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Hail St. George!

Smart planning and hard work helped St. George HSS triumph. STAN RAYAN on the champion school.


AS THE Kerala State Schools Athletic Meet reached its homestretch in Kochi, one could see a group of clean-shaven heads hogging the limelight.

A few minutes after V. B. Bineesh sailed over the low hurdles and comfortably raced past the State record, Sumesh Surendran requested the media videographers to rerun the finish a few times after a close junior boys sprint. In another corner of the Nehru Stadium, as the crowd wildly egged him on, Rajesh Joseph was attempting to push the senior boys' pole-vault record to a new high.

Common thread

There was a common thread connecting the three, all of them were from the St. George's Higher Secondary School team from Kothamangalam, in Ernakulam District. Well, the school's entire boys' team turned up with hairless heads in Kochi this year.

Clearly, the Schools Meet belonged to the `egg-heads' and of course, we're not talking about the intellectual kind here. "Don't they look strong and better than the rest?" asked Raju Paul, their coach.

"The world's top athletes, like Maurice Greene, are all clean shaven. It makes them appear like a superior race, doesn't it," asked Raju.

Well, his team sure looked a superior race as it emerged as Kerala's champion school at the meet. St. George's maiden triumph ended the 16-year reign of the Koruthode's C. Kesava Memorial School, a winning streak, which was inspired by its hard-working coach P. T. Thomas.

Smart planning

Some smart planning and three years of hard work was behind St. George's victory, which came as a breath of fresh air at the 48-year-old meet.

Running a strong team is an expensive affair. "Finance is always a problem. But we had a lucky draw where we sold nearly 4,500 tickets, each worth Rs. 100," said Raju, a former athlete. That brought in Rs. 4.5 lakh and covered half the budget this year. The rest of the funds came from the school management, old students, NRIs and from the EVM Group.

Tapping talent

Talent abounds in Kerala. And most of it is virtually hidden in hills in Idukki, Wyanad and Kannur. St. George came up with a nice plan to tap the talent. After a 10-day event-wise trial, it selected 90 students who were given free food, accommodation and training the whole year.

"We came with a 45-member team (19 boys and 26 girls) here. We have a few tribals too. Some of them hold a lot of promise, they could be world class," said the St. George coach.

The school, which is virtually located at the gateway to Idukki, has foam pits for its jumpers and pole-vaulters; both expensive equipment and which are quite rare in schools here.

"This year we spent around Rs. 8.5 lakh to run our athletics team. Next year, we need around Rs. 10 lakh and we're searching for a single sponsor," said Raju.

The Kerala Schools Meet, said to be the biggest in Asia, conducts competition in the general and sports schools sections. But with the general school children accounting for more than 20 of the meet's 28 records, many feel that there should be a combined competition.

Usha speaks

P. T. Usha, who runs her School of Athletics in Kozhikode, believes that Kerala's best should compete together.

"There is no point in separating them. The sports school students have been sidelined for long," said Usha. "General schools, like St. George and Mar Basil, are now almost on par or better than sports schools. And with a lot of specialised centres, like the Jumps Academy and my athletics school being set up, general schools enjoy a lot of flexibility too," she said.

Raju fully supports Usha's proposal. "Also, since the Government spends a huge amount annually on running the sports schools, the prize-money for the State's best three schools should also be increased substantially to Rs. 10 lakh, Rs. 7.5 lakh and Rs. 5 lakh," he said.

"That would be just reward and a strong motivator too. Also, it would pick up the tab for the training. Presently, the champion team gets one tenth that amount," he said.

Guess it's time to rewrite the rules.

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