The SGPC camp to identify talent in budding hockey players got a massive response with over 550 young boys turning up at the astro turf stadium of Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) here on Thursday.
Barring a few, a majority of these youngsters were from rural areas of the Majha belt.
Almost all of them had a feel of the green astro turf for the first time, on which they exhibited their skills before Brig Harcharan Singh (retd), a member of the 1975 World Cup hockey team, former Indian team skipper Rajpal Singh and some other state and national-level players. Though many knew who Rajpal was, most were not familiar that it was the goal of Harcharan Singh in extra time that sent India into the final of the 1975 World Cup.
The selected players will be offered free education at an SGPC -run institution as also free boarding and lodging.
In their sheer enthusiasm to impress the selectors, many of them tended to hang on to the ball a bit too long to exhibit their dribbling skills.
"I am impressed and can go back home and sleep well with the thought that hockey is still there in India. Some of these youngsters have talent. We only need to guide them and give them opportunities to play," said Harcharan after watching the young players, some of whom were wearing torn or worn out sports shoes.
SGPC secretary Dalmegh Singh and sports director Balwinder Singh said this was the third such trial conducted by the SGPC. The first two were held in Patiala and Jalandhar.
Those selected at these camps will become part of the SGPC hockey academies to be set up at Amritsar, Patiala, Faridkot and Ludhiana.
The SGPC, which already has a kabaddi team, will soon have its own hockey teams in state and national tournaments. It wants to spot hockey talent in villages and bring it forth on the national scene.
The first step in this direction will be the under-15 boys' team, as only U-15 boys were eligible for the trials.
Besides Harcharan and Rajpal, the selection committee also comprises former Indian captain of the 1975 World Cup winning team, Ajitpal Singh, former India hockey captain and now MLA Pargat Singh and SS Sodhi, another international player. These players will also be part of the SGPC coaching teams.
It is still not clear whether the four hockey academies will be in SGPC-run schools or will run separately.
"Our motive is to restore the old glory of Indian hockey. Through this effort, we also want to channelise the energies of the youth in a positive manner, considering the fact that a large number of youngsters, particularly in rural areas, get hooked to drugs," said Dalmegh.