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Susantha reveals key to success of Ratnayake Central

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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.”



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Sports

Halambage spins Petes to title

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Under 19 Division I Tier ‘B’ cricket

St. Peter’s registered a dominant six wickets win over Thurstan after restricting the latter to 114 runs to clinch the Under 19 Division I Tier ‘B’ cricket tournament title for the second consecutive time at the Colts Cricket Ground on Sunday.

Vishen Halambage who had featured prominently for Petes during this tournament produced notable all-round performances once again for the school from Bambalapitiya to conclude the tournament as an unbeaten team.

Put to bat Thurstan openers defied Petes for 14 overs before Sean Roberts got them their first breakthrough. That triggered a collapse from which Thurstan never recovered.Lakindu Sachin and Sean Roberts who shared the new ball did well to restrict Thurstan openers to a low score. Skipper Nimuthu Gunawardhana and Shennan Rodrigo then joined to build further pressure before Vishen Halambage combined with Lashmika Perera to rattle Thurstan for 114 runs.

Halambage took four wickets for 33 runs while Perera took three wickets. In their essay, the Petes openers Ovin Salgado and Halambage got them off to a strong start crossing the 50 runs mark without being parted. While Salgado made 39 runs, Halambage added 25 runs. After they were dismissed in quick succession skipper Gunawardena scored an unbeaten 31 runs to seal the victory with many overs to spare.

Scores:

Thurstan 114 all out in 41.2 overs (Ramika Sonal 20, Thenuka Dewapriya 27; Vishen Helambage 4/33, Lashmika Perera 3/19)

St. Peter’s 115 for 4 in 21.3 overs (Ovin Salgado 39, Vishen Helambage 25, Nimuthu Gunawardhana 31n.o.; Thanuga Palihawadana 2/24)

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Tharushi, Isuru beat odds to break meet records

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All Island Schools Games Athletics Championships

by Reemus Fernando

Both sprinter Isuru Kaushalya and Tharushi Karunaratne had to face ordeals in the run up to the All Island Schools Games Athletics Championships due to the unavailability of their regular training grounds. But those setbacks could not hold the duo from excelling as they went on to establish new meet records at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Sunday.

Ratnayake Central Walala runner Karunaratne had allegedly been ill treated by the officials of the Digana Sports Complex for failing to pay 30 rupees to enter the stadium for her daily routine. Her brother, Harsha Karunaratne, who is among top notch athletes in the country, had questioned the rationale behind such a move. Instead of solving the minor payment issue the Central Province Sports authorities had closed the Sports Complex for him for two weeks without conducting even an inquiry.

Despite the setback, Tharushi, who has represented Sri Lanka at back to back World Junior Athletics Championships lived up to her billing. By third day yesterday she had three first places against her name including two new meet records.

Yesterday she won the Under 20 girls’ 200 metres before anchoring the Under 20 girls’ 4×400 metres team to a new meet record time of 3:53.82 seconds. On Saturday she broke the Under 20 girls’ 400 metres record as well.

Ananda Sastralaya, Mathugama sprinter Kaushalya could not attend regular training at Public Ground Matugama in the run up to the meet. The ground had got muddied after a carnival held at the venue. The authorities had not taken measures to prevent heavy vehicles coming in to the ground during the carnival. Yesterday, Kaushalya overcame the setback to establish a new meet record in the Under 20 boys’ 200 metres. He clocked 21.47 seconds to erase Shehan Ambepitiya’s 2008 record. He was also the winner of the 400 metres of the age category on Saturday.

Deneth Induwara of Leeds International made his presence felt as he registered his second record breaking performance. Sprinter bagged the 200 metres title of the Under 18 age category with a 21.73 seconds meet record time. That was following his record breaking 100 metres dash. Today is the fourth day of the championship.

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Salamuthu, Tharushi excel with impressive 400 metre feats

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All Island Schools Games Athletics Championships

by Reemus Fernando

Thurstan College sprinter Salamuthu Jayathilaka with his personal best and Ratnayake Central, Walala athlete Tharushi Karunaratne with a meet record performance excelled on day two of the All Island Schools Games Athletics Championships at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Saturday.

Asian Youth Athletics Championship medallist Jayathilaka returned his best, clocking 47.74 seconds to win the Under 18 boys’ 400 metres.It was the first time the athlete trained by Asanka Rajakaruna clocked sub 48 seconds in the 400 metres. His silver medal winning feat at the Asian event in Kuwait was 48.56 seconds.

In the Under 20 girls’ 400 metres, Tharushi smashed the meet record with a feat of 54.22 seconds. She broke the record held by Yamani Dulanjalee of Ambagamuwa Central. In the corresponding boys’ event Ananda Sastralaya, Matugama sprinter Isuru Kaushalya remained unchallenged from the start to win in a 47.33 seconds, while Ambagamuwa Central hurdler Dhanuka Dharshana clocked 47.99 seconds to be placed second.

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