Move over Dangal, meet tribal coach who defied odds

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By – Sukanya Satyan

Republished from Times of India, January 13, 2017.


Image: Ambedkar Memorial Model Residential School team with coach Satheesan C (centre) and team manager Suresh Babu after winning the state school hockey championship in 2016. (courtesy: ToI)


Nallornad (Wayanad): The saga of Satheesan — the first certified hockey coach from the Kurichiya community — in moulding a hockey team of tribal students in Wayanad contains all ingredients for creating a Dangal or Lagaan.

Like Lagaan’s rustic cricket team trained by Bhuvan (played by Aamir Khan), Satheesan, hailing from Peechangode near here, tamed the ground of Ambedkar Memorial Model Residential School (AMMRS) to play hockey, a sport totally alien to the hills.

The year was 1995. Armed with a certificate from the National Institute of Sports, Bengaluru, Satheesan came directly to AMMRS embracing the dream of teaching hockey to tribal children.

“V K Sreedharan sir, the then headmaster, gave permission to train the boys after school hours as AMMRS was not a sports school. There was no provision to appoint a hockey coach. I trained them for the next two years without taking any fee,” says Satheesan.

But little did they know that this one stroke would change the fate of hundreds of tribal students in this obscure village. Under Satheesan, the boys went on to win medals and championship. Two of the students were selected to the Kerala team and went on to play the nationals.

The school acknowledged Satheesan’s efforts and appointed him as a daily wage staff on contract for Rs 100!

More laurels and medals saw Satheesan being promoted as regular coach in 2008 — a first for any regular school in Kerala.

“For me, even their minor wins mean more than gold medals. Any given day, they get only two-hours training that too after school. We have no facilities like Astroturf or modern equipment,” he says.

The team won both U-17 and U-19 championships the 2016 zonal games at Kannur. They represented Kerala at the Jawaharlal Nehru Junior Hockey Championship in Delhi in 2015 and 2016 after winning the school tournament in Kerala both the years. “Though we couldn’t reach the quarter finals, we won a match against Punjab. We consider this a big achievement,” says Amal Raj, the captain.

Three AMMRS students were part of the Kerala team that reached the Under17 quarter finals at the school national games in Bhopal in 2016.

“Hockey success has helped many of our students get jobs in sports quota,” says Thomas Mathew, higher secondary principal in charge. “Some have joined the police department. Last year, four students joined the Army. There is an inborn talent in these tribal students,” he says.

But what the school needs is a good ground. “A major disadvantage we face at the national-level is our lack of preparedness to play on Astroturf,” says Prajith A P, a member of the school team.

Says Sadanandan K M, senior superintendent: “We have talents. And we get fund from the tribal development department to buy equipment. But if the department can allot the vacant plot near the school, we can develop it into a good turf.”

“There are many students who have the potential to reach the national team. Given the right support, they definitely will become the future names in Indian hockey,” says Satheesan with a Phogat smile.


(The reporter has featured the story as part of her PII-Unicef Fellowship )

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