Empowering through basketball

- April 24, 2024

An academy in Sangam Vihar is spelling out hope to underprivileged children and guiding them towards a disciplined life 

FUTURE STARS: Trainees at the Krishna Rattan Sports Academy are getting an opportunity to play

Youngsters of Sangam Vihar locality near Wazirabad are enjoying an enriching experience of playing basketball and criss-crossing the country to compete in national level age-group competitions.

The game of basketball has, in fact, developed such deep roots in the area that several teenagers were regular on court even during the fasting month of Ramzan.

“It was a challenging yet exhilarating experience to sweat out for an hour during fasting,” said Gulfsa, an eighth-class student.

“We changed our training schedule to continue practicing during the month-long fasting period. We took short breaks in between training and prolonged the one-hour practice sessions. It was good fun and we enjoyed our daily routine of playing.”

Of the more than 50 odd school-going children who are regular at Krishna Rattan Sports Academy — set up in 2019 — by Delhi’s sports administrator Mukesh Kalia, the girls have dribbled past the boys in terms of performance.

Several girls from Sangam Vihar have already made inroads into the Delhi state age group teams and competed at the national level. For excelling at the state level, more than 10 players of the academy are getting scholarships through a local educational institution.

Credit for encouraging and changing the lifestyle of youngsters of Sangam Vihar goes to Kalia, who made efforts to set up basketball infrastructure in the cramped South Delhi locality.

Kalia, who is a lawyer by profession and also President of Delhi Basketball Association (DBA), bought a piece of land in late 1980s in the neighbourhood. He later developed an outdoor basketball court and is now in the process of setting up 24 rooms and a conference hall to expand his academy to house more budding players in the future.

“I am investing my savings in basketball,” said the President of DBA to Patriot.

“I have plans to set up a residential basketball academy in future. The construction is in progress.”

Kalia was inspired to set up the academy in the name of his parents five years ago after he saw children idling outside their homes in the lanes and bylanes.

“They (my parents) are physically not there with us but are spiritually always with me and give me strength to work and support basketball,” he said.

According to Kalia, people associated with basketball in Delhi also contribute towards empowering the budding players.

“We have a small and dedicated circle and I am indebted to them all for their overwhelming support towards community development and that too through basketball,” the DBA president added.

Gulfsa was so excited to narrate her experience of boarding a flight to Puducherry from Delhi to compete at the 2023 National U14 Basketball Championships that she pushed her way past others girls to share her views.

“It was a great day in my life as I got an opportunity to travel by air and play basketball,” the eighth-class student of Apex Public School said of her maiden journey on airplane.

Apart from Gulfsa, several other basketball-playing school girls like Riya, Zainab, Anshika have benefitted by enrolling themselves at the academy.

Riya has played Junior NBA U14 Nationals in 2021-22 and participated in the 37th Youth Nationals held in Indore in 2022-2023. A student of class 12, she got involved in basketball in early 2021. She came to know about the academy through a parent in her neighbourhood in Wazirabad.

She walks down from her house to the academy.

“Walking half-a-mile from home to the academy just adds to my fitness,” she said with a smile. The teenager can dribble with both hands and has excellent ball control.

“I spend extra time on the court. I’m happy to get a chance to play and learn through basketball,” she added.

While Anshika represented Delhi at the 48th Sub Junior Nationals held in Puducherry in the 2023-2024 season, Zainab played U14 Nationals held in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh in 2022-23.

Shumayla has played for the U14 national team thrice.

“I think the girls of the academy are working harder than the boys,” Kalia said in lighter vein.

Parents of the majority of the players who regularly attend the academy do odd jobs to earn their daily bread and butter yet make efforts to financially support their children to go out and play.

Zainab’s father is a daily wager, but the family ensures that the Class 8 student has proper playing shoes.

“We get playing kits from the academy but sometimes, we have to buy ourselves also,” Zainab said. “My parents are always supportive.”

The players enrolled at the academy get playing kits to ensure “all are on the same page when they play and religion doesn’t divide them”.

“We also provide refreshment at the end of each practice session,” Kalia disclosed.

It is not just about sweating on the court and polishing skills; the players of the academy are regularly advised to follow a disciplined life.

TALENTED TRIO: (From left) Shumayla, Zainab and Gulfsa after a practice session on April 16

While Kalia oversees the on-court activities, his wife — Sapna — manages the court routine. The players of the academy are given lessons on hygiene.

“My wife ensures that the players have their nails clipped and are wearing proper playing kit,” Kalia added.

“The players who have represented Delhi at the national events, are getting scholarships. A local education institution — Apex Public School — has come forward to support us. The school has enrolled the outstanding players of the academy and doesn’t charge tuition fee from them,” he revealed further.

With each passing year, the number of young players is growing.

“We started with a small group. Currently there are more than 50. Sometimes the number touches 80 and above,” added Kalia, who has ambitious plans for the future.

“One day we hope someone from our academy will compete in the NBA. We also hope our academy players will make good citizens.”