It was delightful news for Anilraj Kumar, the girls’ hockey coach at Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA), to hear that M. Bhavani, one of his protégés from the ASA had cleared the National Hockey Academy selection trials held during June 2017 in New Delhi. Finally, years of training and continuous hard work had paid-off for M. Bhavani, the 16-year-old who went against all odds to secure her position in the National Hockey Academy, a joint initiative by Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Ministry of Sport (MoS).
Bhavani’s first encounter with hockey occurred when she was studying in the sixth standard. She accompanied her elder brother to a nearby community playground in her hometown, Yelamanchili, which is situated 48 km away from Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. She was amazed to see the maneuvering of stick and ball and wondered how difficult it must be to do the same. Seeing Bhavani looking curiously from the sidelines, her friends playing in the same field invited her to join them in their hockey sessions. From the very next day, she started accompanying her brother and friends to play hockey in that community ground.
Observing her keen interest in hockey, the coaches handling the hockey sessions in the community ground spoke to her parents and informed them about the potential employment opportunities for Bhavani in the future through playing hockey. Though hesitant in the beginning, primarily fretting if their daily wage earnings could be sufficient to support her and to lead the family, Bhavani’s parents later agreed to send her to a sports school to let her continue playing hockey.
Her interest and her parent’s decision led Bhavani to join a Government sports school in Karimnagar district, nearly 530 km away from her town. To her dismay, the sports school opted to not include hockey during that year and she was pushed to pursue athletics instead. But in 2014, upon participating in selections trials in Anantapur held by ASA for children coming from underprivileged sections from different regions of Andhra Pradesh, she got selected into the Anantapur Sports Academy, a selection that changed her fortunes. Since then she has not looked back.
Bhavani is now a role model for other girls in ASA and around the region. After her selection into ASA Hockey program in 2014, Bhavani secured a scholarship to continue her education. Despite hockey being the primary focus, Bhavani has equally excelled in academics which saw her securing Grade A2 in her 10th Standard Public Exams in 2017. Coming from underprivileged region to excel in both sports and academics and getting selected into the National Hockey Academy is a tremendous story of triumph of hard work over fate.
After coming to the Academy, Bhavani excelled in her studies as well as continued her passion for playing hockey. She would regularly train for six hours and in her three years in ASA she has never missed a single training session”, says Anilraj Kumar, Bhavani’s coach at ASA who is quite optimistic that Bhavani would play at further higher levels
Bhavani considers Ritu Rani, the former captain of the Indian Hockey team and Rajani Etimarapu, the current Indian Women’s team goalkeeper, who comes from Andhra Pradesh, as her role models. She says it wouldn’t have been possible without constant exposure to hockey camps by coaches from ‘Stick for India’ and ‘One Million Hockey Legs’, partners of the ASA Hockey program. She also thanks her co-players and friends back home who want her to reach even greater heights.
Sport has played an important role in Bhavani’s life. She still remembers the day she started playing hockey, her parents had advised “to study well and play harder” and that’s exactly what she did. Playing hockey has given her opportunities and direction in life. Success stories like that of M. Bhavani will go a long way in inspiring children, particular girls in believing in their dreams.