CUDDALORE: Alert and agile, she dives to save the ball from getting into the net. Seldom does a ball get past her. For V Vinitha, pursuing her masters in English, soccer is her first love and she is the custodian as well as captain of the local team, which has earned kudos.
For Vinitha and six of her teammates, the Beautiful Game acts as a catharsis since the tsunami ravaged their families 10 years ago. While Vinitha, Padmavathy, Pradheepa, Thenmozhi, Vinitha, Muthulakshmi, Sivasankari and Surya lost their parents or property or both because of the disaster, the rest of the team members too suffered tragedies at home, though not tied to the killer waves.
Their urge to play football began a decade ago after watching boys do so. They have proved over and over that girls are second to none.
Preparing for the January pre-Olympic selections, the first-year post-graduate student recalls, “I am from coastal Killai. I was in Class VII and staying at the Government Home in Cuddalore when the tsunami took away my father, the sole breadwinner of our family. Tragedy struck just a few months after we took to soccer under the stewardship of coach Mariyappan, the headmaster as well as physical education teacher of the Government Girls’ School in Cuddalore Old Town.” She’s currently recovering from a knee-injury sustained during practice. Like the other girls in the Government Home, she too was interested in playing. All of them approached Mariyappan, who agreed to be their coach.
The team went on to bag the Chief Minister’s trophy in 2012-13 and 2013-14. The trophy has a cash component of `1 lakh for each player. The `2 lakh thus earned by each player has been deposited in a bank in their names. The team also did well in national events and some of its members proved their mettle at the international level in the U-16 category.
“Few months before the tsunami, when I trained boys in football at the school ground, some girls from the government children’s home came and expressed their desire to play. I started training them too. On the day of tsunami, they were playing on the ground unaware of the tragedy,” recalls Mariyappan.
It was then that he resolved to form a strong football team with the tsunami-affected and other girls from the home who had lost their parents and stopped training the boys.
“Till they were in Class XII, things were smooth. After that they could not stay in the home. So, I approached Rev Ratchagar of St Joseph’s College in Cuddalore, who agreed to admit all the girls from my team in the college and arranged for free education,” he says.
Help has poured in for them. “Some donated footballs, shoes and jerseys. Some still continue to assist With all this support, they have blossomed into the best national-level girls’ football team,” he says.