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Pritam's Hockey Academy well and truly on. (7/16/2007)
--s2h team
New Delhi: 16th July 2007: Pritam never gives up. This one unmistakable virtue of her had made her a contemporary superstar. And she remained so for a decade since made her international debut in the early 90s. After the gold at the Manchester Commonwealth Games -- where she was the only mother in the Indian outfit -- her glorious career came to an end. But, thankfully not her love for and commitment to the game.

After her second child birth, she again started playing last year. Northern Railways was willing to give her chance. I was at Jalandhar for the Surjit Cup last November and was thrilled to see her doing so well in the company of Sita Gossain, another peer of her illustrious era. Pritam was declared best player of the tournament, behold, she is 34!

A couple of months ago at Lucknow, where the hotly contested Inter-Railways meet was staged, she posted the winning goal for Northern Railways to lift the title.

You might at this stage, considering the age of the star, discount her services for the country’s national team, but she forces her personality to count – and that is what this story is for.

Pritam runs an Academy at her hometown Sonepat, about 40 kms away from Delhi. One has to visit the place to feel how passion and family support ensure an exciting atmosphere develop, where hockey is the beneficiary.

About 80 boys and girls, of age as low as six or seven, wield stick under the keen eyes of Pritam and her husand Kuldeep Singh, also a national level hockey player, whose further progress was curtailed by injuries.

A senior citizen of socialist perspective, Raghbir Singh and her father in law lend their support, being the willing caretakers of the ground, and parents of the wards who were initially cajoled to take up the stick by the collective effort of these souls.

The lush green ground, bound by concrete wall on four sides, was in the beginning a chat ground, unplayable and at times attracted undesirable elements too. With a sport minded District Collector, Pritam and Co. could slowly convert it into a near perfect play field, restricting it to hockey players. Yet, many loose ends remain to be tightened. After each shower, water collects at the circle area and the daily practice make it near impossible for the grass to grow there. Provision of water is another gray area. But the hope is when so much progress could be seen in so less a time, its only question of time before the rest fall in line.

The wards are from very lower section of the society to middle class. For many of them whatever ‘didi’ gives is more than they expect, for, simply they don’t have any expectations in the life.

In the initial phase, Pritam collected used jerseys, shoes, and everything else, from her peers like Sita Gussain, Suman Bala etc to make up the show. Her willing family also chipped in in cash and in kind. The show picked up and went on.

Now the things seem better. All boys and girls are given a playing kit, effort made to make their education also affordable. “Vampire was kind enough to give sticks and others at good rates”, says Pritam gratefully. Goalkeeper kit is a big problem as a good one costs anywhere between 12-15000. Another peer of her, Helen Mary, helps her here, if not in total at least in parts.

Things look brighter now on all fronts. When I visited them the last weekend, a private sponsorship was on the anvil. Sonipat Urban Co-Operative Bank’s CEO, N.K. Jain was also there, who seemed interested in helping out Pritam and Family monetarily.

The Haryana government’s sports department is also extending help. It included the effort in the nursery category which entails 14 wards of the Academy a daily allowance of Rs.100 for ten months an year. Beside, it also gives kits and bears a portion of travel expenses.

So, it feels nice Pritam’s effort is getting the support it needed, though these fall short of actual requirements as of now.

But the point is, a hockey passion is kindled in a hinterland and it is catching fire. Already a goalkeeper travels from Delhi to train there, as she finds an atmosphere here, half a dozen girls are in the India’s under-16 camps, one girl had already made her India colours being part of Juniors’ Japan tour this year.

Keeping an eye on future, Pritam has recently joined a coaching course at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala. Says, M.K. Kaushik, Dy. Director, Sports, Haryana government: “The course will improve her coaching skills tremendously”. She in fact joined the course on the advice of Kaushik, her trusted coach in her playing days.

So, Pritam keep it up. We are there to support you. We know for sure you never give up.

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