A few years ago, very few would have guessed that a school on the periphery of Bandra would be making headlines in girls’ school hockey. After all, the girls of this school had barely laid hands on a hockey stick before let alone participate in a hockey match. But in a span of just three years this school has created a name for itself – often making opponents sweat even before the game has begun- in the hockey circles in Mumbai. Well, we’re talking about St. Elias School, Khar.

Practising on the tar surface the size of a rink hockey pitch, the team come a long way since picking up a hockey stick. But their journey by no means has been a bed of roses. Almost all of the girls in the team come from poor economic and social backgrounds. With just their energy and dedication to offer, it was all their coach, Sheldon Fernandes, needed to mould them. “For me it was imperative to channelize and focus their energy. For some, hockey became a means of relaxation and escape from their hand-to-mouth existence at home. Most importantly, these girls are a bunch of disciplined and focused lot. It makes my job so much easier.” When asked about what made his team a cut above the rest, he says, “They do not have the distractions most other children have, like mobile phones and pocket-money; their only source of joy is the game. And when your prime focus is hockey, you devote all your energy to bettering yourself. I only wish they had a better diet though including more protein-rich food.”

This season, the squad has bagged every single title in the city in the U16 and U17 age groups, even representing the Mumbai division at the prestigious state-level U17 DSO tournament in Kolhapur. What’s more is that one of the girls, Pallavi Shelar, has been selected to represent the state team at the national level DSO tournament to be held in Haryana next month. In the previous year, another of the girls, Nisha Mahadik, had gone on to represent the state team and brought laurels to the school.

So much for the girls’ success, even the principal and teachers have tried to pitch in with extra classes for the girls sometimes. Principal Rev Sr Philomena Sequeira adds, “These girls are a bunch of good girls and I’m genuinely pleased with what they’ve achieved given the limitations they constantly face. They’re all first-generation learners and have taken it upon them to learn the nuances of the game. When there’s self-interest, who can stop you? All credit goes to them and their more than dedicated coach, Sheldon, who goes out of the way to motivate and guide them. Our manager, Fr Austin Norris too has always had a word of positivity and encouragement for the girls.”

And although playing field hockey is a costly affair, some of the girls’ equipment is funded by well-wishers, who for the coach have been a real source of strength and support for him and the team. “I am really grateful to those who support our team, especially the alumni, the batch of 1985 and a few of my friends. I daresay, our girls would be doing far better than this had we a good practice area but cost is an issue, yet we try our best to improvise and make the most of what we have. Even their diet could be worked on, but that’s a less primary issue for now.”

Well, given what the team has to make do with; to say it’s doing pretty well would be an understatement. Because they’re doing excellent! Imagine then the heights they could achieve with a little more.

If you think you could help these girls to further their hockey dreams, you could contact their coach, Sheldon Fernandes on 9820277291.

Valerian D’Costa

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