Despite national-level victory, 15-year-old is reprimanded for taking leave

When fifteen year-old R. Ashok Kumar came home after the National Ball Badminton tournament on Tuesday, he was thrilled. He had won the second prize in the competition which had participants from twenty-seven States.  But he had not anticipated the welcome he was to receive. At school, Ashok was reprimanded for taking leave frequently for sports events .

 “He felt very bad and was crying throughout because his teachers told him he will realise his fate when the exam results come.  He feels guilty of taking up sports now,” said his mother, who works as a domestic help in nearby houses in Royapuram. “We are hardly able to make ends meet but I really want my son to excel in what he is interested in.”

The class XI student has won four state- level prizes and one national-level trophy in ball badminton. His father works as a daily wage labourer. “I got 83 per cent in class X. Although I find it difficult to score well now, I manage to pass. I want to pursue a career in this sport,” said the student who has been playing since he was ten.

 And, he has made sure he is putting in all that is required. Every day after school finishes at 3 p.m., he goes to Thiruvotriyur where in he is part of a group of players who practise ball badminton, a sport native to India .

A rigorous four hours of practice every day has shaped him into a player who wins at least one of first three prizes in every competition held. “But since it is not a very popular sport, there is not much recognition or encouragement that students like him get,” said one of his trainers.

“I love participating in the few tournaments that are held because I get to play against so many people from other places,” said Ashok Kumar. “I only feel bad sometimes because teammates from other schools tell me of how they were called up to the stage at school and their feats applauded,” he added.

The headmaster is very supportive and encouraging but teachers scold him for taking part in events, he added.

His mother says it is very difficult pleading with school officials for leave whenever there is a sports event. “Sometimes, we lie that he has fever because they don’t understand at all,” she added. The headmaster of the school in which Ashok studies, said though school officials encouraged students to pursue their interests, the choices were often limited.

“Most students who come to our school are from very poor backgrounds. Our aim is just to see that every student clears his exams. Once they fail, many drop out and there is very little chance they come back. We try to avoid that.”

“Boxing is very popular in this part of the city. We train students and many win prizes. But the focus is to ensure it is done only if the student has time after studies,” he added.

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