Impassioned by his love for Basketball game, a Kashmiri-American youth has been visiting the valley over the last five years to popularize the game by improving the infrastructure and training young Basketball enthusiasts in the state, Umer Beigh reports
Every morning, 31-year-old American born Kashmiri Basketball Coach Shahid Bhat paddles his way from his residence in Nishat to Burn Hall School, Sonawar, on a bicycle to train scores of young amateur Basketball players. While Basketball is among the two most popular sports played in the world after Football, in Kashmir the game is still at a stage of infancy with less popularity in absence of any role models or professional coaches.
Shahid, on the contrary, is striving hard to develop the enthusiasm among youngsters in J&K towards the game. He has already succeeded in making some breakthroughs in the last five years. “I am working to get funds from United States. I know no one is going to fund me here,” he says.
As a kid, Shahid grew up in a society where his friends were closely associated with Basketball. He too became interested in the game at the age of 11. A bachelor in Psychology from University of Kansas, United States, Shahid began playing Basketball from his high school days. “Right from the start, my coaches and opponents used to praise my abilities and my talent was highly recognized,” he says.
His father, Ataullah Bhat, a Psychiatrist at Kansan City Hospital, United Stated and mother Shameema Akhter originally hail from Nishat locality of Srinagar, City. Shahid says he often used to visit Kashmir with them. But he never knew he will end up promoting Basketball in Kashmir.
Four years ago, he had no plan, “I wondered if I had to play Basketball, where should I go. I then searched web to get information but I found no records. It was then I asked myself to step up and promote the game here,” he says.
“First I struggled to create a space for myself in promoting this game on my own. I just needed an opportunity. So I asked my cousin who was studying at DPS School to tell the Principal if I could come there as a volunteer,” he says. The management of the school agreed and for two consecutive days, Shahid went to DPS, Srinagar and trained some students there.
Shahid then returned to United States few months later and he wasn’t sure whether he would return to Kashmir or not. But he always knew that his experience will be useful for the players. “After a few months, I decided to come back with a mission to contribute towards the sports sector of the Kashmir,” he says.
During his third Kashmir visit in 2011, the first initiative he took was to form Srinagar Kashmir Basketball Academy (SKBA). It was the first of its kind platform in Kashmir valley and his intentions paid off well. The academy reached out to many players and many newcomers who wanted to receive coaching became associated with it.
In 2010, he singlehandedly managed to organize biggest Basketball League ever held in Kashmir. “I performed everything without getting a single penny. Around eight major schools of Kashmir signed up for that. I acted as a referee in all the matches, stayed in touch with media, took photographs and even cleaned the court after matches,” he says.
After the league ended successfully, two more tournaments were held in 2011 and 2012. “There are few Basketball courts in Kashmir and most of them are located either in schools or colleges. We can’t use them for private training,” he says.
Shahid is now raising money to develop his personal Basketball court that will provide training to the players of the state. “For making a single court, you need around Rs 10 lakh. But the issue of concern was non-availability of land. Now that too has been solved by my uncle who helped me getting some land near Hajj House in Bemina,” he says.
Many players who play Basketball at school level are of the opinion that they have no awareness about the schedules and activities of Basketball in the state. “During selection time, only few player used to get chance to participate in trails because we never knew when they were held,” Mursalin, a student at Burn Hall school said.
However, Shahid claims that the state’s Jammu and Kashmir Basketball Association is more concerned about the players from Jammu province only. “They hardly step in Kashmir. All their activities are limited for that area.” he says.