Naveena Vijayan | ENS – CHENNAI
Like a string of pearls let loose, the balls bounce. The kids slap
their palms on the balls to keep them rebounding, but the momentum soon
phases out. As the balls roll around, a few give it a kick and shy away
from the coach’s glare.
The rest dribble their way around with a
common ecstatic expression that nullifies the difference in their
familial background that can be seen on their feet — a few with sneakers
on and a few left bare.
Shaun Jayachandran, founder and
president, Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy, kneels down before
a kid down to his eye level and gives him a lesson or two about
obedience. The kid retorts in Tamil, while Shaun continues in his
accented English. At some point, the blank face reflects a sense of
understanding and the kid nods. Satisfied, Shaun pats his shoulder and
moves on to the others.
A safe distance from the kid, who is now
seen obliging to his coach, Shaun says with a wink, “I understand Tamil,
the kid doesn’t know that.” The reason Chennai students now have the
fortune of having volunteers coming from the US to inspire them through
basketball for free is Shaun’s parents, who are both from Chennai. “I
like basketball. I give importance to education. I love my parents. I
get to serve all the three through this event,” says the Chemistry
teacher and basketball coach from Boston.
‘Hoops creating hopes,’
as the event is called, clearly referring to the hoop through which the
ball is shot in, has the participation of nearly 197 students from 15
schools across Tamil Nadu this year — all this without a circular or
introductory pamphlet. With his second workshop in Chennai, Shaun says
that the event has become a lot bigger. “Initially, there were just
three coaches who came down to teach, now we have 13,” he says, pointing
at his team members at the indoor basketball stadium of American
International School. The team, a medley of passionate basketball
players, comprises high school students who had reached out to Shaun
through the social media sites. Their dedication doesn’t end there.
of the volunteers, young enough to be in their eighth grade, even had a
shoe collection drive back home in the US, so as to provide those for
the ones who can’t afford it here. With no local sponsors, the crossover
team has had to manage its finances themselves largely with the support
of charitable funds from the US.
Back on the court, the kids are
asked to stand in two lines, facing each other. “Who can show me how to
do a bounce pass?” asks Raj Mundra, a volunteer, who manages the
students from schools that come under the umbrella of Teach for India
(TFI). A couple of hands shoot up. “Come forward, tap your feet, look
into the eye of the opposite person and pass the ball,” shouts Raj.
After the initial faltering, the kids become proficient. Following this
is the chest ball.
“Leadership, character, communication,
teamwork,” Shaun counts the four elements on his fingers. According to
him, a sport like basketball can help kids bring out these values, while
teaching them time management as well. Keeping a ball for more than a
few seconds in hand is a violation. That’s the same with the other
aspects of life.
Adding on to this, Raj explains, “At the personal
level, they need to know how to manage the ball and dribble. Then come
the strategic moves and passing the ball, which focus on team work. The
classroom lectures from the coaches will further help build their
According to Shaun, when compared to the kids in the
US, Chennai’s youngsters are more timid. “They are scared to say things
because of a fear of going wrong. This is unlike in America, where
there is more of collaborative learning and discussion,” he says. When
it comes to sports, according to Shaun, again the scene is disappointing
as most parents do not allow the kids to take part in sports once they
reach their tenth grade.
Talk about timidity. “Pogalena
adichiduven (If you (ball) don’t go in, I will beat you),” a kid screams
at the ball, trying to hit a shot. Ramabhadran Iyengar, a TFI fellow,
explains, “They haven’t seen a basketball before.”
He adds, “They
think that basketball is just about shooting the ball into the net. It’s
not so. It’s more about making the right passes at the right time.”
bunch of students from financially backward families belonging to
Caldwell Higher Secondary are seen dribbling the balls with passion. “We
have travelled 600km from Tuticorin to participate,” says Kirubharan, a
member of Caldwell Basketball Club. Saravanan, who was once a Tamil
Nadu State Basketball player, also accompanied them.
whistle has the kids huddling around Jonah Travis, a volunteer. The hall
reverberates with the chorus of kids shouting his name as he takes long
steps and marches to the hoop and does a turnaround jump shot. As the
ball gets swallowed into the hoop, tiny hearts are filled with hope –
hope of being a John Travis themselves someday!