Over the years Haryana has emerged as the country's powerhouse in the field of women's hockey. So much so that in the past decade there has rarely been any women's sporting tournament that wasn't won by the state.
Shahbad, a small town near Ambala on the Delhi-Chandigarh highway, has played a huge role in turning the state into Haryana's hockey dominance. The town is also known as the cradle of Indian women's hockey.
But Haryana's supremacy in women's hockey arena is set to be challenged by Punjab which is turning out to be a new powerhouse. Surprisingly, the credit of Punjab's success too is because of Haryana's town Shahbad.
History behind Shahbad's sporting glory
After Dronacharya awardee hockey coach Baldev Singh, a former Haryana sports department employee, shifted his base from Shahbad to Fatehgarh Sahib earlier this year, 55 of his trainees from the Shahbad centre also switched over to Fatehgarh Sahib and Patiala after taking a 'no objection certificate' from Hockey Haryana to represent the neighboring state of Punjab where their hockey coach has now settled.
This shift resulted in giving their adopted state Punjab a podium finish in all the age groups championships, including a gold in the Kerala National Games held in March. In June, Punjab girls won the sub-junior national title where the entire playing team of the state was originally from Shahbad.
With Haryana losing its important players to Punjab, it missed out on a podium finish in the senior and sub-junior nationals for the first time in a decade.
Baldev Singh, who has been instrumental in placing Shahbad on the world map by producing around 40 international-level hockey players, is now associated with Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University Hockey Academy in Fatehgarh Sahib. The institute is run by Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).
"This year in January, I joined the Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University Hockey Academy, but my only condition was that all my previous trainees, who wanted to come along with me, had to be accommodated and given admission in the academy and all their expenses be borne by the management. The authorities here were glad to have the girls from Shahbad centre," said coach Baldev Singh.
"Some of my trainees also took admission in Punjabi University, Patiala, where my former student Menakshi is the coach. The Shahbad girls have helped Punjab win medals in various age groups at the national championship held this year," he added.
"Because of the Shahbad girls, Baba Zorawar Singh Fateh Singh Public School won the prestigious Nehru Cup (under-17) last year which was earlier the forte of SGNP Girls Senior Secondary School, Shahbad, as they had won the tournament 14 times out of 21," he added.
The SGPC-run hockey academy was started in 2014 and at that time too some of the girls from Shahbad had joined, but with coach Baldev shifting his base, almost all the sub-junior and junior trainees decided to go make the shift along with him.
Haryana offers the country's highest cash incentives for winning medals at the national and international level and because of the hefty cash awards players from other states have shown interest in representing Haryana. But for Haryana, this is a rare incident when their players have actually left to represent another state.
"Shahbad played a crucial role in establishing Haryana as a power house in women's hockey and the state government too has had a contribution in it. But things changed drastically in the last couple of years and since 2012 we have hardly got any equipment from the sports department. Of course, post-achievement incentives are important, but a player needs immense support during his or her formative years, which is somehow missing in Haryana now," said Baldev.
National Games: Silver
Senior National: No place
Sub-junior: No place
National Games: Gold (7 girls were from Shahbad)
Senior National: Bronze (7 girls were from Shahbad)
Junior: Bronze (11 girls were from Shahbad)
Sub-junior: Gold (12 girls were from Shahbad)