In the summer of 2010, Coach Dilip Kudwalli from the Black Sox softball club was introduced to Aata Odanaata by a former player. The fledgling non-profit had just managed to successfully involve girls from the Government Fort High School in a football training programme.
The girls had performed brilliantly and four had been picked for representation and training by the Sports Authority of India. Soon plans for a softball camp emerged and five youngsters began to train under Coach Kudwalli. These were boys who knew how to survive economic hardships and social challenges, who probably spent all their free time glued to cricket broadcasts on TV or playing with their buddies in the back gullys, but who had never seen or heard of softball before. Still, they grabbed the strange bat and the exciting new opportunity with both hands.
Shivaraj, then a Pre-University student, grew to excel at the game and in 2015 captained the state senior team that won third place in the national championship. His mate Arun also played with him. Both boys had come a very long way.
But that was not all. Representing the state meant that Shivaraj could apply to one of the top-tier colleges in the city and with financial assistance from Aata Odanaata, he graduated with a Master’s degree in Commerce last year, landing a job with an accounting firm.
Madhusudan, also from the 2010 camp, was backed by AO to get his Bachelor’s degree while representing his university in the All-India championship and playing alongside Shivaraj in the 2013 nationals held in Burdwan. “Softball is awesome,” he says, “It has helped me in many ways…self-confidence, education, fitness, discipline, time sense…It has helped me meet different people around our country, learn their culture…mingle with everyone.”
Punith, Channaraju and Arun followed suit, graduating with their team mates. Punith and Shivaraj were part of the state team that won the South Zone Championship in 2015. Channa played for his university and in the South Zone tournament in 2011. He is now preparing for a master’s degree in physical education.
In 2014 and 2015 AO teamed up with Surabhi Foundation, an organization that provides shelter and education to socially and economically impacted children. 30 girls and boys, 8-17 years old, learnt to play softball under Coach Kudwalli with AO providing logistics support.
This year, three of those boys have been selected to play for the state junior team. Prathap, Shivraj and Girish are set to begin their own sporting journey.
Inspired by the boys’ victories, Madhusudan’s brother and Channraju’s nephew and niece turned up at the camps. We find so often that investing in role models can build aspiration and create a positive effect within the community.
What drew these forces together and made them work? Was it the vision and tenacity of Sheetal Suryavanshi, founder of Aata Odanaata, was it the altruism of donors from across the world who reached out to support the programme, was it the generosity and determination of the coach or was it just the perseverance and will of the young lads, eager to push through a door that had been nudged open and break out of the circumstances that had been handed down to them? As Shivaraj says about his experience playing softball “…I had never been to entertainment or sporting events before…it (softball) took me to a nice place…my fitness improved. I met so many great players across India and learnt so many things…”
Their progress tells us what we already know but do not remember as often as we should- that it takes very little time, money or effort to give someone a leg up, very little to change a life, very little to light the spark of challenge and possibility in a young heart. If only we can bring ourselves to care.
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