New Kingswood

Blaze’s statue stood tall
But his words had flown away like
Birds that for the Winter take flight.
The homely green was dust, the moisture all brown
And at mid day it looked already mid night.

Senior boys, like ghosts, marched from class to class
Their brains dripping like thick fluid from their arse.
Trees had no crowns, May flowers no longer fell
And in paradise it looked like a day carved out from hell.
In an empty, desolate landscape one heard a chiming bell.

Characterless men who came here
Always learned a lesson their character to lift.
Fide et Virtute lie with broken ribs and sides
With no one with courage or manliness swift
To carry it to safety from where it has fallen from heights.

A silent, eerily silent wind buzzed:
And that was the New Kingswood that
In a garish dream last night I saw:
A land laid out to rust and wither,
A universe divorced of gravitation’s law.
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Who Erased the Challenge Prizes from the Prize List?

Through the 1990s, when I was a student at the school, there were a host of “memorial prizes” given out at the Annual Prize Giving, which added prestige and meaning to the event. Among these many prizes were Senior School prizes such as the Devadasan Memorial Trophy and the Jayawickrama Silver Medal (awarded to the most Outstanding Student). Other notable awards included the Luterz Challenge Shield awarded for inter-house scholarship, the Crowether Shield (inter-house sports) and the Randles Shield (for the best overall House). These were, growing up, significant prizes which added to the glory and sense of tradition of the school. Unfortunately, today, we have a situation where one by one these prizes have either been discontinued or removed. Very few people seem to care or be bothered by this.

The Prize is decided by who wears it
The Prize is decided by who wears it

Going by Prize Giving records that I have access to, we see many “memorial prizes” that come and go — which, perhaps, depending on the donations and donors, is understandable. But, there are some prizes that are traditionally given that demand a level of commitment to be made consistently available and continued. The last three individual prizes given at the Prize Giving are those of Leadership (awarded to the outgoing Senior Prefect), the most Outstanding Sposrtman and the Most Outstanding Student. These prizes, in the traditional prize list, are followed by sports and extra-curricular prizes given out to Houses. Together, these form a much looked forward to elite cluster in the traditional prize list.

Any Prize Giving souvenir or prize list before 2001 will indicate a very well maintained and mediated list of prizes that reflect a school concerned with tradition and colour. The “Most outstanding student” is generally a student who is deemed to have displayed an all round capability. In the earliest prize list records I have access to, this student is presented with a trophy and a medal: the Devadsan Challenge Trophy and the Jayawickrama Silver Medal. Then, in 1995, the Jayawickrama Medal leaves the prize list. Yet, the Devadasan trophy — along with prizes such as the Shanmugam Memorial Trophy for the Best Sportsman/Athlete — and other memorial shields for the Houses continue to be given out.

Then, in 2001, a radical 180 degree shift takes place. In this year we have a curious Prize List where the said three prizes are downscaled and removed of their traditional tags as (simply), (a) Leadership, (b) Best Athlete and (c) Best Student. The last to receive the Devadasan Memorial Trophy for the Best Student is NC Dias in 2000. From 2001 on, this prize was simplified as “Best Student”. Anjana Seneviratne was the first to receive this scaled down award in 2001. In more recent years, not only are some of the traditional shields been removed (or displaced) from the Prize Giving, but even their importance have been disregarded. Names such as Luterz, Crowther and Randles (after whom those premier shields were baptized) are ancestral figures of the school who have contributed in an immortal way to the sustaining of the college a hundred years ago.

Similarly, I recall how some of the inter-house sports prizes were named after diehard names in Kingswood history such as Arthur McGill, Winston Hoole — and more recently — DC Matharage. The fate of these prizes today, or of their historical significance to the current boys, is best left to speculation. A few months ago, I suggested to some of the past boys the importance of restoring these prestigious awards, not in order to undermine anybody, but to put back on track the erasure of the glory that is Kingswood. Imagine a Trinity College that does not award a Lion or a Ryde Medal; but, a crude, downsized nameless equivalent of them? However, I am yet to receive any positive or progressive response to my suggestion. These are, indeed, not very difficult to correct. It would require a good few hours of dedicated reading and research, and a mind committed to the betterment of the school. caesar

Between 2003 and 2009, myself and my two brothers have had the rare honour of being garlended with the “Most Outstanding Student” accolade. Of the three, it is my belief that I deserved it the least, given the aptitude and achievement my brothers have displayed in a wide range of activities. In my year, I remember WD Nathavitharana walking off with the prize for “Leadership” and weightlifting international Ransilu Jayathilake trotting off with “Best Athlete”. Ransilu’s achievement, specially, was eye-catching as he was two grades my junior at college. He had, however, won an international recognition that year, which made matters quite final. However, in the certificate I received, my story was written as “Best All Rounder”. It surely was a long journey from the Devadasan Trophy and the Jayawickrama Medal to….Best All Rounder.

