Like most boys in his native country of India, Satwant Singh Bajwa took up field hockey in the seventh grade. He did not, however, take it up for the same reason as most boys his age.
"I was a very fat kid and my mother said, 'I'm going to take you to school to the teacher and have you learn hockey,' " said Bajwa, now 40 and a U.S. citizen living with his wife and two children in Kensington. "It took awhile for me to lose weight, but it was an incentive."
Bajwa now plays for the Washington field hockey team that participated in yesterday's opening round of competition in the 17th annual John F. Kennedy Memorial Field Hockey Tournament on the mall.
Bajwa was the captain of his high school team in Sangrur, Punjab, India, and then went on to play for his college team while still in India. While in his third year of college, majoring in commerce, Bajwa had a chance to leave for the United States.
So he left India and entered Harvard as a freshman majoring in engineering. Now, 20 years later, he works as a technical assistant at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Within six months of arriving here in 1961, Bajwa was playing field hockey. "The Indian Embassy had a league that covered the east coast from New York to this area," said Bajwa."
At the 1971 Pan American games in Cali, Colombia, Bajwa played on the U.S. team that eventually placed fourth, following a playoff for the bronze medal. And in 1975, in Mexico City, Bajwa once again represented the United States when they finished sixth.
Field hockey is not particularly popular among men in this country, though at the international level it can be a wildly exciting game. "It's not unlike ice hockey in that it is not uncommon for frustrated teams to get into fights," Bajwa said.
"But it's accepted here for people to go to ice hockey to watch a fight," added Bob Davidson, the director of the tournament. "If they plan to come here to see a fight, they're out of luck. Any misbehavior and a player is out of the game completely, not just in the penalty box for a few minutes."