Principal of rural primary school realizes students’ football dream

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A football team of Zhonglianchuan Primary School in northwest China’s Gansu province takes part in a contest in central China’s Henan province, Jan. 2019. (Photo/Zhonglianchuan Primary School)
A football team of Zhonglianchuan Primary School in northwest China’s Gansu province takes part in a contest in central China’s Henan province, Jan. 2019. (Photo/Zhonglianchuan Primary School)

By Zhao Shuaijie

Over the past 10 years, Ma Anwu, principal of Zhonglianchuan Primary School in Yuzhong county, Lanzhou city, northwest China’s Gansu province, has established a football team at the school, led students to victory in many football games and broadened their horizons, bringing many changes to the rural school.

Because of Ma’s persistence in incorporating football into school education, students from rural areas have not only gained access to and become fond of the sport, but enjoyed ahappier school life.

It takes an hour and a half to drive from Yuzhong county to Zhonglianchuan Primary School, a boarding school located over 2,300 meters above sea level on the Loess Plateau of China.

Among 60 students at the school, one third come from single-parent families and nearly a half are “left-behind” children whose parents are working in urban areas. Most of the students have never left their hometown. In fact, most of the children in the locality began to work after finishing junior high school in the past.

Things started to change when Ma came. Students at Zhonglianchuan Primary School have not only been admitted to prominent high schools in Lanzhou, but get a chance of becoming professional football players. Children in the mountainous region have embraced greater future, something that also exhilarates their parents.

Recently, Zhonglianchuan Primary School went through the final of a youth football league in Lanzhou for the fourth time. While football players of the school fought for a victory on the field, Ma, also the coach, was busy giving instructions and shouting encouragement to them. It was hard to imagine that the school team could give such a good performance in football games ten years ago.

In 2011, Ma, who had been engaged in rural education for nearly 10 years, was appointed as vice principal of Zhong Lianchuan Primary School. Deeply concerned about poorer enrollment, Ma chewed over how to make good use of students’ spare time to enrich their school life, attract students and explore new possibilities for them to apply for high schools and even universities. As a football enthusiast himself, Ma decided to develop students’ hobbies of playing football.

After digging out several dusty footballs in the sports room, Ma set up a football interest group and encouraged students to learn the sport. Without football kits and fields, he taught students in cloth shoes at a dirt playground about the size of a basketball court. Whenever they played, dirt would swirl in the air.

Encouraged by the enthusiasm of students, Ma started to watch football videos and read relevant books to learn about tactics and expand his knowledge of football. Every day before school begins and after school since 10 years ago, Ma has helped students with football practice, including dribbling the ball and shooting.

Along with the improving techniques of players, the training conditions have become more comfortable. The government of Yuzhong county has helped build a football field at the school, according to Ma, who has also managed to raise funds to purchase uniforms and football boots with moulded studs.

Despite difficulties and challenges, students never gave up. In the past nearly five years, Zhonglianchuan Primary School has won the championship at youth football leagues in Yuzhong county, Lanzhou city and Gansu province, and even ranked high during China’s national youth football invitational tournaments.

While achieving good results on football fields, football players have also made progress with their studies. Some who did poorly in school have been able to pass examinations, and those who had relatively good academic records have even become straight-A students.

“Playing football has not only made me fitter, but helped release my pressure and increase efficiency in schoolwork,” said Li Rui, a football player at the school.

For Li Jing, also a football player at the school, playing football has made her more competitive. “I don’t want to lag behind others in studies, and will try my best so that one day I can see the outside world,” she said, who has never stepped out of the mountains.

Football player Kou Lina, who was shy and timid, has become more confident as she gradually got used to motivating team members and shouting loudly to encourage her teammates at the football fields.

In recent years, over 10 football players from Zhonglianchuan Primary School have joined professional teams, 26 players from the school have been admitted by schools featuring football education, and ten players have visited and learned from the world’s high-level football teams.

“We have paid attention to and cultivated children’s interest in and passion for football, and hope to enable every student who loves football to play on the fields,” said Ma, who believes that football education is never aimed at winning, but helping students enjoy themselves while playing.

Ma considers it important for students to play football well while doing a good job in their studies. He has a plan and dream of establishing a football club at the school and helping ensure the employment of football players so that they don’t have to worry about their future while sweating on the football fields.

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