What these prizes are called today — and as to what they ought to be called — are exclusively the purview of those in charge of Randles Hill activities and those close to the school. But, with people talking all high and mighty of the prospects of 125, I felt that I should submit this to Kingswood Matters.

Wish You Good Luck, Brother…. But…

kck1

Surely, an extremely talented young Kingswoodian: someone who has made it this far in a talent contest. We wish him all the best in the competition, even though these type of competitions are bad for youngsters (“Superstar” mentality is not a quality a school should promote).

But, the more important question is —- does this board belong here? Does this “begging board” belong in front of the college?

The Prefects We Need

If the stories are true, in the late 1980s, when state-sponsored crackdowns on young men and women was at their height, many Kingswood boys would opt to spend the night at school, without going back to their homes. At times like that, some of the Prefects who were active in the years 1987 and 1988 are also said to have stayed back with the boys. The name of one of the Senior Prefects of the “Bheeshana Samaya” is specially mentioned in his commitment to curb violence from entering school — both from the government paramilitary and the JVP.

In the early 1990s, when I was a young student of Kingswood College, we had a very exclusive Prefects’ Court which we looked up to with a sense of awe. In one of these Prefects’ Courts I remember a very small made “aiya” by the name of Wijesiri, who was an artist and was very good at drawings and such. He used to live close to the house I lived in back then for a few years, and lived the life of an artiste, living simple and with the people. He often drew boards and signs for villagers without a charge. Wijesiri, as I remember, died sometime in the late 1990s.

The Prefects' Court of 1987 with Principal Nihal Herath.
The Prefects’ Court of 1987 with Principal Nihal Herath.

In the 1990s, up to about the late 2000s, the practice was to have 20 Prefects, wearing gold plated badges. They were promoted from a group not exceeding 30, who were Monitors for a year. Kingswood’s Prefects were generally from after the A/L year — unlike the Prefects of some other schools whose “duty” ended a few months before their A/L exam — and were required to be in office for a year after studies. Until this changed in the late 2000s, the system worked quite well, except for 1994, where there are three Senior Prefects: Nagahapitiya, Ekanayake and Ranil De Silva. One version of the story is that Nagahapitiya stepped down and Ekanayake — who was then elected — had to back off in favour of a study opportunity that came his way. Ranil De Silva was one of the best loved and best feared of Senior Prefects of the last two decades.

Why was this system changed? One argument is that by requiring the Prefects to stay back another year or half a year at school, they were being asked to sacrifice a few months from their young lives, whereas they can be elsewhere doing a job or preparing for higher studies. With the changing times and changing expectations, maybe this argument sounds valid. But, isn’t this where the decay of Kingswood starts? The office of Prefect should not be a stud or a jewellery item you wear — but an office you take for the love of the school. It should not be something you take up to make your CV look pretty, but a commitment you make in the name of the school that nursed you. In that sense, the “additional year” is not a punishment or a burden, but a commitment of love and honour. Of course, the Prefect — before applying for the job — knows what the job is going to be; and for how long. Therefore, there is no reason for the administration to worry too much about Prefects “growing old” at school.

The stress, here, being Asiri Attanayake (2001), and of course the misspelling of Nathavitharana's initials --- DK, instead of WD.
The stress, here, being Asiri Attanayake (2001), and of course the misspelling of Nathavitharana’s initials — DK, instead of WD.

In a recent seminar at school, the Senior Prefect of 2003 WD Nathavitharana, shared with the senior boys the advantages of being “after ALs” when being a Prefect. According to him, being “after AL”s makes the Prefects biologically the oldest group of students in college and free of any other commitments but to serve the school full time. He also said that, as such, the Kingswood Prefects — wherever they went — were looked up to based on their seniority. The “training” they got in people management, event organization, crisis management and decision making, according to Nathavitharana, was worth the extra year spent in school. I feel that the change brought about in the late 2000s has made the Prefects’ Court both “soft” and vulnerable. This was one step that was taken to bring the Prefects to heel, and on the long run the strength and quality of the Prefects’ Court has come under comment.

