by Reemus Fernando
Dilshi Kumarasinghe, the golden girl of the last South Asian Games had been permitted to stay in the hostel of Sports School Ratnayake Central College, Walala for months after completing her education until she found employment, because of the far-sightedness of Central Province authorities, both past and present, Susantha Fernando, who trained her to win three Golds at the regional event, revealed in an interview with The Island. That was a decision the authorities of other Sports Schools or seats of learning, bound by various rules and regulation, would hesitate to take, he said.
With the restructuring and reinvigorating of Sports Schools in the country being discussed by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Sports, The Island interviewed Susantha Fernando, the coach behind the success story of Ratnayake Central Walala, the most successful Sports School of the country.
Fernando who culminated his three decades long coaching stint with t
he Sports School recently, revealed that the special place of prominence given to sports by the Central Province education authorities and the individualized training plans were among the reasons behind the unprecedented success of Ratnayake Central.
Ratnayake Central dominated track and field sports for more than two decades. If title victories are of any indication to the success of a Sports School, then there was no school that could even come closer to beat the records set by Ratnayake Central. There are three major Schools Athletics Championships conducted yearly, namely the Sir John Tarbet Senior, All Island Schools Relay and the All Island Schools Games Athletics. They won both the Boys and Girls titles together in these championships on an unprecedented 19 occasions. Under Fernando’s stewardship Ratnayake Central athletes have gone on to win at Junior Asian Athletics Championship (seven medals), Asian Youth Games, Youth Olympic (1000m B grade 3rd), South Asian Junior Athletics Championships (7 medals at the last meet), Asian Athletics Championships, Asian Schools Games, South Asian Games (four goalds at the last edition) and many regional international events apart from representing the country at many World Youth, World Junior, Asian Championship, World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. Here are the excerpts from the interview The Island had with Fernando.
What makes Ratnayake Central different from other Sports School?
“Ratnayake Central was selected as a Sports School because we performed better than any other school in the Central Province. We are the only Sports School that is run by Provincial administration. When the school was established Palitha Elkaduwa, the former Secretary of Education of the Central Province played a special role. The central province circular on the Sports School was a very strong one. There were two other sports schools in the Central Province (Poramadulla Central and Weera Keppetipola NS, Akuramboda). But they were taken over by the Ministry of Education later. The officials who made the school a Sports School understood the importance of sports. Even today the Department of Education of the Central province has no hesitation in going out of the way to help Sports programmes. We were also lucky to have a sports loving Director of Education in Thilak Ekanayake,” said Fernando.
Asked to be more specific Fernando compared and contrasted Ratnayake Central with other sports schools.
“Generally Sports Schools provide scholarships and recruit athletes for grade eight. But if we identify a future prospect who is in a higher grade we could take the athlete for that higher grade if there is a vacancy. That is not so with the Sports Schools that are under the Ministry of Education. They are strict. Dilshi’s case is another example. We knew that she is a future prospect. We could keep her in the hostel for months after she finished her Advance Level until she found employment in the Army. She went on to win three golds at the South Asian Games. We could do that because the Central Province Education authorities understood the need. I don’t think that would be possible with any other Sports School.”
Media had been highlighting the absence of a 400 metres track at Ratnayake Central for years. How could the school still perform better than the schools which had facilities.
“I had a plan for every athlete. At the school we maintained files for every athlete. There were over 70 files every year. The individual training plans were the secret. When others take leave for three months during school vacations we continued training. We conduct special training. Go for high altitude training. We send home sports scholarship holders for only ten days during vacation. My recommendation for other Sports Schools too is to continue training with probably ten days of leave during the school vacation. True we did not have a proper track. Not even a proper 200 metres track. The 200 metres track at Ratnayake Central has a 55% bend which is harmful for athletes. From 2018 we could take athletes for training to Digana where there is a good 400 metres track.
How do you compare the financial support Ratnayake Central received with other Sports Schools?
“The Central Province department of education has been good enough to understand the need for funds to run a proper programme. We’ll just take the case of competitions. You have to spend a lot of money on transport and food during competitions. There was no restriction on funds for Ratnayake Central in meeting expenses on transport or food for athletes. The other Sports Schools are given only rupees 25,000.00 for the entire year for transport and food to take part in meets. You have to travel to three or four national meets per year. It is important that the athletes we train take part in these meets and they are provided proper transportation, food and lodgings. I have seen sports officials of Sumana Balika (Sports School) preparing meals for their athletes when they go for national meets to save funds. That is pathetic.”
Central Province also increased the allowance paid to sports instructors to encourage them and provide a substantial scholarship money for athletes, when the sports instructors under the Ministry of Education receive a meager amount of rupees 1,000.00 monthly as an allowance.”
The Central Province education authorities promoted Fernando to the Assistant Director of Education – Sports and Physical Education post of the Wattegama Zonal in 2003 and was also responsible for monitoring sports progress of the zone which became one of the best zones of the country. Here are his views on the monitoring process of Sports Schools.
