Royal and Trinity. The very mention of the two schools in the same breath conjures up images of vociferous crowds and burly young men laying their bodies on the line for the honour of their alma mater. However, there was once a time when these young gladiators, clad in their school’s colours and engulfed in cheers, stood not in the middle of a large grassy field, but on a roped-in canvas mat, and they unrelentingly battered each other not for the famed Bradby Shield, but for its equally prized boxing cousin, the Donald Obeysekera Shield.
Standing from left T. Gunasekera, C. Gunathilake, M. Abdeen, A. Henricus, S. Gunertane, D. Gunawardene, T. Yapa. Seated: Danton Obeysekera, D. Weerasinghe, J. Corea, C. Fernando, D. Anghie.
This year, as part of the celebrations to mark the 175th anniversary of Royal College, Trinity College will once again send a band of its finest boxers to take on their perennial rivals at the Royal College Boxing ring, in a slugfest that was revived after a lapse of 50 years.
The sport itself has a rich tradition in both schools, with its roots dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century. Personalities that have been exponents of the two schools’ boxing programme include Leslie Handunge, Sydney Ratwatte, Jagath Jayasuriya and the chief catalyst for the sport’s present local growth, Dian Gomes.
With the historically significant fixture now over, it is only appropriate to pause and gaze back at one of the distinguished past teams that partook in the once annual encounter, the Royal College boxing unit of 1951.
Led by D. Weerasinghe, the side was awash with scientific pugilists as well as several powerhouses who packed a mean punch.
Among the category that utilized a more analytical approach while in the ring was Allan Henricus.
Despite being on the losing Donald Oberysekera Shield side that year, Henricus did create history along with S.D Guneratne, when the pair marched on to the rugby field for the Bradby. They were central components in the unstoppable machine that was to be branded, ‘The Dream Team’ when they flogged Trinity by the largest margin ever seen in the two leg fixture.
A member of that team, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that despite losing the shield that year the team spirit and palpable aura of brotherhood made them a special bunch. Adding to that unity was their eminent coach, the son of the stalwart who brought boxing to Royal College, Danton Obeysekera.
“He was an extremely strict disciplinarian and would thoroughly prepare us before our matches. Training sessions were very strenuous and tormenting and we would be pushed to our physical limits during our sparring sessions,” he reveals.
The fact that the bout has been resurrected invokes in the old Royalist a great sense of pleasure and an equally profound feeling of nostalgia.
He, along with many of the others from the select group of Royalists and Trinitians that was privileged to watch and participate in the annual encounter during its heyday, once again eased into their ring side seats yesterday. Cheering, chiding and celebrating, they once again relived the glory of an event whose significance still resonates powerfully all these years later.