The sport of kabaddi is starting to take root at Surrey-area high schools, with eyes on a provincial prize one day.
The all-Surrey spring league currently involves five teams representing Panorama Ridge, Tamanawis, Enver Creek, Queen Elizabeth and Khalsa School, with Panorama Ridge the two-time defending champion.
Raman Bedi, a teacher at the Newton school and co-coach of its kabaddi team, also serves as league president and co-ordinator of matches.
“There are strong roots in this sport, and a lot of people are passionate about it,” Bedi said Tuesday, May 17, after his Thunder team beat Khalsa 46-24 on the grass at Panorama Ridge, after school was out for the day.
“That’s why we have so many people come out to watch, and that includes students, parents, grandparents and just people who live in the area. Having it in the schools like this, there’s been a really fast ripple effect, with so many generations involved.”
Popular in India and surrounding countries, kabaddi is a wrestling-like sport played on a circular field. A single player on offense, known as a “raider,” runs into the other team’s half-court to tag an opponent, or be tagged, and must return to the centre line to score a point, without being tackled and held by a “stopper,” or pushed out of bounds. The opposing team then goes on offense, and the match continues in back-and-forth fashion until time’s up.
PHOTOS: Kabaddi players raid and stop in Surrey as the sport takes root in local high schools.
"Hopefully we see teams in other schools, other areas," says coach of @EcolePanorama.
STORY: https://t.co/EHCre6847P@SSSAA_SD36 #SurreyBC #kabaddi pic.twitter.com/0exLCYxg4e
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) May 19, 2022
“One of the biggest differences in our league is that we don’t allow contact over the shoulders, unless it’s unintentional,” Bedi noted. “It’s for player safety, because they’re students.
“We have a limit of 15 team members, and how many stoppers they have and how many raiders, that’s up to them,” he added.
At Panorama Ridge, the kabaddi team has attracted some top-level wrestlers and other athletes, some from outside the Punjabi community.
The sport tests players’ mental and physical abilities, says Bedi, who co-coaches the Thunder with Lakha Gazipuria, whom he calls “Wayne Gretzky” of kabaddi.
“For anyone who’s an athlete and likes competition, this is a good sport,” Bedi explained. “We have a stopper on our team, Marcell Manu, who’s never played kabaddi before, he’s just a pure athlete. He’s a good basketball player, good volleyball player, and he’s quick and strong, which makes him good here.”
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) May 17, 2022
Five years ago the high school kabaddi league started with four teams, then expanded to eight before the pandemic shut down everything. This spring, there are five teams.
“I’m sure momentum is going to pick up again, and hopefully we see teams in other schools, other areas,” said Bedi, who credits Mandeep Dhaliwal for work to get the school kabaddi league started in 2017.
“It was a process to get this going and making it a recognized and governed sport through both the SSSAA (Surrey Secondary Schools Athletic Association) and South Fraser Athletics Association,” Bedi said. “A few of us (teachers) played supporting casts to Mandeep, who advocated and spent countless hours getting this going.”
Bedi says the league couldn’t run without referees including Makhan Pandal (former executive member and current official for kabaddi associations of Canada and Australia), Pola Sahota (two-time Canadian champ, also led Tamanawis wrestling team to three provincial titles, as coach) and Harjot Judge (former Tamanawis student and player).
Ultimately, one goal is for teams across B.C. to play for a provincial high school kabaddi championship.
Until then, the action this spring will include a Championship Day for the Surrey league on Friday, June 3, with several matches scheduled at Panorama Ridge.
“It’ll start at 10:30 a.m. that day,” Bedi explained, “and we’ll have all the teams in the league here, so even if they lose a match they can stay and enjoy the other matches. That way, the whole community comes together.”