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Where winners trump winning; celebrating quintessential QRC quality

The following account of the 45th Anniversary Celebration of the Intercol victory of the 1972 Queen’s Royal College cricket team was submitted to Wired868 by Valentino Singh, retired Trinidad Guardian sports editor. The function was held at the Harvard Club on Serpentine Road on Saturday 18 November. 

The surviving members of the Queen’s Royal College cricket team that won the National Intercol title in 1972 are determined to restore the level of genuine prestige their alma mater enjoyed in their time.  And putting their money where their mouths and hearts are, they have endowed an award to be presented annually at the College’s Annual Achievement Day to a student who is essentially an outstanding cricketer—but potentially much more.

SEVEN WINNERS: Seven of the nine surviving members of the Royal 72 Champions occupy the stage at the Harvard Club on Saturday 18 November during the Open Mic segment of their 45th Anniversary Celebration function. Former Guardian sports editor Valentino Singh is at left and team captain Afzal Mohammed is in the centre. The others (left to right) are Waaz Hosein, Ravi Maharaj, Rajendra “Raj” Sewsarran, Oswin “Ossie” Moore and Zafar Khan. Missing are Dr Dave De Landro and Derek Ambrose.

The announcement came last Saturday at the Harvard Club where the group, calling themselves the Royal 72 Champions, celebrated the 45th anniversary of their “shock” victory. Seven of the surviving players from the 13-member team came together with representatives of the missing four as well as representatives of “The Other Place,” St Mary’s College, and Fatima College, over whom they triumphed on the way to the title. It made for a nostalgic evening, full of cricketing and other stories, humour, fun and concrete and abstract memorabilia.

And dominated by winners.

The evening began on a sad note, Organising Committee Chairman Earl Best calling for the observance of a minute’s silence to mark the passing of a team member’s mother that morning. The heaviness and the solemnity continued into team pacer Oswin Moore’s moving “Tribute to the Dearly Departed,” which brought literal tears to the eyes of the father of one of the foursome.

Thereafter, nostalgia took over. There was an early match report from 1972 and, later on, toasts and presentations of plaques and scrolls and champagne and commemorative mugs. There were even literal and figurative flowers and a few blasts of “QRC, we want a goal” as Christo’s “Play ball” was used by the evening’s DJ, Royalian Mortimer Baptiste, to introduce both team captain Afzal Mohammed and College Principal David Simon.

FROM THE OTHER PLACE: Keynote speaker Prakash Moosai, who was a member of the losing CIC team in the 1972 semi-final, delivers the feature address at the 45th Anniversary Celebration function, held at the Harvard Club on Saturday 18 November.

But it was a nostalgia that, splendidly spiced with the witty out-takes of Master of Ceremonies Francis Warner, another Royalian, was never allowed to degenerate into soppy sentimentality.

Looking in from the outside, from “The Other Place,” keynote speaker Justice Prakash Moosai conceded that QRC students in general had a special quality. It was that which enabled the David that was the 1972 QRC team to topple the Goliaths whose teams’ place of abode is Serpentine Road in St Clair and Mucurapo respectively. Moosai lamented that, newspaper reports apart, there appeared to be no reliable documentation of the many career-shaping events in the annals of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board’s Senior Division competition and its successor, the Secondary Schools Cricket League.

The indomitable spirit that repeatedly enables Royalians to beat the odds was a recurrent theme throughout the evening, several speakers referencing the elusive quality of insight, independent thought, fierce independence and virtually unshakeable self-confidence spawned by the experience of being a QRC student.

Before Mohammed identified it as arguably the single most important element in the 1972 win, Moore, CEO of a company that manages over a dozen airports in the USA, noted something else. He signalled the massive solidarity and genuine love that had held this unit together over almost half a century. And he assured those present to represent Steve Hall (son Stephen), Ferdinand “Corey” Joseph (wife Lusca), Sebastian Pillai (father and nephew) and Glen “Zab” Richards (unrepresented) that, for as long as one of the nine remaining members of the team is alive, none of the four will be forgotten.

TOUCHED: Sylvester Pillai, father of late member of the Royal 72 Champions Sebastian Pillai, sheds a tear during a touching tribute paid to the four members of the Royal 72 Champions who have passed in the 45 years since the team’s surprise Intercol victory. The function was held at the Harvard Club on Saturday 18 November.

The captain’s tribute to the College followed. A highly successful paediatrician in Canada, Mohammed told the gathering that of “the three periods in my life which had the greatest effect on what I would become, (…) I have no doubt that those final years when QRC became my home away from home constitute the most memorable.”

