Abhishek Kulkarni (16), a national-level badminton player, spends most of his time on court.
The class X student wants to make it big in the sports scene but does not want his academics to suffer. When he was younger, he would worry that he would have to sacrifice his passion for education, but three years ago the state government solved his problem.
It issued a resolution giving sportspersons at the state-level and above 25 additional marks in the board exam. This year, this policy was extended to students from other boards — ICSE and CBSE — after it was challenged in the high court.
“These additional marks do give a boost and it is a compensation for all the hard work that we sportspersons put in,” said Kulkarni, a student of Fr. Agnel School in Vashi.
This resolution has given sports at the school level a leg up. The number of state board students who were awarded 25 marks in 2007-08 was 230. This figure has almost doubled to 435 in 2009-10. “We used to lose out on good players who would opt out after the class IX second term. After they introduced the additional 25 marks for sportspersons, players continue playing even in class X and the team benefits from it,” said Shailesh Singh, sports in-charge, St. Xavier’s Boys’ Academy at New Marine Lines.
Students can participate in competitions organised either through schools or various sports associations. The rule has also led to students going beyond conventional sports such as basketball and tennis and exploring sports such as fencing and tug of war.
“We have seen a significant increase the past two years in the number of students who participate at the district-level first and then qualify at the state-level,” said Wilson Worlikar, secretary, Tug of War Association, Mumbai.
But how do the space-starved schools in the city manage to encourage students to play sports?
While only a few older schools boast of playgrounds and even fewer of swimming pools, the rest of the schools tie up with various clubs or share playgrounds with other schools.
For example, at Beacon High School in Khar, which comprises two buildings with a small play area, students are ferried in the school bus to the nearby YMCA for basketball. Those who want to learn swimming have sessions at either Otters Club in Bandra or Khar Gymkhana. For their football tournaments, they hire the St. Stanislaus School grounds on Thursdays, when the school is shut. “I would love to focus more on sports, but we manage. In Mumbai, this is the best we can do and even parents seem happy,” said principal K.S Jamali.
With Mumbai being so cramped, the sports scene is shifting to Navi Mumbai and Thane where there is a lot more space and students have a host of facilities to choose from.
At the 10-acre campus of Smt. Sulochanandevi Singhania School in Thane, students participate in everything from skating to cricket.
“We are fortunate to have huge grounds. We have made a conscious effort to build sports as a part of our curriculum. We have a sports academy where we train for various sports,” said principal Revathi Srinivasan. With the additional 25 marks applicable to all boards, schools in these areas will benefit the most.
“The natural tendency is for students to drop out of sports and get into their books in class X, so this will encourage them to continue,” added Srinivasan.
But can this rule be exploited and students just opt for sports for those 25 marks? “Those players who come only because of the lure of marks can be spotted easily. In tug of war, a true sportsperson can be identified in two minutes,” said Worlikar.
Kulkarni warns that these 25 marks are not easy to get and sport requires a lot of hard work and focus. “Students need to realise that you cannot become a sportsperson by simply wearing shoes. They need to play for the love of the sport and not for marks,” he said.