If you step into Thurstan College rugby grounds on a Saturday, you’ll notice that something big is happening a little distance away from where boys are training. Those who are making things happen is a group of mothers preparing soup, rice, chicken and a dessert comprising fruits to ensure these junior rugby players get a nutritious meal within the first hour after practice. These mothers come to the ground on weekdays too and prepare meals. But Saturday is special because students from other schools also attend the sessions conducted by Thurstan Rugby Academy.
Nirosha Samanmalee is a parent who has made a commitment to offer her services to Thurstan Rugby Academy like all other mothers in the group who number around 40. “We can see the results of our hard work. The boys are bigger and taller and their skills have improved,” said Samanmalee on behalf of all the other mothers who take turns in helping the academy.
The cost of preparing the meals on any given day is around Rs 4000. This cost is borne by the old boys of the school and well-wishers. When the meals are enjoyed by these hungry lads, there is one man, other than these parents, who beams with happiness. He is the head coach of the academy Ajith Fernando who was instrumental in establishing the Thurstan Rugby Academy on 22nd November 2014. This academy, which functions under Thurstan Rugby Club, was established with the motive of developing junior rugby at Thurstan College.
The academy celebrated its first anniversary last year by conducting an invitation rugby tournament. Fernando told Nation that the goal of the academy is to serve rugby and not to make money. “Since the academy attracts players from different schools, the members of the academy get to play against different opposition. These boys get to play around 35 matches for a year,” explained Fernando who is an old boy of Thurstan College.
This is a competitive era where most mothers want their sons to have an edge over others regardless of whether its sports or studies. But this unhealthy competition is absent among the mothers volunteering at the academy. “We are all united and work towards a common goal which is to help everybody excel at the academy,” said Samanmalee.
Fernando often reminds the boys at the academy about a much quoted line which is, “Don’t become a big person, become a good person.” Members at the academy not only play rugby, but also get exposure to activities which help in the upbringing of kids. Fernando often organizes motivation sessions. The last motivation session was held in the form of a trek to Siripada.
The ages of male members in the academy range from 7 to 16 years. There are sessions for girls too. Fernando also obtains the services of expatriates who conduct coaching sessions at the academy. The most recent visitor to the academy was gymnast Julia Swidish from Romania who taught the boys stretching plus strength and conditioning.
These volunteer mothers said that they had many reasons to be happy. According to Samanmalee, coach Fernando keeps a check on the education of rugby players at the academy. Tuition is provided to students whose grades are not impressive in the classroom. According to Fernando, the biggest challenge he faces in running the academy is education activities disturbing the rugby programs. Fernando, who encourages players to study, said, “One needs brains to play rugby, not just muscle.”
The activities of the academy have been noticed by other rugby playing schools. There are two other academies in central Colombo which conduct sessions for juniors. But these mothers are quick to opine that no other rugby academy gets the love and attention of mothers like this, which is made possible, thanks to the overall unity that’s present among coaches, students and the parents.