By Algi Wijewickrema
How easy it is to conduct an interview when the personality you wish to interview has put you at ease even before the interview. That’s what happened when I was looking to make an appointment to meet Cynthia Rasquinho (nee Earnst), netball’s super personality of yesteryear. When I phoned her to get an appointment to see her, she asked me if a former teacher at St. Bridget’s, with the same surname as mine was related to me and when I told her that she was my aunt (father’s brother’s wife), it was as if I was talking to an old friend, and that continued into the interview as well.
A person’s attitude and character is easily discernible from what he/she does in normal situations and Cynthia’s generous and selfless attitude came to the fore during the entire interview. Though such a well-known and all-round sports personality herself it was clear to me that she preferred to speak more of those around her and less of herself during the interview. Speaking about her generosity and hospitality, before anything had been spoken or written, she had hors d’oeuvres served and insisted that we (the Editor and yours truly) have our fill.
Her opening statement was not about herself but of her late brother who was also a sports star in his own right in the years gone by. She opened with “my brother Percy Earnst – L P Earnst – was the first to captain a Ceylonese (as we were then known) tennis team to the Davis Cup tournament. That was way back in 1953.” She did not forget to mention that he was a Peterite who shone at sports including, obviously Tennis during his school days.
Now to Cynthia herself. If her brother was the first to captain the Davis Cup team of Ceylon, three years later in 1956, Cynthia was the first to captain a Ceylonese netball team against Australia.
A student of Methodist College, Kollupitiya, as you would expect, she had been into sports from school days. Though she was more known for her netball skills, she had been an all-round sports woman at school, taking part in athletics, track events as well as field events,.
After leaving school she had started coaching both St. Bridget’s Convent and Methodist College teams. “If you noticed” she said “both had green as their school colour” and green seems to have stuck with her, as you would see later in this article. With Cynthia as their coach the Methodist girls in 1946 had won the 100, 200 and 4×100 events as well as long jump, high jump and discuss throw events, becoming the all island girls athletic champions for the first time.
Cynthia had then been sent for training in Physical Education to the YMCA’s PE Training College in Saidapet, Madras from 1948 to 1949 and there she had gained invaluable theoretical as well as practical, knowledge and training in coaching. Unlike in the present day, this had had to be sponsored by her father and no government sponsorship had been available. When she returned from Saidapet she had been the first in Sri Lanka to be a trained teacher (coach) in several sporting disciplines, netball, throw-ball, swimming, etc.
She had then gone back to her Alma Mater and St. Bridget’s to coach them. But when it came to earnings, as things were back then, what she earned per month from both schools had been less than what her parents had had to spend on her for her training at Saidapet. “But” she said, “that has been the case with me, I taught and trained free of charge in most instances”. Her selfless attitude coming to the fore again. Importantly for the Methodist girls, with Cynthia as their coach, they had tasted victory at the schools’ championship games in 1956.
When she found that the athletics in Ceylon had no competition with the Ceylon National Athletics Club and Ceylon Track and Field Club competing with each other and one or the other winning the annual meets, in 1957 Cynthia had started a club known as the Shamrocks (the clover leaf with which the Irish are enamoured) and you guessed it, the colour she chose for the club was green from the two schools she was involved with in coaching and the green of the clover leaf.
Giving credit to another person whom she saw as one selflessly serving Ceylon she mentioned Malcolm Andree. She said “like me Malcolm saw the need for additional competition if athletics was to develop in Ceylon and he formed the Stadium Sports Club. I released my sister, Heather to the Stadium Sports Club so that there can be proper competition and sure enough, while Shamrocks won the national athletics meet in 1957, ‘58 and ‘59 and again in ’61 and ‘62, the Stadium Sports Club won from 1963 to 1965”. Though her Shamrocks had to concede the championship to the Stadium Sports Club, Cynthia had been happy seeing her sister, whom she released to them, helping Stadium Sports Club win the championship. That’s generous Cynthia being happy at someone else’s victory.
In 1958 her own club the Shamrocks had competed against a South Australian netball team “Crusaders” in a tournament organised by the Netball Federation of Ceylon. While that was a later achievement in netball, in 1953, proving her versatility as an athlete she had been placed 1st in the long jump event in a tournament held in India.
Much later, in 1981 Cynthia had been elected President of the Western Province Netball Association and subsequently in 1995 as the President of the Sri Lanka Netball Federation.
Speaking about overseas tours, she had first had the opportunity in 1963 when she was billed to captain the Ceylon netball team but had to give the tour a miss as she was pregnant with her son. However, she had been the coach of the Sri Lanka team in 1983 that toured Singapore for the World Netball Championships. Another tour had come her way in 1995, a tour to Birmingham, England as coach of the Sri Lanka team but due to reasons she did not to want me to publish, Cynthia had been prevented from making the tour.
Though initially unlucky with official overseas tours she had been fortunate to visit England in 1963 and had attended the first World Netball Tournament as an observer. Subsequently she had toured Seychelles as coach of the Sri Lanka Netball team in 1976.
A little-known fact about Cynthia is that she had coached Mrs. Hema Premadasa at tennis when Mrs. Premadasa was first lady.
Before winding up the fascinating interview with that last bit of information about coaching the first lady, I asked Cynthia what advice she would give our up and coming sportsmen and sportswomen and her answer was prompt. She said “nothing can replace hard work and dedication” and that, she hastened to add was not only applicable to sports but to any discipline one may pursue in life.