A coaching centre for people with disabilities has changed the game of life for many

Fifteen-year-old Amrendra Singh was a timid teenager with low self-confidence when he first came to the cricket coaching institute. But sport is a wonderful thing. Even as his coach saw the unpolished talent in him, Amrendra realised his passion for cricket and found his confidence rising. Today, instead of focussing on what he cannot do because of his orthopaedic impairment, the young boy dreams of being a part of the Uttar Pradesh disabled cricket team.

The power of sports is grossly underestimated in our society, feels Siddharth Upadhyay, founder of Stairs, an organisation that has taken the initiative to start a state-of-the-art cricket coaching institute for disabled children in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh. The centre, which has been up and running since the beginning of this year, has 200 children registered.

“I credit sports with teaching me the most valuable lessons of life. I am from eastern Uttar Pradesh, Gorakhpur, and have always been aware of the social hierarchy that exists in Indian society. But as I grew up and played sports I began to analyse some of the things. When you are on the field, and you lose, you learn to respect the winner, no matter what the caste, creed, or colour. You learn to respect your body, and become disciplined,” Upadhyay said.

His reverence for sports in general, and cricket in particular—which he played professionally for a while—made Upadhyay leave his white collar job in Delhi and start an organisation for underprivileged children whose talent in any game could be recognised and honed in order to play big competitions and win scholarships.

That was back in the year 2000. “Today, 100,000 children play in our centres every day,” he said. Stairs has a 100 villages adopted in Himachal Pradesh, a thousand villages adopted in Haryana, 29 centres in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh which gives free coaching to children in a wide variety of games such as cricket, football, hockey, handball and softball.

The numbers were impressive, yet, there was something missing. A precious population of disabled children, often neglected, were in dire need of something similar. A conversation with the district magistrate of Kushinagar, Rigzin Samphil, brought thoughts together into action and the coaching centre took birth.

“To gauge the response, we organised a camp and invited all disabled children and their parents to discuss such an initiative. The response was beyond our expectation. There were more than 200 children with their parents,” Upadhyay said. Most of the children suffered from locomotive or orthopaedic impairment.

The excitement that there was something new awaiting them led to all the children, five of who were girls, registering themselves. Of them 25 were selected, based on their performance, to form the centre’s cricket team. Within a month’s time of practice with the coach, the team participated in a tri-series of disabled cricket teams (UP, Mumbai, Delhi), and performed well.

“Cricket is my everything. This is what I want to do, always,” says 17-year-old Pradeep Kumar, a fast bowler with the team. There is no hesitation in his voice, just a steely confidence when he adds that one day he would like to be “in the national team”.

Upadhyay now has plans to create four more such centres, in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana. The focus game now is cricket but it may be expanded to include other games too.