For over 50 years, the residents of Boda Silli, a tiny village in Madhya Pradesh, have been playing football, having learnt it from visiting traders.
From Boda Silli, football spread to nearby Pipparadara, Khara Chappar, Amjhar, Malwathar, and Indra. However, Boda Silli has remained a football hotspot.
Great-grandfathers, grandfathers, fathers and now their kids have played the beautiful game, at the district, state, and national level, and have not let the lack of facilities curb their enthusiasm or love for the game.
Recognising this talent, Riverside Leagues, a Sports League founded by the Mrida Education and Welfare Society (MEWS), an MP-based non-profit started and run by alumni of ISB, Hindu College, XIM Bhubaneshwar and St Xavier’s College, is training kids to play football and take up long distance running.
Deriving its name from the Narmada River that flows nearby, Riverside Leagues started in April 2017, with the vision to have at least one player from the region play for India in 2026, and help catapult rural sport to the professional league.
With approximately 200 children, including 75 girls who are playing for the first time, the program has four clubs and six coaches, who are working with the kids, and preparing them for the bigger stage.
Here’s how Riverside Leagues is going about its goal:
1. Gathering information from families, where support isn’t forthcoming.
2. Providing football kits to top players.
3. Running an education program through the school, and a residential hostel program for good talent.
4 After-school support for footballers who attend government schools.
5. Imparting skills through training for senior footballers, and giving the kids an opportunity to generate a livelihood through Riverside Labs, a skill training programme started by Riverside Leagues.
6. Support the chosen players to reach the highest skill levels, via Riverside League’s links to state football federation, and various clubs.
7. Spot fresh talent and hone their skills.
The initiative is well-poised for success. Devendra Bhavedi, from Boda Silli, was recently declared as the player of the tournament in the under-14 state team selections, and Vinod Parte, who is from Jhanda Tola, has been selected for the National Camp. Both the boys are currently enrolled in the hostel and are training with Riverside Leagues.
The Better India spoke to Priya Nadkarni, the founder of MEWS, who pointed out that even though the children are extremely talented, a lot needs to be done.
“The children have amazing stamina, and are eager to learn. However, nutrition remains an issue, but it is something we are working on,” she says, praising the innate talent that the children of Boda Silli exhibit when they play football or practice long-distance running.
Speaking of their talent, Priya continues to describe how the kids posted unbelievable timings while running a 5,000-metre long-distance race (18–19 minutes).
Given that the national record hovers around 14 minutes for the same distance, it is indeed commendable that these kids without any formal training have posted such wonderful timings.
Kushal Bhavedi, one of the coaches, echoes Priya’s thoughts when he says that the children are incredibly talented, but lack a support system.
He also mentions that they earlier suffered from poor nutrition, but are now eating nutritious meals in the hostel, as part of a well-thought-out and balanced diet plan.
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In addition to football, Riverside Leagues is also providing education through their schooling model.
Boda Silli has football closely woven into its rich culture, and Riverside Leagues is helping children take advantage of the talent they have.
As for the tribal children, they are re-discovering their love for the game, and thanks to the initiative, can channel their talent in a lucrative way so they may hopefully make a significant mark on the big stage in the near future!
If you would like to contribute towards the future of these kids you can do so here:-
Mrida Education and Welfare Society
HDFC Bank, Mandla
Account no: 50100171078730
IFSC Code: HDFC0002713
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)