As a dominant force and the holder of the Best School title over the last five years, the poor fare dished out by the athletes from St. George Higher Secondary School, Kothamangalam, over the first two days of the four-day 55 State school athletics meet in Kochi was indeed shocking.
In the Ernakulam district meet that preceded the event, the school finished second in the race for the overall honours by a wide margin of 71 points.
However, eight of its key athletes had been sidelined with jaundice soon after the State junior meet in Kochi, forcing them to skip the National junior meet in Ranchi and the district meet, leaving everyone to believe that St. George would bounce right back. But, that was not to happen.
At the end of the second day of the State meet, St. George was nowhere in the picture, being able to tally just 14 points.
By then the rumour mill also was working overtime suggesting — rather openly — that St. George's poor run was because of the presence of a team from the National Anti Doping Agency at the meet.
The school showed some improvement by improving its tally to 53 points at the end of the third day before finishing third overall, behind Mar Basil and Kalladi HSS with 71 points.
“I do not want to come up with excuses,” said Raju Paul, the St. George physical educational teacher and trainer, who had single-handedly helped his school to the top all these years.
“Though I knew that the going would be tough this year, I should admit that the show here has been far below my expectations. And, as you would realise, we have been hit by sheer bad luck time and again at this meet.”
The coach was, of course, referring to the tragedy that befell the school's star athlete, Vishnu Unni, who was forced out of contention of the gold medal in the senior boys' section after his fibre pole cracked while trying to keep pace with the eventual winner, Ebin Sunny.
“Vishnu, I am sure, would have jumped over 4.50m and won us the gold medal. Instead, we had to settle for the silver, like we did in many other events,” he said.
Raju Paul also emphasised that the overall show of his school would have been better if there had been enough time for his athletes, who had suffered from jaundice, to recover.
“Also a convention was going on at our school and this too badly affected our preparations.”
Asked about the rumours of some of his athletes having pulled out of the meet due to the presence of the NADA team, the otherwise genial coach shot back: “If my athletes are caught for doping, I can give you my word that I would no longer be associated with the sport.”
The coach, who is credited for unearthing the athlete in K.M. Beenamol and many others, said the decline in the standards of his school was mainly because of the lack of sponsorships. “We have a budget of over Rs.10 lakh every year, but there are hardly any sponsors. The Government should support us and similar schools. And if it does so, I am sure that the hegemony over the sport by the State would last for ever.”
Raju Paul had one more plea: “Do not write us off, please. We will back strongly next year and I am sure of that,” he said confidently.
Keywords: athletic meet