“There should be a proper monitoring system for Sports Schools. Some of the Sports Schools in the country became defunct because there was no proper monitoring system. There should also be qualified individuals to do that. Qualified officials who can advise the coaches of the Sports School and who could make recommendations on their coaching programmes. At present I don’t think that the Ministry of Education has enough qualified individuals to do that part.”
Many scholar athletes passing out from Ratnayake Central have gone on to become physical education teachers. How did Ratnayake Central looked after the education of scholar athletes.
“We provided free tuition to athletes after school when it was necessary. And there was continuous monitoring of the progress they made in education. We hardly had disappointments when results of exams came. Many have become Physical Education teachers. Currently there are over 400 physical education teaches who had their education at Ratnayake Central. They are serving at different schools. There are also good number of athletes who have gone on to become bank managers, Assistant Directors of Education to managers of leading private firms. For those who persevere a career in athletics there should be a system to look after them after they leave Sports Schools. The future prospects who are identified at Sports Schools should be looked after. The Sports Ministry should take the responsibility of these athletes after they leave schools.”
Often there are administration deadlocks between sports officials and principals leading to sports being given secondary status at schools. Fernando said that there were no such impasses at Walala but insisted that sports instructors should have some authority at Sports Schools. “In my opinion the head or the sports instructor of a Sports School should have some authority for him to run a successful programme.”
Fernando had a long stint (30 years) at Walala with the school and the old students association continuing to insist on acquiring his service. He continued as the head coach of Ratnayake Central while also functioning as the Assistant Director of Education – Sports at Wattegama Zone. This is his opinion on transfers.
“Teacher service requires teachers to be transferred according to vacancies that exist. There should be some leniency with regard to sports instructors. You cant change heads and expect good results in sports. There should be continuity for a training programme to be successful.”
He also insisted on the need to recognise the achievements of coaches and the need to provide suitable jobs for those passing out from would be Sports Universities as there is lack of suitable jobs even for those passing out from Universities with Sports Science and Physical Education Degrees at present.
While he has received praise for the yeoman service he has rendered to the field of sports, some national coaches have directed criticism at him citing that his trainees who had excelled at school level had not replicated those performances at senior national level.
“A coach can only help an athlete improve 30% of his performance level. Good performances are a combination of natural ability and proper coaching. A wast majority of athletes Ratnayake Central recruited were average athletes. Ratnayake Central is not situated in a town. Parents will opt for schools in Kandy when there is a choice between Ratnayake Central and a famous school in Kandy. Most athletes when they first came to the Sports School, were just winners at inter house meets, Divisional or Zonal meets. Inoka (many time marathon champion and first South Asian Games marathon medalist for SL) was just an inter house meet winner. She competed at national level for 20 years. I can give many examples. If there were special talents they had been trained accordingly to reach international level. For example Dilshi Kumarasinghe is a special talent and I am working on to help her reach top level. Indunil Herath (current national 800 metres record holder) was a long jump winner at Handaganawa when he was recruited. All athletes who came to Ratnayake Central underwent talent identification tests and later introduced to suitable disciplines which they had not even witnessed before. Herath had to leave the school for reasons beyond my control. Hadnt he successful? Raju (Geethani Rajasekara- first Sri Lankan marathoner at Olympics, trained by Sajith Jayalal after she left for Colombo) went to Colombo after marriage. Numbers will answer the critics. If those critics can tell of a single school which had produced more athletes to Senior National Athletics teams than Ratnayake Central then there should be some truth in their criticism. Ratnayake Central is the school that has produced the highest number of athletes to National Teams.”
All Seeded players through to semis
P & S Sri Lanka Junior Open Golf Championship
The P&S Sri Lanka Junior Golf Match-play championship, sponsored by P&S Bakers group, entered the knock-out stage, with the quarter-final matches worked off with the seeded players moving through comfortably bar the thrilling cliff-hanger match between Jacob Norton Seeded 3 in the Silver Division and Varun Fernando (6th Seed) who fought all the way to take the match to the 20th hole, where Jacob prevailed.
Jacob Norton will meet second-seeded H.D. Adithya Weerasinghe (A’pura) who beat T. Deshan 6 & 4 comfortably. The top-seeded Reshan Algama beat Kaiyan Johnpillai convincingly 7 & 6, and will face fifth-seeded Jevahn Sathasivam who defeated fourth Seeded Keshav Algama with an easy 7 & 6 victory.
In the Gold Division, second-seeded Yannik Kumara withdrew after the qualifying round as he was scheduled to play in a tournament overseas and was not included in the match-play draw.
The top seed Haroon Aslam breezed through to the semi-final pulverizing W.G. Isurur Shimal 9 & 7 and will meet Pranav Muralidharan the fourth seed who handsomely beat an experienced T. Vikash 7 & 6. In the bottom half of the Junior Championship Draw, second-seeded K. Danushan smashed Thenuk Sathnidu 8 & 7. He will play third seed Vinuka Weerasinghe who beat Yehan Kenthula 6 & 4.
