Shillong, Dec 19: After more than 1,300 matches and with the participation of 1,000 children, the Meghalaya Baby League (MBL) 2018, the first of its kind in India, will conclude on an exciting day at the JN Sports Complex here tomorrow.

The first edition of the MBL, which is the joint initiative of Tata Trusts, the Meghalaya Football Association (MFA) and All India Football Federation (AIFF), was inaugurated in May, began regular matches on weekends from June and finished its last league stage matches today.

There are 12 teams in the competition – Langsning Greenergy Lions, Mawlatbah SC Hawks, Nongtrai Cheetahs, Wahlakhiat Bulls, ENE Falcons, Nongthymmai GC Scorpions, JNS Jaguars, Kickstart FCC Rhinos, Little Star Clouded Leopards, Touchline NE Cubs, Unified Gorkha Gators and Sunnydale School Doves. Each team had to have at least 10% girls’ representation in their squads, though several went over the minimum requirement, and every team had to compete in all five age categories.

Tomorrow the trophy for the best overall team will be presented to the side that finished with the most points, while there will also be finals in each age group.

As part of the fun, the children will get a breather in the morning and will be able to see what football skills the grownups have as friendly matches will be held for coaches and then for parents. A skills challenge and freestyle football demonstration will then follow, with the awards ceremony to be held in the evening.

The day’s action will begin at 9AM, with the finals to start from 1:30PM, and will conclude at 4:30PM. Peter Dkhar, Commissioner & Secretary, Sports & Youth Affairs, will be the chief guest. All are invited to witness the final day and entry is free.

At a press conference today, the Chairman of the MFA’s grassroots development committee Wanshan Kharkrang identified three aspects in which the MBL has brought about change.

“This was the first of its kind baby league in the country. The whole concept was for kids to play, learn and enjoy themselves and for that to have happened we need to thank the parents for sending the children, coming to the ground and for trusting us,” Kharkrang said. “We didn’t expect the impact that the MBL has created socially, with parents telling us that they have loved to come down to the ground and spend half a day watching their kids playing. The MBL has also bridged the gap, to a certain extent, between boys and girls having them play together. And the league has also created a demand and interest from rural communities who want the MBL in their areas.”

Kharkrang also thanked the team of volunteers who have been working tirelessly over the last six months in organising matches, getting the ground ready and making sure that the league could conduct all its games to meet the ambitious schedule.

Also at the press conference was MFA CEO Arki Nongrum, who informed that 1,320 league matches have taken place, with over 1,000 children registered with the MFA for the tournament. He also noted the tremendous support the MBL has received from the public, with 200-300 parents, family members and friends turning up every match day, rain or shine.

Nongrum also talked about expanding the MBL’s scope for the future.

“We went to Wahlakhiat and Mawlat and conducted matches there in October. That was a great way for us to be able to spread the message of the baby league,” he said. “One of the objectives of tomorrow’s all-star day is also to further engage the parents and coaches, which will be another way to expand our scope.”

(Photo contributed by the Meghalaya Football Association)

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