It was in 1966 that St John The Evangelist High School got space for the children to play, and since then, although it has produced champions in various sports, hockey did not get the place of pride. But, in the last couple of years, the school has filled this lacuna, earning itself a name in this sport and thanks are due to Sister Josefina Albuquerque, the principal, for encouraging the sport in which our country has won the maximum number of Olympic medals.
However, Sr Josefina wants no credit for herself but for the students and teachers who have been giving importance to this game, which otherwise has been given the stick even by Mumbai hockey.
“I give the entire credit to Rolland, he ha been working with the children and I am sure with the interest the children are showing, our school can be one to reckon,” said Sr Josefina
“We are not here to blame it on others. I am sure if each one contributes in their own way, this sport will find a better place in our city and the country,” says the school physical instructor, Rolland Cabral, who has done his job by getting kids to pick up this game. The school has made huge strides in recent times, producing quality as well as quantities of hockey players who have gone on to play for different colleges and the state.
St John's has, in the shortest possible time, caught the attention of other hockey-playing schools in Mumbai. They have brought in almost 75 new hockey players (boys and girls in various age groups) in just one year. And the credit goes to their new principal Sr Josefina, who was a football player herself in Goa, and their hockey coach Cabral, who volunteered to create a hockey grassroots ecosystem in Andheri. In his case, it has been a massive leap of faith, from being a publicist to Bollywood celebrities to volunteering and transitioning as a coach.
On prodding further, he avers, “We have been a One Sports Nation for cricket, and hockey has been sidelined a bit. It was always on my bucket list, to give something back to the sport, and though I played at the junior national level for football and at the state level for hockey, I was always fond of the game for its fast pace and exquisite skill levels. But sports injuries, academics and my career led to my disengagement from sports for more than 14 years. However, with like-minded people like Dennis and Sinclair who started Sunday Sultans, things turned good for hockey and the school.”
This provided the feel-good factor and built a hockey culture among schools, with St John's taking the lead.
“With this intent, I approached the principal of St John's, who was very supportive. But the going was tough, as we had just four students for a summer camp despite countless announcements. But we didn’t give up. The project couldn’t fail. We also took a conscious decision not to burden the school with investment budgets initially, as we were not sure if the players would continue or stop playing,” added Cabral, who got support from Sinclair and Sunday Sultans' ex-players who initially provided their extra hockey sticks, cones, knuckle and shin guards to students who couldn’t afford it, and the players’ parents also came forward.
"It has been at the grassroots level and the Under-10 and 12 kids find a special place in this mission. It has not just been hockey alone but also incorporates some grassroots programmes from hockey coach Horst Wein to make it fun. This year, we just focussed on the kids enjoying hockey and the exposure. In the next season, we intend to master the skills, technique to compete and be rated amongst the best teams in Mumbai schools.”
“I love the game because it is fast,” says a player, Ethan Elvis, a Class V student from the school. I am happy that our teachers are helping us know more about the game. We will win trophies for the school and ourselves,” he signs off.
In just one year, the school finished runners-up in the boys Under-10, losing to strong title contenders, Companeros, Bandra, at the Republic Day hockey tournament. This is just the beginning and the children have a long way to go.