy, he said.
“We are sad that during the two years of Covid, there were several players who were on the verge of entering state teams or finding jobs. We were trying to make connections abroad. They missed all those opportunities,” Shanmugham said.
“We have seen sporting miracles happen at the JFHA. When we started the academy in 2008, we had nothing. We started programs with children playing barefoot. We didn’t even have hockey sticks. Suddenly, an anonymous donor sent 100 hockey sticks to the orphanage. Funding and infrastructure remain big issues. We don’t have a fixed income,” the hockey coach said.
Shanmugham, who coached hockey for over 20 years and is now an FIH Level 3 coach, took on the role of leading the academy to grow its footprint. “I feel good and satisfied when I do something for these children. The struggles and frustrations are there because nothing happens easily here, it’s our system,” he said.
“Helping children from the lower strata of society who have a better future is a noble cause for me. This perspective helped me stay in the course for a long time. It’s become an integral part of my life now,” said Shanmugham, who works full-time at a bank.
“There have been a lot of sacrifices, but there is also satisfaction in doing the work. We’re not chasing money or anything like that. I considered it a journey,” he said.
Some new initiatives by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to support the growth of grassroots hockey offer Shanmugham hope that running the academy won’t mean a constant struggle. “The FIH has shown interest in the JFHA and I hope something good will happen. They are looking for people who work to develop hockey at the grassroots level,” Shanmugham said.