The first winning Peterite Cager team – By James Alagaratnam 

The first winning Peterite Cager team – By James Alagaratnam 

Holy Eucharistic Celebration for the Beloved Departed Schoolmates – 3rd July 2022 (Melbourne event)

It’s been 60 years since. When five friends won it all at the inter-school basketball championships. (The 1963 All-Island Basketball Champions, St. Peter’s).                             

Noting with pride, the current successes of St. Peter’s at the interschool basketball championships, I felt it appropriate, to write of the first championship team of college in 1963. We won it all.

My interest in Basketball started at Junior level, grade 6 or 7 when older brother Stephen was playing for the college team, coached by – Mr. Jackie van Twest- of the tutorial staff(inset). The courts were at the north east corner of then grounds, running parallel with Davidson Road. The north perimeter walls bounded two houses that belonged to the Wiratunga’s and the Chandraratne’s. Lynn and brothers, Daya and Tissa were playing for the college teams. I would be watching practices, throwing in the ball from the sidelines. If my memory serves me right, the senior players were Linus Jayewardene, Jeyer Rodriguez, Dawhood Bhari, Ratnasingham brothers, B.K.Ramachandran, Rajaratnam, to name a few. Nowfel Mahroof, Justin Perera, Peter Jansz, Peter Dissanayke, Kumar Hirandani, Carlyle Rudolph, Travice Fernando were the immediate seniors we took over from. We were as well proud of the one old Peterite, Sam Chandrasena who was already an international, in Basketball and Badminton. Sam and other past players would drop in to help at practices, and give us pointers.

Other than the school’s tournaments, locally there were the “Cammack cup” conducted by the Y.M.C.A, later named the “The Victor Wijayaratnam Trophy” in honor of their late director, my uncle. The Exter shield encompassing all clubs in A and B divisions, and the Mercantile Tournaments were the other tourneys. Watching cagers from the Royal Air Force, Y.M.C.A., other armed services and clubs, as well as visiting International Teams peaked and improved our interest in the game. The Western Province Basketball Association conducted an “All Asian Invitational Tournament” as well, inviting men and women’s teams from the Indian states. Teams from Pakistan and Iran as well have participated in these games. In leter years I would be one of the organising committee for this tourney.                                                                                                                             

I was selected to play as a junior when I was in 8th grade, along with Mervyn Fernando (brother of ’65, cricket captain Travice). The late Autry de Silva, Ivan Perera, made up four of us who would be seniors in the 1963 winning team. Royden De Silva and V. Suntharavathanam, would play the following year, and when 1963 came along Mr. van Twest wanted this team to be his core group. Tony LaMotte and L.R. Gunatilleka completed a team of only eight regulars.

The first ever all island sports festival was held in June of 1963. St. Peter’s entered our team, with other leading schools as well. We won the tournament unbeaten. In the two years prior our five had got to be close friends, watching the senior players on the court. Ivan and Autry were good at limericks, yarns, and at making the most humorous cracks and observations, keeping us amused. Practice or not, even out of season, we would meet after college just to play some basketball, use the weights room, do runs around the grounds, sit, chat, and on weekends meet up for a sea bath at the “Kinross”or a “Savoy” movie together. By the time ’63 rolled along we played instinctively.

 Pictured below; after dethroning St. Benedict’s College at the Army courts, Echelon Square.              Standing, left to right- Royden de Silva, James Alagaratnam, Mervyn Fernando (Captain), Ivan Perera, and Tony Lamotte. Front; V. Suntha, Autry de Silva, L.R. Gunatilleka .

Being a close follower of the N.B.A. championships in the last 30 years, watching the science and technology behind every game, analysis of every player’s weaknesses and strengths takes the fun out of playing. No wonder off season professional players resort to pick-up games, introduced into the N.B.A “All Star” game as well. I am amazed, that we never researched the opponents. Their strengths and weaknesses. No “pick & roll” or “triangular offensive” plays. We played our game, and they found it hard to keep pace with our speed and accuracy.. Mervyn, Autry, Ivan were “fast break” forwards. No opposition could match their speed, passing and close range shooting. Royden, and I were the guards, rebounders, and swung out passes to any one of the forwards to “give and go” for a basket. Suntha, Tony, and L.R fitted into any play on the run. We were pitted against two time champions, St. Benedicts at “Echelon Square, for the finals. Coming up against one of the schools finest coaches, Mr. Sunderalingam and his Bens team, our coach wanted to try out some defensive and offensive maneuvers. Many years later I had the pleasure to meet and reminisce college and our wins, with a retired Mr. van Twest at his residence in Anderson Road, Dehiwela.                                                          

After our close bonds, even after leaving college we would meet up whenever we could. Even leaving our shores, we kept in touch, dropped in on one another. We made friends with opponents, from other schools. Capt. Elmo Jayewardene on Air Lanka Flights would let me in to the cockpit on many a flight. Vijay Lekamge, Hilary White, Nihal Wijeratne continued our mutual respect and friendships on. We would continue to interact with the other school’s coaches of this era. They progressed to be international referees, and National coaches, and serve in the administrative bodies. Among many the names Messrs. Sunderalingam, Kenneth Fonseka, Kathirgamanathan and Fr.Weber come to mind. They all did hard work in developing the sport in the island, as did our Western Provinve Basketball Association president Mr.Nagalingam J.P.

In my final year of college, our parish priest Fr. Joe De Mel asked me to form a Bambalapitiya youth team, harnessing the talent from our youth. It was an easy task with my three other siblings having played the game, together with many taller youngsters, who gathered for practices. I would later join Chemical Industries (Colombo) Ltd. Representing the team and selected to play for the winning Mercantile Team at the Nationals. Royden, working at McLarens (shipping) and I would play together again. Autry worked at Photo Cinex Ltd., and I persuaded him to coach both, the Youth team and C.I.C. teams. The youth team participated in the Exter shield tourney, and C.I.C. at Mercantile level. My interest in the game, would continue at home and abroad. In Colombo as a referee, coach and in the administration of the “Western Province Basketball Association”, affiliated to the Ministry of sports. My love for the game continued, in Saudi Arabia, where we formed a Team of Ex-pats and won an inter camp tournament. Mervyn and Suntha left our shores, and are now domiciled in the United States. Royden represented an unbeaten McLarens Team (with three national players) in the Mercantile Tourney, played club and Internationally. Ivan followed his passion and worked at S.L.B.C., and now lives in Perth, Australia. Now domiciled in Toronto , Canada I am active with the Alumni and follow the successes of our sporting teams. Sadly, Autry, passed away after migrating to Australia. Following intermittent health issues, Royden too left us in 2021. Those were the carefree days, how a set of friends won it all.

Author; James Alagaratnam, Toronto, Canada

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