A report by Jishnu Kaiwar, Grade 9
I entered the ground at approximately 25 minutes past 7 in the morning. I had already attended 2 previous editions of the Games, both of them completely different from one another. This explained my trepidation as I walked through the gate. I was greeted by Loynel Uncle, who was unaware of my role in the Games. When I explained that I would be writing an article on them, he exclaimed, “Good. You’re here to do some work!” He left me with a pair of walkie-talkies that needed their batteries changed. After failing to get the walkie-talkies working again (due to battery leaks), I looked around. I seemed to be among the first children arriving, though the sports team and helpers who arrived a while before had already occupied the ground. Soon enough children started to trickle in, accompanied by parents who waited around for 5-10 minutes after the children had been handed over to the teachers in charge of their tent. The majority of the children who had arrived were in the Primary. They spoke excitedly in low tones as their teachers were busy talking to parents. It was only around four minutes to eight that the first ‘senior’ arrived. It was ten past eight when the U15 athletes began to arrive. From past experience, senior children seemed to have a better idea of the routine and delays of a school held athletic event.
The first Head Start Friendship Games were held in 2005. The children in the First Grade (the highest class at that time) had started PE classes. The school wanted to build on this and give the children a new experience by holding a Sports Day. However with only ten children in the Grade it would hardly provide them exposure to a sports event. The problem was sorted out by inviting two more schools (Bethany and Inventure Academy) to participate, and the first Friendship Games were held.
The Friendship Games of ’05 were truly held in the spirit of participation. With only thirty athletes, everyone got to do the event(s) they were comfortable with. All ten children of Head Start participated, without the hassle of holding selections. As the years passed, more and more children, parents as well as teachers became a part of the Head Start family. Even the Friendship Games grew with the family. This time over 15 schools came to participate under six different age categories. From the First to the Eighth grade, every athlete was there to encourage the spirit of participation.
Schools began to arrive, either by bus or each athlete individually. There was much talk in the tents about the schools. Juniors passed comments to each other like, “That greeny school will definitely be there” and the more senior athletes talked about other participants they had met in past games. The talking in the tent rapidly increased after some time. The teachers were too preoccupied handing out chest numbers to do anything about it. The enquiry desk was also overloaded with work, welcoming schools, sorting out kits, fixing problems and getting things organised. One person sat at the desk and 5 people behind him were bent over putting oranges into the right bags or organising chest numbers and handing out safety pins. There was a level of mayhem at the reporting desk that soon quietened down as the schools began to get ready for the March-Past. There had been a brief panic when the March-Past had been announced, as two schools hadn’t arrived. This led to a slight delay, in which a senior athlete had the time to say, “As usual we’ll be starting late”.
The March-Past finally did happen, though only one of the delayed schools made it on time. Riad Uncle took the salute as the schools marched past in alphabetical order with Head Start Educational Academy, the hosts, bringing up the rear. The captains of the various teams and Bharat Nagaraj (the Head Start captain) took the oath. The oath made me think about the spirit of the Friendship Games and what they were initially created for. I wondered if this spirit would be recognised and upheld this year as well. In a nutshell, the Head Start Friendship Games stand for getting together and working towards a particular discipline in sport, no matter what the outcome may be. We, at Head Start, believe that every athlete must have a good relationship with his or her sport which in turn means appreciating competitors as well as helping the young and inexperienced in the field. We feel that every athlete, no matter how accomplished, must be able to be part of a well-organised event with good officials. After all, we profusely believe in the spirit of participation.
After the March-Past, the events kicked off, the firsts being Long Jump and Sprints (heats) for all categories. Teams got back to their tents raising a dust cloud from the mud ground as they hastened along. The reporting area was crowded with athletes ready for Sprints and Long Jump. Our teachers were raucously advising athletes to sit on the dusty ground. They reluctantly obliged. The first event, the U7 Sprints (heats), kicked off at ten minutes past ten. There was a loud applause cheering the winners, who were escorted by the officials to their table. After the first few events the clapping and cheering quietened down considerably. For the events that succeeded the first few, a practice of dull applause and monotonous acclaim was established subsequent to the race. The heats have that effect: a tedious routine that leads up to an exhilarating final.
The Long Jump area had a completely different atmosphere. Most of the athletes were silent, waiting for their turn to jump. There was little talk, mostly pertaining to topics outside athletics. The Shot Put area also had a similar environment, little talk. Most of the athletes were very focused, probably because both events had direct finals. There was also limited audience for these events; parents and coaches outnumbered student spectators. Juniors were not allowed to leave their tents, however the more ‘responsible’ senior students were able to watch each other’s events.