In recent years, the Prefects seem to have some confusions regarding their “duty” and way of conduct. This is not the Prefects’ fault, entirely. The problem seems to be the “violation” of a “tradition” the Prefects’ Court had, in very short-sighted, dictatorial ways. In recent Big Matches we saw Prefects donning cowboy hats and dancing while on Big Match duty. We even saw some teachers (who, I am sure, are unaware of the traditions of the school and the Prefects’ Court) justifying this behaviour. Today, the cowboy hat seems to have come to stay and become a “tradition” of the Prefects’ Court. This is lamentable, to say the least and this policy has to be thought of again, considering the Past. At rugger matches we see Monitors holding a gigantic maroon and blue flag/banner of the school. They generally spread this on the railing of the main stand. But, we also see some Prefects who are in coloured clothing, while no Prefects are seen on duty at the game. These are drastic changes from the 1990s where Prefects were the leading force in maintaining order. They were never “spectators” in games or outings.

There were many Prefects during the time who were not the favourites of teachers. But, a good Prefect (in the way he conducted himself) always prompted the teachers and the administration to tidy up their game. In a time where the school was going through a very precarious passage — when the school had many internal issues and discipline was rocking like a boat in bad waters — the Prefects of 2001, in my view, gave the best as anyone could give for the school’s welfare. Back then, as a senior student, I remember feeling antagonistic towards these Prefects for the “harshness” of their policing, at times. But, I also realized that that kind of ruthlessness was needed to push Kingswood through the threat the school was facing at that time.

The 2001 Prefects were led by Asiri Attanayake, with Milinda Attanayake and Malalasekara as Scribes. The ruthlessness of the discipline they exacted off the students didn’t even spare boys of their own Grade. From top to bottom, from Siberia to the Primary, these Prefects combed the school of its lice and bugs — and were not always preferred by some of the teachers, too. But, their “duty” knew very little barriers and the foundation they laid that year, I am told, made the work of the Prefects of 2002 and 2003 a whole lot easier.

Today, the school needs boys who are ready to serve Kingswood, and not wear the name Kingswood as a jewel or a tie pin. We need boys who are ready to study the past, sustain the tradition and to give the best for a quality Kingswood that will live its 125 year old spirit and dignity. It is going to be hard — but, we need people who are ready to stop and re-think where we are, and where we are heading. The Prefects, I feel, have much to do in setting the standards for Kingswood to flourish and stand tall.

School Calls Well Meaning Old Boys

“Country or school may call,
Play the game forward all” The Kingswood Song.

A few months ago, we cautioned that Kingswood has arrived at the most crucial juncture of its history. With overnight transfers to nearly 50 teachers and with a new Principal coming in, Kingswood’s foundation was tested as never before. Among the problems we saw are the following:

1) The removal of 50 senior teachers interrupts the transmission of the Kingswood culture and traditions to the incoming teacher cadre.

2) Kingswood having a number of unique rituals and traditions would require a person some time to study and anlyze them. The removal of the entire top tier of the teacher population blocks a smooth transition of the traditions and culture.

3) The Old Boys (who know and value school traditions) not being closely involved with school.

Today, 10 months later, the consequences of the fears we had are still valid. Only that some of the school students and (older) teachers find that Kingswood is placed in a very tricky tight-rope; with no walking back. We hear stories of internal disunions and disgareements in the staffroom and among the top admin chairs. We hear of little “factions” operating in isolation, not being able to cooperate to the larger unity of the school welfare. We hear of teachers not knowing of the school traditions, coming up with their own ideas of what Kingswood “should be”, parading around.

When we, in January, analysed Kingswood — our alma mater of 123 years — to be placed in the most decisive spot it has been since the government takeover in 1958, we spoke to some of the responsible Old Boys who hold influential positions in the legit Old Boys Body. We tabled our fears and anxieties in person and thoroughly analyzed the situation for their benefit. We beseech them, the situation has not remedied yet. There are serious measures to be enforced, and as the loyal Union of Blaze’s open-minded school of yore, its Union needs to pay close heed to how matters develop from here.

True Greatness Does Not Make Noise

If someone asks me to nominate the most “exemplary sports personality” Kingswood has produced in the past decade and a half, Fazil Marija’s name would be almost an automatic choice. Today, most boys involved in sports at Kingswood, can learn much by simply watching Fazil Marija play; they can learn a whole lot more by watching Fazil marija walk on a pavement. Today, in the age of selfies – where everyone is a photographer and supermodel – we see many ordinary sports teams and sports team members being pumped with hot air with qualities they simply don’t have.

1020441Fazil Marija is arguably the most outstanding back division player of our generation. Had Marija been born to a different decade, or attended a Colombo school, his fate would have been very different. Had Sri Lankan rugby not been the soft toy of the Rajapakshes since 2009 – and had it not become the politicized waste bin it has today become – Fazil Marija’s true potential would have been properly used for the betterment of Lankan rugby. Now, at 29, only time and fitness can tell us how far this elegant Fly Half can go – but, my feeling is that the years in which he was “neglected” or “deselected” by the stooges who run the game was a waste that cannot be pardoned in any way.

