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It was the finals of the Basketball Nationals. The time 8pm. The venue, the Army Courts at Echelon Square. In the glaring light of the floodlit court, two teams were locked in deadly combat; one from far away Batticaloa, the other drawn from the Western Province. The cheers and encouragement mattered little to the swirling, dribbling and pivoting men for they had one ambition that was driving them inexorably onward the National title.
The visitors moved with clockwork precision. If they had shown brilliance in the earlier occasion, that was laid aside for the moment. Whether you like perfect basketball workman like or not, you must applaud the play of a group of perfectionists, who with deliberate speed and unruffled serenity, hounded down Western Province to scrape home winners by a margin of 4.
For Batticaloa, it was not an easy rose-strewn path to fame and title; it was a sweat and toil climb to the summit. In their drive to the summit, in the blaze of applause that shimmered around them like an aura, three men stood out like triple peaks on a consistently high ridge of endeavour, three brothers Dodwell, Dunstan and Rienzie – the Balthazaar Trio.
The name Balthazaar has been so often and so long associated with the word sport that they are almost synonymous in Batticaloa from where they hail. It is one heirloom that the Balthazaar Brothers cherish one diadem to which successive generations of Balthazaars have helped in adding new luster to, by their various exploits in the field of sport. To recall just a few examples, Lyle Balthazaar, a former Putt shot and Discus champion at the Public Schools, is their uncle, while their maternal uncle, Patrick Barthelot was the Public Schools’ Pole Vault champion in the late twenties.
With the exploits of their relatives to spur them on, the brothers took to basketball a game which fascinated them, inspires by the expert playing of the American priests in their school, St.Michael’s College, Batticaloa. It was pure love for their game that drove them on, ten years ago, a ribbon coat or a season’s fame was furthest from their minds. The long years of hard work and careful coaching first by Rev.Fr.Brou S.J. and later by Rev.Fr. Ralph Rieman S.J. has brought with it its own autumnal maturing of deep mellowed fruitfulness, which they so richly deserve.
Merely to watch Fr.Ralph Rieman, the coach, at a match which his team is playing, has its own rewards, for it is an object lesson in inspired coaching, more so during the breather and time out. He is there on the court with his men, as involved as they are in the game sharing their triumphs and their reversals. Every basket for their opponents is a personal agony; every basket by them is cause for jubilation. He is a fighting, inspiring and apocalyptical figure on the sidelines.
On the courts, the Balthazaars play strictly as a team. Skipper Dunstan is the stellar guard of the side. His playing centers’ round defense. He takes a set shot if the zone refuses to come out. Dodwell and Rienzie are the forwards who make the most number of baskets. Dodwell is one of the best shots in the country, making some long shot – that must be seen to be believed. Rienzie, the youngest of the brothers, gets a beauty of a hook and his shooting from all angles can make even the uninitiated gasps.
The Nationals this year brought the three brothers together for the first time in competitive basketball. Rienzie was too young to make the team in 1956 when the Eastern Province played Colombo.
The trios have well-rounded personalities that the one compliments the other. Dodwell, the eldest, is an instructor in Mechanical Engineering at the Institute of Technical Training, Ampara. He has played for the Michaelmen team (old boys of St.Michael’s). He did not play for the school team as there was so little opportunity of playing other teams. He led the Michaelmen teams in an Island-wide tournament when they were champions. He also led the Michaelmen team which emerged runners-up at the Peterite courts in December, 1956.
Dunstan, who is 23, Captains the side this year. He has played for two teams, St.Michael’s College and later Michaelmen S.C.. He skippered the first ever team leave Batticaloa in 1955, Captained St.Michael’s College in 1955 and 1956 in the in the tournaments held in Batticaloa and Jaffna respectively.
Rienzie has entrusted the fine lead set by his brothers. He was President of the English Literacy Association and Vice-President of the Science Academy at the College. Rienzie Captained the College basketball team at the Public Schools tournament in 1960. He also played for the Michaelmen in the Exter Shield in 1958 and was in the School’s team in 1955 tournament in Batticaloa and all-Island tournament held in Jaffna in 1956.
Fr.Ralph Rieman, the coach having played representative basketball himself, puts them through grueling practices. They last around two hours daily. He coaches them in set plays, screening and the art of breaking up a zone. But he lays emphasis on shooting, very rightly too, for it was in this one sphere that the Eastern Province men were pre-eminent. Getting as many as 60 percent of their field tries, they can overhaul most teams, who through a fast-breaking game… have run up an early lead. This was the identical situation… that faced them on that flood lit court on a Saturday evening last December; the outcome has gone down in basketball history.
Sportsmen and Enthusiasts down East should feel buoyed by the brilliant success of their men and in Batticaloa, the family wigwam of the Balthazaar, they must have been rejoicing.. for their braves who had returned from the fray, with a particular scalp they waited for many moons now. And the younger bucks(the three small boys) – Travis 13, Bradman 12 and Aubrey 11, must be awaiting the day when they could try out their tomahawks too and perhaps…. in the moonlight glow of a Sleepy Lagoon, the legendary singing fish will pitch their tones higher….. it merely in praise.
Source: The Ceylon Daily Mirror, January 16, 1962.
The Ministry of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages Officially published an exploratory anthropological book on “People of Sri Lanka ” under the patronage of His Excellency Maithripa Sirisena, the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka with the participation of Prime Minister Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe at the invitation of Hon. Mano Ganesan, Minister of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages on 18th of July, 2017 a the BMICH.
This book is a compilation of articles on the cultural diversities of 22 communities in Sri Lanka.
Burghers of the Eastern Coastal region is recognised as a distinct and unique ethnic group by the government of Sri Lanka.