The rest of the athletes sat around the reporting area, standing up when volunteers were looking away. The volunteers in the reporting area were flooded with work: instructing athletes, making sure everyone was present and at the same time helping teachers with their responsibilities. The Head Start tent was completely different from how it was in the morning; it was half empty and the teachers seemed to have given up the strict level of discipline that they had earlier implemented with the students. Chairs previously in a grid-like formation now littered the tent in semicircles or circles with the remainder scattered randomly and spilling outside the tent. Children of the First Grade, who had been sitting stiffly side by side, now seemed to have loosened up and were talking freely with their peers.
There was no clear demarcation between the end of the events and the beginning of lunch. I was still walking around, taking note of activities and helping volunteers when I was instructed to eat something. All the activity seemed to slow down and come to a brief hiatus. Children stuck mostly to their tents and talked to each other while eating.
The first call for the Relays was heard. Athletes slowly gathered their equipment and milled around the reporting area in a tangle of colour. Chaos defined the atmosphere. Teachers and volunteers were now screaming at the top of their lungs. It took a while (almost 15 minutes) for things to get sorted out and the events to begin. The tents were mostly empty; most of the athletes were in the reporting area preparing for their respective Relay. The Relays were among the most exciting events in this year’s Friendship Games. Relays are not about individual athletes. They are more comprehensive and require whole teams of runners to take part; each runner running what he or she is best at: straight, curve, anchor, 400m or 100m (in the case of the medley). The Relays are exceedingly intense for the athletes and the spectators, especially the children in this case: cheering for their team with monstrous fervour. One bad leg, one baton drop, one second in which the track is cut would take away the chances of winning.
The shuttle relay, held for the juniors was a less captivating event for an unfortunate reason: the majority of athletes in the reporting area had a very bad view of the race and had to enter the tracks or crane their necks, much to the difficulty of the volunteers who were trying to maintain the previously achieved level of organisation. The best view was from the announcer’s desk and the parents’ stands from which most of the ovation stemmed. The coaches of the various teams also enthusiastically supported the participants of the relay, calling out active tutelage to the young athletes who were already overwhelmed with performing the event itself. The 4x100 Relays obtained a higher level of cheer as the students all around the ground had a full view to the event and did not hesitate in giving support.
The Sprints’ finals unfortunately turned out to be a reversal. The audience responsibly applauded each final with a level of excitement however there was a measure of anticipation for the Relay finals that overshadowed the thrill of the Sprint finals. Finally, after the Sprints (finals) it was time for the Relay finals. Victories and losses were dealt with in good spirit and the excitement of the spectators never wavered. The Relay finals turned out to be quite successful in captivating the audience.
The climax of the Friendship Games finally arrived. As the last event of the day, the Medley Relay entered when the fire of the audience was at its hottest. The Medley was an event that Head Start has been conducting for several years. The relay team for the Medley consists of two girls and two boys (U15). Of these participants, each had to run either 400m (1st leg), 300m (2nd leg), 200m (3rd leg) or 100m (4th leg), summing up to a total of 1000m (which was 2.5 rounds of a 400m track).
To the dismay of the participants, what was initially supposed to be a direct final was split into two races from which the team with the best timing would win. Athletes fretted about having to do their best even if they were in the lead. The tension was great. The first race was won by DPS, with Inventure Academy second. The second race was a nerve-wracking event. The first leg runner from Head Start ran beautifully but a bit too fast and didn’t manage to keep his pace for the last 20m, putting Head Start in the second place to Parikrama. The next leg runner also ran beautifully, taking the lead and putting distance between him and second place. By then, the damage was done. The last two runners finished the race with ease thanks to the second leg runner. Ten minutes later the results for the Medley were announced; Head Start had won.
The prize distribution ceremony happened. Every winner was applauded with enthusiasm, the loudest cheers coming from the athlete’s school. By the time the winner of the tournament was announced, many of the athletes were sure who it would be. Their domination had been apparent since the beginning of the relays. Before the big revelation (using the word is somewhat ironic), Riad Uncle talked to all of us about how important it is to accept an outcome and how we are here to spread the message. After congratulating all athletes for their superb performance, he delivered the big news:
1. Vidya Shilp
2. Head Start
3. Vidya Niketan
The Vidya Shilp students celebrated and so did the Head Start students. All the other schools sportingly applauded their performance.
Finally after the event had been completed, I went back to my initial thoughts on following the spirit of the Games. We got together and participated in the sport of our speciality. We accepted the outcome of our events, applauding our winners. We maintained good relations with athletes from other schools. We respected our sport and avoided conflict with the officials. Everyone got a chance to take part in a fairly evaluated event. I personally believe that this year Head Start succeeded in spreading the message of the Friendship Games.