In the Girls Gold Division number one seed Kaya Daluwatte will meet Yehani Perera who received a walk-over from Dhanushi Wanasinghe. Third seed Dhavinka Kanag-Isvaran beat R.M. Dinumi Sanjana 7 & 6 to set-up the second semi-final against second seed Sherin Balasuriya who also received a walk over from Sanduni Wanasinghe.
The Bronze Division Semi-Final clash between top seed Thejas Rathis Kanth and Keya Abhayarathne will be the feature battle. Keya Abhayarathne defeated Kaitlyn Norton 6 & 5 to set-up the semi-final match versus the top seed Thejas. In the bottom half of the draw second-seed Mohamed Saqeer Zuhar will meet third-seeded Yehansa Senananayake.
In the Copper Division played over nine holes, Yuvan Rathis Kanth beat L.G. Anuja Methsara 6 & 4 to meet the second seed Jaeden Sathasivam whilst in the top half of the draw top seed Danik Daluwatte faces Taalia Silva.
The five semi-final matches scheduled for Thursday promise to be thrillers with the youngsters soaking in the pressure and performing well, adapting to the exciting Match-play format, that moulds the character of young golfers.
Arjuna heads new Sports Council
A new Sports Council was appointed by Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe yesterday with World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga taking the reign as the head of the apex body.
The other members of the Sports Council are: Lieutenant General H.L.V.M. Liyanage, Air Marshal S.K. Pathirana, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, Amal Edirisooriya, Maj. Gen. Rajitha Ampemohotti, Dr. Maiya Gunasekara, Shriyani Kulawansa, Ajith Pathirana, Sunil Jayaweera, Chrishantha Mendis, Lasitha Gunaratne, Nalinda Illangakoon, Sudath Chandrasekara, Sujani Bogollagama.
NH bids adieu to Ladies’ College after 50-year stint as TT coach
By a Special Sports Correspondent
Former table tennis National Champion, National Coach and sporting legend N.H Perera probably set a record in the Sri Lankan school sporting arena when he retired from coaching Ladies’ College Colombo in the ping pong ball and racket game after serving this academic institute for 50 years.
NH, as he is fondly known in the table tennis circles, started coaching Ladies College back in 1972 following an invitation made to him by the teacher in charge of sports back then Delita Fernando. When he turns the pages of time the only reason that came to his mind to say yes to this coaching assignment was that he wanted to give something back to the sport. He was quite young then (21 to be exact) and had won the table tennis national singles crown twice (1968/70) by then. He recalled with fondness how the lasses from this school won the National School Games title in 2019.
He produced many outstanding female players from this school and the secret behind his success was him being a strict disciplinarian. At the time he said yes to coaching at Ladies’ College he had laid down a condition for the authorities of the school. That was to arrange practices in the morning. This was because he was gainfully employed in work done outside table tennis. This goes on to show the caliber of players in the golden years of the sport. A good many of them had the capacity to contribute to society using their brains and education unlike today where the players are forced to supplement their income through table tennis coaching. For the record, NH served several companies and institutes in many capacities; proving that engaging in competitive sport and showing commitment to employment are a possibility when the individual has the capacity to manage both. When he finally retired from work he held the post of Marketing Manager at United Arab Shipping Lines.
He had his education at Nalanda College and had the honour of being the first table tennis national captain to be produced by this academic institute.
He rates the 1970s as the golden era of the sport. “I say this because we were invited by the ITTF to contest the Afro Asian Latin American Table Tennis Championship in Peking, China. During his playing days, NH had beaten top players from Russia, China, and also Europe. The picture he sees now in Sri Lankan table tennis is not so rosy. “We even lost to Nepal at the last SA Games. I believe the TTASL must be dissolved and a Board of Control for Table Tennis must be formed instead. Today we see many coaches out there who cannot put the ball over the net,” said Perera.
NH sees more potential in the Sri Lanka female players. According to him, the women’s players from Sri Lanka had finished sixth at the previous Commonwealth Games. “I trust that the way forward would be to bring down a female table tennis coach and male trainer; both from China. This would raise the standard of our playing,” said Perera who many years ago qualified as a coach from the Peking University of China.
He also spoke about the psychological aspects to training players. NH underscored the importance of bringing in psychology to training to help players handle unexpected challenges in the game. “You have to do sessions to develop the minds of the players,” said Perera.
He is at present engaged in coaching the students at S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia. The school by the sea won the All Island Table Tennis Championships in 2019 under his guidance.
NH maintains high standards for his players and himself. He recalls an incident in the past; which occurred during the time he was young and already the national champion. “I was coming out of the YMCA training hall after training and a photographer asked me to pose for a picture. I was in slacks and this picture appeared in the newspaper. I was summoned to the TTASL and a top official asked me why I had disgraced the sport by not being properly attired for a photograph that appeared in a national newspaper. I learned a valuable lesson in life,” concluded Perera.
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