St. John's College, Panadura has a history of over 135 years as being one of the leading schools in Sri Lanka. The school which is now a mixed national school was founded by the famous educationalist Cyril Jansz way back in 1876 on a small plot of land opposite where the Police station is now situated. At the beginning the institution was established as an upper school English medium college with a few students. A few months later a girls' section was added to the school. However it was at a different a location.
A decade later the school was brought to its present location, which is a picturesque 14 acre land, meters away from its existing place by the Galle Road. Today St. John's has over 2100 girls and boys studying.
At present St. John's Panadura has a good reason to be proud of themselves. They became the first school from the area to have their own cricket ground with other basic requirements required to conduct a first XI or club encounter.
"Panadura has five cricket playing schools including St. John's but unfortunately none of them had the facility of a fully geared cricket ground. All these schools use the Esplanade as their home ground. When the club season is on we face quite a lot of difficulties. Now that we have succeeded one of the greatest challenges, as a cricket playing school we can make our revival into the big league with this facelift," said Thilak Parakrama de Silva, the principal of St. John's.
Although cricket is welcomed by the students and parents alike St. John's has four other active sports that are keenly followed by the students. Among them are volleyball, netball, swimming and athletics. But cricket has a strong base and is involved with an equally high expenditure which is met by the contribution of the energetic cricket wing of the Past Pupils Association.
However the new cricket ground according to de Silva will not be restricted only to cricket. Other sports in the school are also expected to benefit from the project which has been estimated to cost Rupees 15 million. The financial funding for upgrading the once shabby land was provided by Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) upon the request from the school authorities. The appropriate location for the cricket ground within the premises was spotted in the 1960s by a dedicated past pupil of the school, Lionel Panditharatne, who had worked relentlessly to achieve this target.
"We first made the request to SLC when it was headed by Jayantha Dharmadasa and later we also met Arjuna Ranatunga during his regime. On both occasions the project almost got off the ground but things really started moving during the leadership of D. S. de Silva when he was the chairman. There were so many people who worked hard on this project. We were lucky to be one of the four schools in the Kalutara region," de Silva added.
But the cricketers of the school and the area will not enjoy the turf facilities right away as the ground has not met the required measurement of clearances. The width of the St. John's ground measures up to 50 meters while the required level comes as 55 meters. But the school authorities have already drawn plans to obtain the required space and upgrade the matting wickets into turf very soon.
|Thilak Parakrama de Silva (Principal)
Cricket which is being evaluated as a leading sport at St. John's has over 300 students at all age groups beginning from the Under-13s. Volleyball, netball and athletics have the following of over 200 from a total of over 500 students who are engaged in sports. With the new ground coming up, the school authorities have made plans to reintroduce two sports which were once dominant at St. John's, they are hockey and football. In addition, the school is on the verge of converting one of their abandoned buildings into a fully fledged indoor sports centre.
"We are in the process of introducing weightlifting, chess, table tennis and carrom. We have identified one of the buildings belonging to the school which has been not used for quite sometime as the ideal place. But the centre will not be that big and the aforesaid sports can be easily conducted there. We have also recruited coaches for the cause," revealed de Silva.
In addition to their reviving sports activities, the school has over 12 clubs or societies where participation of the upper school students is a must. After de Silva took over as principal four years ago St. John's has adopted the five Ss methodology. As a result many areas that lacked proper guidance are gradually reaching a systematic adjustment where students and teachers are keenly following.
One of the biggest setbacks St. John's faced during the past decade was losing their talented sportspersons and students to leading schools in the capital or at times to schools in and around the area. This reason in particular was the reason which saw their first XI cricket team being demoted to Division II from the top segment.
"The ground was opened on Saturday (July 2) and we hope to see a grand revival in our sporting endeavours. The adoption of five Ss presently has made a huge impact on the students and we hope that we will achieve the same in sports as well," was de Silva's wish.