The Roger Federer-Andre Agassi exhibition match on the world’s highest tennis court — the helipad of the Burj al Arab hotel in Dubai — was nothing more than a few moments of fun before the real show.
But for a few kids in Mumbai, playing tennis on a terrace of a small Gujarati school building in suburban Santacruz is a serious attempt towards building a career they have dreamed of. The kids, in the age group of 4-16, are trainees of The Sports Gurukul, an open academy dedicated to inculcating sports culture among youngsters.
A brainchild of Jayesh Shah, a 30-year-old Information Technology (IT) professional, the academy has been functioning in the premises of Stree Mandal Gujarati school for the last four years and the tennis court on the first floor terrace is just a way of optimum utilisation of space.
|Students practice tennis at Sports Gurukul in Santacruz. (Photo: Satish Bate/HT)|
“Sports is not restricted by space, but by ideas, Shah told
. “In the last four years we have proved that despite all the constraints we are on the right track.” In fact this has been the story of the academy, which began with a week long camp in five sports in May 2002.
“The first camp was just an effort to generate interest for sports in kids,” Shah said. “Though I have never played any game at state or national level, sports is part and parcel of my life. So I was feeling bad about kids losing interest in sports. Instead of just doing lip service, I thought I will do something about it.”
Shah had to wage a lone battle for almost six months before like-minded people started joining him. Today, The Sports Gurukul has grown beyond just an open academy for sports like table tennis, tennis, basketball and skating. It has drawn and executed a sports curriculum for a few schools in Mumbai, Pune and Baroda.
“We manage the sports curriculum for 10 schools in three cities, where we chalk out a complete program for the children,” said Shah. “We invest a lot in research and have made a customized curriculum after studying the system in Europe and the USA.”
At the open academy in Santacruz, Shah continues to spread the motto of ‘healthier minds, fitter bodies and a career in sports’ through the kids that train there.
“Over 5000 kids have leant the nuances of sports in the last four years,” Shah said. “Most of them come here for fun. But we are happy that almost 50 per cent of them stay back till they are picked in their school teams or join specialised academies.”
The Gurukul also organises a seven-day sports festival – Indradhanush – every year in May where children as well as elders from adjoining areas showcase their prowess.
“All our activities are sustained out of the fee (which is Rs 300 per month per person) and our contract with the schools,” said Shah.
The Juhu resident is happy that the authorities have also started recognising their effort. Shah has been appointed on the organising committee of the National Schools Games that will conduct the National Schools Athletics meet in Mumbai from December 27.
Shah now hopes to open more such academies across the state and has been in talks with various organisations.