Reminding his audience of the quip by George Bernard Shaw, the famous English writer, that the only time his education was interrupted was when he was in school, the skipper joked about it.

“He might have gone to the Other Place,” he said, “but he certainly did not go to the Queen’s Royal College that we, my Royal 72 Champions teammates and I, attended.”

Thus, as a “small token” of the gratitude they feel for the privilege of receiving an unparalleled education, Mohammed presented to Simon a challenge trophy and a cheque for $5,000.

“The annual award will go,” he had told a special College assembly the day before, “to the student who best combines outstanding performance in the classroom with outstanding performance on the cricket field…and displays that quintessential QRC quality that we are still working on defining.”

PRESTIGIOUS CHALLENGE: Royal 72 Champions skipper Afzal Mohammed (left) and QRC Principal David
Simon display the challenge trophy and $5000 cheque which the group presented to the College at the 45th Anniversary Celebration function held at the Harvard Club on Saturday 18 November.

In what Moosai later described in a post-event comment as a “classy” function, no one thought it appropriate to mention it. But funding for both Saturday’s event and the annual award, already guaranteed for the next ten years, came entirely from the members of the Royal 72 Champions and a handful of other Royalians associated with the team but not in the April 1972 line-up.

Back on stage to pay tribute to the nine survivors, Best took his theme from David Rudder’s “Dedication,” with vocalist Keithson Cruickshank, a Royalian, singing an adapted version of the praise song, specially “written for the batsman (and the bowler).”

“Royalian students now have a source of fresh inspiration, of course; out of a muddy pond, these 13 flowers bloomed.”

Declining à la Rudder to name names, he told the Champions that they “have never been losers (…) not to be narrowly defined as ‘people who don’t win’ [but] properly defined [as] ‘people who don’t think they can win.’”

They were, he asserted, “winners, not in the narrow sense of ‘people who have won’ [or] even ‘people who have won a major title,’ as you have done [but] properly defined (…) [as] ‘people who don’t care if they don’t win, who don’t care if others have won because they know that the virtue lies in the effort, in the struggle, not the prize.’”

ROYAL APPRECIATION: Organising Committee Chairman Earl Best (right) congratulates Master of Ceremonies Francis Warner after presenting him with a token of the group’s appreciation for his fine work on the night.

For his contribution to the College as student, as player and as teacher for almost two decades, the group recognized Best, who was, in his oft-repeated words, “a teacher who coaches.” He taught and coached several members of the team but it was the role he played in the lives of students off the field that came under the spotlight.

 Mohammed dubbed him “a mentor” and Moore, who presented him with an imposing engraved crystal plaque on behalf of the team, described him as “the inspiration behind” the Royal 72 Champions.

“None of us will ever forget the role you played in our respective lives. You are what all students at our school ought to aspire to be, a true winner, on and off the field.”

An emotional Best sought to dismiss the assessment as coming from a bunch of men whom the intervening 45 years had made into “romantics” but hastened to add, “I love all of these guys.”

Earlier, in responding to Mohammed, Principal Simon had echoed the Champions’ skipper’s views on the quality of Royalian education which, he had declared, “teaches you not what to think but how to think.”

“At Queen’s Royal College, we produce men like all of you on the 1972 team of champions, men with brains, men with the conviction to act and the humility to accept the final outcome.”

EXEMPLARY: QRC football captain Anfernee Stokes, whose team finished tenth in the SSFL 2017 league standings, executes a pass during SSFL action versus San Juan North Secondary.

And to clinch the point, he devoted the final few minutes of his address to a congratulatory letter he had written to the captain of the College’s football team. QRC finished tenth on the 16-team table in the recently completed SSFL Premier Division league season and were knocked out of the Intercol by St Mary’s in the North semi-final. But in a season almost certain to be remembered more for off-the-field issues and boardroom decisions than for on-the-field brilliance, Simon’s concern was not the team’s performance or its placing but its demeanour.

“You belong to a champion institution,” Simon wrote. “Though we did not win the league, we competed with honour and to the best of our ability.  This is all we ask of you.”

Adding that in Royalian eyes, “The team ended the season as true champions,” he quoted Booker T Washington to the effect that “…success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”

It drove home Best’s point, made right at the start of the proceedings, that “this evening’s event is a celebration not of winning but a celebration of winners.”

MAGNIFICENT SEVEN:  The stately Queen’s Royal College (QRC).Main Building, one of the Magnificent Seven that adorn the western fringes of the Queen’s Park Savannah.
(Copyright Nigel Durrant)

And that Queen’s Royal College, unfazed by being dismissed as a “prestige school,” remains acutely, unapologetically aware of the difference.

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