Mumbai: Boxing school survived the punches to mark 30 years

After its facility was demolished, the Ex Services Sports School struggled for three years to find new premises but has finally overcome all odds to complete 30 years, which it marked yesterday with a state-level boxing tourney

Thirty years ago, the Ex Services Sports School (ESSS) was set up as a labour of love by Subedar-major Anantasinha Padwal, who retired from the army after he lost his right arm in the Indo-China war in 1962 but still wanted to do his bit for the country by training underprivileged athletes.

Vikramsinha Padwal (right) trains 15-odd boxing enthusiasts enrolled in the Ex Services Sports School, which was once a large sports facility that trained national-level boxers, but has since fallen on hard times. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Vikramsinha Padwal (right) trains 15-odd boxing enthusiasts enrolled in the Ex Services Sports School, which was once a large sports facility that trained national-level boxers, but has since fallen on hard times. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

After his death in 2009, the school fell on hard times but marked its 30th anniversary yesterday, thanks to his son, Vikramsinha. At one time, the school trained national-level athletes at a large sports facility near Jogeshwari Trauma Centre, but a road-widening project resulted in its demolition.

Now, the school operates out of the assembly hall of a BMC school in Jogeshwari, where national gold-medallist (1986-89) Vikramsinha trains boxing enthusiasts. “The school meant everything to my father. At one time, we had a huge sport arena and hosted national selection camps for amateur boxers, but now we are holed up in one room at a school.

But we still kept the school alive, because it was my father’s dream,” he said. Vikramsinha recalled how his father had started the academy using the gratuity compensation he had received from the army post his retirement. “He put all the money he got from the army in the academy due to his passion for sports and desire to help the underprivileged.

At that time, I was too young to understand why he was taking all that effort inspite of his injury, but as I grew up, I saw the respect he got from national and international athletes,” he said, adding, “My father would not only train his students, but he also provided them with nutritious diet that they couldn’t afford on their own. He trained many of them free of charge, and built a strong team in athletics, rifle shooting and cricket.”

Down but not out
After Anantasinha passed away in 2009, Vikramsinha and his mother Priyadevi took charge of the school, but received a heavy blow when it had to be demolished just two years later. They struggled to keep it open after civic authorities allegedly didn’t offer any compensation or alternate space for the academy, said Vikramsinha.

“After that, we tried to find BMC schools where we could carry out training. Continuing other sports was not feasible anymore, but we carried on with boxing, since that was my father's first love.

After struggling to find a place for more than three years, this year we finally found space at Asmita High School in Jogeshwari. Now we have 15-20 students there, some of whom have participated at the national and state levels,” Vikramsinha told mid-day.

Return to glory
The school recovered some of its old glory yesterday, as it held a boxing tourney that saw participation by 62 boxers from across the state. Veteran boxer Pradip Varsale, who was one of Anantsinha’s students and helped organise yesterday’s tournament, said, “This family has done so much for the country. Sir served in the army, and despite his injury, he taught and helped talented youngsters. As his students, we will keep his dream alive.”

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