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Shot in the arm for a ‘lesser’ sport.

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it,” said Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist. Without big-time sponsorship, hype or hoopla, a modest city tournament in a non-cricket sport shows the way, not just in spotting talent but channelizing youthful energy constructively and even providing livelihood. It also proves resources, however meagre, when rightly deployed, raises standards all around.

By Azhikkakath Joseph Antony

Urbanization tramples on almost every human endeavor. In the Twin Cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad it has resulted in open spaces being encroached upon by land sharks. Outdoor sport, so vital for human well-being, is an immediate casualty.

The much-maligned Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) has nonetheless persisted with its summer coaching camps for decades, offering opportunities to the poorest of the poor for play and recreation, at least for that roughly two-month period. So many international and national sportspersons have surfaced from this scheme.

In such a scenario, the YMCA in Secunderabad may be an oasis for sports amidst a concrete jungle. It has a slew of activities from public speaking to quiz, indoor badminton and table tennis facilities. But its biggest draw is the basketball court, quite fitting for a sport that traces its origins to the institution. The recent Samuel Vasanth Kumar memorial invitation flood-lit prize money tournament not only saw some high-octane action but tremendous public participation and appreciation.

With the onset of summer, matches began after 5 P.M., ideal for players employed with various institutions and those returning from work to enjoy a highly entertaining sporting spectacle. So many things went into making the event a resounding success. Top-most among them would be the high-quality officiating by the Hyderabad District Basketball Association (HDBA) overseen by International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Technical Delegate Norman Isaac, assisted by FIBA referees Peter Santosh Divaker and Prem Yadav.

FIBA-certified table officials S. Ashwin Kumar, Mohd Nayeemuddin and Gavin Sohail Khan, Basketball Federation of India (BFI) A panel referees S. Hanumanth Rao , Syed Shahabuddin, V. Vinod Kumar, M. Yesudas, M. Arvind, Santosh Kumar, Victor Rhony, Raja Reddy and Ignatius Michael, ran the show on court, with little or no ground for complaint from the players.

Perking up performances by their mere presence were Indian campers Gona Prateek and K Gowtham, World Cup qualifier Prudhvishwar Reddy, former internationals Vinay Yadav, Lijju Abraham, J. Pankaj, Sandeep Yadav and S. Prasad (Indian schools). Managing the South Central Railway (SCR) team was former junior international K. Vishal Kumar.

If the spotlight on court was on the above, off it the event was graced by former Indian captain Mohd. Rizwan, ex-internationals Subbaiah Chowdary, B.M. John Vinay sagar, former National players Jasvinder Singh,  L.C. Umakanth, R. Ramachandran and Vishal Mehta.

Affordability made the championship very attractive, organisational costs such as venue and equipment hire bringing the event within reach of the common man. Goodwill proved to be a value addition too, former Outlook sports editor G. Rajaraman sponsoring trophies for this the third edition as also S.R. Prem Raj, OSD with the GHMC.

Interestingly, in the tournament’s first edition at Victory Play Ground, Chaderghat, the Most Valuable Player (MVP) was the son of a pushcart banana seller. Cagers from similar backgrounds, encouraged by media coverage, raise their game to qualify for district, state and national squads, paving the way to jobs in institutional teams such as SCR, Customs & GST, Income Tax or even the Services sides.

Customs & GST pivot Venkat Reddy leaps for one of his four tip-ins in the Samuel Vasanth Kumar memorial basketball tournament match against Young Men’s Guild at YMCA Secunderabad

Funding the prize winning team’s purse was G. Kiran Reddy, Senior PRO, TSRTC. Marri Laxma Reddy, Chairman, MLRIT gave away the prizes at the valedictory function, while the six-day tournament was inaugurated by A. Jagan Mohan Rao, Chairman, Premier Handball League and Vice President, Handball Federation of India. Stringing the event together was the Sports Writers Association of Telangana (SWAT) through its Joint Secretary Solomon S. Kumar, Treasurer C. Sudhaker, the young and dynamic duo of Kanna Sanjay and Manne Ratnakar under the benign gaze of the sports journalist body’s elder statesmen Abhijit Sen Gupta and Paul Benjamin.

At the awards ceremony, the loudest cheers were reserved for Best Coach Banna Ravinder, who has groomed dozens of international and national players. Merugu Vijay Kumar of Customs & GST was adjudged the MVP while Allen Peter Cyrus of YMCA Secunderabad was declared Most Promising Young Player (MPYP). The young talent’s prize was donated by Rosemary Grace. M. Rachel Vijayalaxmi, a former Osmania University hoopster, coached by her brother late Samuel Vasanth Kumar, a BFI referee and sports journalist, gave the purse to best coach Ravinder.

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