If someone asks me to nominate the most “exemplary sports personality” Kingswood has produced in the past decade and a half, Fazil Marija’s name would be almost an automatic choice. In rugby alone, there are a few formidable names spread across the late 90s and the 2000s, but, my feeling is that Marija surpasses most of them in a rare combination of talent, sportsmanship and humbleness. Kingswood’s rugby history, between the late 90s and today, can boast of massive names such as Jeewa Galgamuwa, Amjad Buksh, Chamara Withanage, Nilfer Ibrahim, Achala Perera and Gayan and Roshan Weeraratne. Harshana Wijeweera – who for a number of years represented Police SC – was another formidable player in the late 90s. Nalaka Weerakkody, who excelled in the mid to late 1990s, is perhaps, the best kicker to represent Kingswood, Kandy SC and Sri Lanka in recent years.

But, in Fazil Marija, there was always a defining quality which ranked him a step above many of the others, from his schooling days on. This quality had to do with his gentle and quiet way of getting about his business and his ability to “unswitch” himself from being a “rugby star” the moment he left the stadium. Fazil never tried scintillating breaks or tactical punts outside the line. In fact, though earmarked as a tremendous prospect from his young years, Fazil was still one of the most soft and rarely spoken, silent blokes in the school, who didn’t walk any swagger, unlike many who sat on the bench very often did. The true sportsman is defined by how he holds himself both inside and outside the game. Fazil Marija had greatness carved out all the way along. Fazil’s most outstanding years with Kingswood came in 2002, 2003 and 2004. In fact, he was groomed right in the midst of a legendary revival of Kingswood rugby: a renaissance that saw Kingswood ride high between the years 2000 and 2006. Although Kingswood managed a League title in 2008 under Gayan Rathnage, by then, the Kingswoodian star – already drunk with blindness and vanity – was on the wane.

Fazil all horizontal
Fazil all horizontal

Today, most boys involved in sports at Kingswood, can learn much by simply watching Fazil Marija play; they can learn a whole lot more by watching Fazil marija walk on a pavement. Today, in the age of selfies – where everyone is a photographer and supermodel – we see many ordinary sports teams and sports team members being pumped with hot air with qualities they simply don’t have. How some boys thump their chests and make much out of nothing is laughable, given the fact that many of them can’t even come close to a champion (in talent and discipline) such as Fazil. There are fellows who share on Facebook the day-by-day schedule they follow in the fitness center. Others post photos doing push ups, half squats, monkey-bars or other muscle-enhancing drills, accompanied by captions of bravado which the rest of the world finds funny.

There are schools that put a gaudy flex in front of their gate, even when a sports team wins a District title. For example, St. Joseph’s Balika College Nugegoda has a ludicrous front gate, which looks like a advertising billboard of “minor stars” and “minor achievements”. Between Kingswood and St. Joseph’s Balika College, I agree, there is some distance (and not only in Kilometers); but, there are times when the banners Kingswood put moves one to tears, too. In fact, why put banners at all? Why put a banner in front of the school and parade your little achievements to the big wide world which is, anyway, not interested; or, is too busy to care? Are achievements by the school there to be paraded before society – and use it to “compete” with others – or, are these achievements there to be shared and appreciated by the school community? When did this “banner putting” culture come to Kingswood?

As to when Kingswoodians first started hanging flexes and printed fabric in their front fence is not known to me. But, I do not recall such a practice throughout the 1990s, when I was a junior student there under R.B Rambukwelle’s Principalship. One of my contemporaries at school, I remember, used to boast that it was they (some in my batch) who introduced “banners” to Kandy schools (and he sounded very proud of his landmark achievement, too). As to whether this is the fact I am not sure – since every batch feels they are unique in some way – but, in the 2000s Kingswood went malarial with all kinds of notices and banners along the front school fence. On days, Kingswood even looked like a funeral house of a minor VIP.

Coming back to Fazil Marija, throughout his career at Kingswood as well as for his club and country, his main concern has been the game. He is a superstar by merit of his abilities and temperament alone. He has not been distracted by the sequins and gold dust of stardom, nor by media flashes and fanfare. In fact, fellows such as Fazil have injected inspiration into hundreds of budding ruggerites – both at Kingswood and at a national level – and become role models of whom coaches and team managers speak about. I am not very sure as to whether Fazil has ever been sent to the bin, or been drawn a red card on, but I am sure such instances – if at all – are very few. The most familiar sight is where he would run over a try and calmly walk back to his mark, with restrained feeling, in order for the game to resume.