The twain shall meet

Updated: Dec 29, 2019, 08:26 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

Former Mumbai police commissioner Rakesh Maria's son Kunal is taking his father's belief in the power of sport to establish an education philosophy that challenges the Indian notion of academics VS sport.

Kunal Maria at the Corvuss office at Altamount Road. Pic/Ashish Raje
Kunal Maria at the Corvuss office at Altamount Road. Pic/Ashish Raje

At Kunal Maria's office in Altamount Road hangs a picture of Rakesh Maria, former Director-General of Home Guards and ex-Commissioner of Police, Mumbai. In this frame, the strapping Maria is playing basketball. You'd think the other young man in the photograph is Kunal, but it's his younger brother Krish. The photograph was taken in Naigaon four years ago by the same photographer who is accompanying this writer to shoot Kunal. "I received a lot of messages when the picture released. But, it couldn't have been me because I don't have a pathetic defence like Krish!"

Kunal knows his basketball, a sport he pursued all through high school, representing Maharashtra at national championships, and India, too. When this picture was shot in 2015, Kunal was away in the United States pursuing a masters in sports, media and entertainment law at Georgetown University. Before returning to India, he worked in the sports practice at a law firm in New York.

It's during this stint that the idea of Corvuss American Academy took root. Kunal's soon-to-launch institute is, he says, a first-of-its-kind boarding school in India, that is founded on the philosophy of academics and sports co-existing. The blue print for the institution took shape in 2016 after he came home. "Nothing had changed [in the time I was away]. The system was still severely lacking in seamlessly integrating academics and sport," he says. The aim of the academy is to build an ecosystem where "student athletes" thrive. "At Georgetown, I was fascinated that the athletes shared the same classrooms and participated in the same lectures as all the others; they could pursue a degree from an elite university, while developing athletic abilities."

The 44-acre Corvuss campus, located in Karjat, opened admissions in time for the September 2020 launch. Kunal has roped in Randy Stevenson as head of school. The former principal of Springboard International School in Beijing was also the lead school administrator for the Canadian International Education Organisation in Guangzhou, China. "I wanted to get the best people on board, people with the ability to vault athletes to competitive level."

Along with networking, Kunal had to rely on thorough research of the Indian market. Not surprisingly, his study revealed that Indian students who play sports give it up around Class VIII or IX due to academic pressure. The talent pool at the highest level is bound to be limited. "Many children [and parents] go through similar burnout while trying to balance studies and sport. The problem is the constant shuttling required to chase school project deadlines, finish homework and keep up with studies." Which is why Corvuss has positioned itself as a one stop-shop that focuses equally on academics and sport. "If you're good at athletics, but lag behind in math, we get the two teachers to figure how they can help you bridge the gap. The idea is to not operate as islands."

The goal for the school is to welcome as many children as possible who are interested in sport. "Once they are here, we get enough time to train with them and eventually help them pick the primary sport." Kunal has been through the drill. As a child, his parents encouraged him to play football, cricket, hockey and basketball. All of this, without compromising on academics.

"My father introduced me to sport and later, let me fend for myself. He said sport teaches you life skills like no other; the ability to deal with pressure, handle failure and being good at what you do. When you are on field, there's no difference between say, two children from different social classes." The curriculum borrows from practices of US prep schools and academies in Europe by combining academics, elite sports and life skills training for students in Class VI to XII. The school plans to provide training in basketball, cricket, football, squash, swimming and tennis, both track and field.

Meanwhile, Kunal has been trying to allay the concerns of parents. "The biggest question for them is, what next? That's what we are here to address. When I was growing up, you could have the best coach, but did he have a reach to get you through recruitments? Which is why we have introduced collaborations for a scouting system. Once you join the school, the responsibility is on us."

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