SFX rise above ground reality

Its the struggle that counts, not winning. Saint Francis Xavier’s, Siolim, however, has had much of both.
The school, established in 1937, has braved odds facing any sports-minded educational institute in Siolim. With as many as three panchayats in governance (Sodiem, Marna and Oxel, a playground for sports, despite pressing and pleading for one, does not exist. It has stifled sporting aspirations in Siolim, but not the SFX spirit.
The school has remained steadfast, no matter how bleak prospects may seem, in its quest to inculcate the sporting habit among its 800-strong pupil population.
So much so that, SFX has not just dominated sports like handball, football and for a period, basketball, but has contributed to state teams and even produced the odd international.
Strikingly, the school has also produced 15 physical education teachers influencing sports development and coaching all over Goa.
Ask Devenedra Prabhudesai, SFX’s director of Physical Education who has carried the challenge for 27 years, producing not just sportspersons but PE teachers from his tutelage.
“Not having a ground is a serious handicap,” he said. “But that has not stopped us from excelling in sports.”
The school’s only open space is a concrete quadrangle used for assembly and basketball. It has to look elsewhere for the school sports’ day or football and handball training.
Until about seven years ago, a ground adjacent to SFX’s old premises admeasuring 3000 square metres served as blooding ground for sport. But that facility was soon out of bounds.
“The land was sold to a builder after the owner went back on his word to donate a part of it for the school’s sporting endeavour,” Prabhudesai revealed.
“The builder too promised us 1500 square metres of land if we withdrew an objection concerning the lack of a six-metre approach road to the ground. But after we complied, he turned his back on us.”
What has transpired since then, has been a battle of attrition.
“We still made use of the ground for training, especially passing and trapping in football,” Prabhudesai said. “But even that is difficult these days because the builder has dumped concrete and mud in the area.”
Prabhudesai, though, is made of sterner stuff and he continued training pupils there. But the builder’s treachery meant sporting endeavour was fraught with danger to life and limb.
“The builder dumped concrete into the sand pit used for the long jumps. We painstakingly removed the concrete only to find, one day, he had the sand cleared from the pit,” Prabhudesai said with a wry smile.
Came the rains, water accumulated and the going became all the more perilous. However, warm-up and stretching exercises continued and the coaches put the footballers through passing and trapping drills.
A beacon of hope, though, is provided by St Anthony’s Church a kilometre down the road which offers its substantial ground for sporting activity.
“They charge us a very nominal rent and we use it for a month to hold our annual sports meet, inter-house games and football practice,” revealed Prabhudesai exuding gratitude to the church.
The well-built coach ably assisted by R Ravichandar, his protege, in keeping the flag flying high, despite the obstacles. In doing so, they appreciate a school management who make up for the lack of financial riches with a surfeit of support.
Prabhudesai is a former 400m and long jump athlete, university volleyball player, kabaddi national player, a football and hockey goalkeeper and a former state handball player, promoter and senior vice president of the Goa Handball Association.
Ravichandar had shone as an athlete, cricketer, basketball and handball player. With his former PE teacher and mentor, he has handed down the nuances to wide-eyed pupils over a cross section of sports.
Among the illustrious band of sportspersons produced by the school have been Chandan Dhagalkar and Anant Sawal who have carried the flag in the handball arena.
But there’s also footballer Anthony D’Souza of Pune FC and Sporting Clube de Goa fame now recuperating from an injury at an India camp. Anthony represents a football legacy that goes along with laurels on the handball court.
This season, the SFX boys brought home the under-17 taluka football crown. But, it meant jostling for space in a chock-a-bloc showcase with the state level under-14, 15 and 17 handball champion silverware.
Achievement wasn’t confined to team sports, however. Wushu exponents Fiona Rodrigues, Mehal Angane and Pankaj Godgeri won state-level gold medals. Fiona, along with Josseb Fernandes, won a bronze medal at the National junior championships underlining yet another excellent year for SFX who continue to battle the odds. And come out on top.