Sri Lanka's Gunawardhana is net gain to Mount

ON COLLEGES

April 16, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The concerns of Sama Gunawardhana are typical of a parent whose child is away at college. But the distance between them is most unusual.

Gunawardhana, who lives in Sri Lanka, an island off the southern tip of India, said he worries about his son's health "and about him being alone, about his food, about his beer. But I spent a lot of time with him when he was a kid that I am confident that he could do no wrong."

That faith stretches a lot of miles, all the way to Mount St. Mary's, where Genuan Gunawardhana (pronounced Gen-a-wan Goon-a-var-duna) arrived two years ago on a partial tennis scholarship. He since has become the Mount's No. 1 singles player -- he's 10-9 this season -- and a popular figure around campus known simply as "G."

"He's a fun guy," said Jeremy Gibney, Gunawardhana's doubles partner. "He's more outgoing than I expected at first from somebody from a foreign country. He's real easy to get along with. And he blends in with everybody."

Gunawardhana jokes that he has two personalities. As a college student in the United States, he grows his hair to shoulder length, wears jeans and sneakers and indulges in an occasional hamburger. But his diet changes once he returns to his homeland -- cows are a sacred animal, not a junk food -- and he adds, "I cut my hair short when I go home because it's warm and because my parents say so."

His parents still live in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital. So does his younger brother, Vanaka, and an assortment of aunts, uncles and grandparents who make up his extended family.

Gunawardhana was persuaded to come to Emmitsburg by Sanjaya Wijemanne, a childhood friend who graduated from the Mount in 1994. He said leaving Colombo the first time was difficult, but departing there after the holiday break in January proved even harder.

An expired student visa and the U.S. government shutdown conspired to keep Gunawardhana, who speaks three languages and has a 3.0 grade-point average, away from school longer than he had intended. He faxed a note to his coach, Bronwyn Williams, telling of his plight. And he waited.

He missed only three days of classes. Once the shutdown ended, Gunawardhana raced to the U.S. embassy and waited in a line of about 30 people, a minor inconvenience compared with what he had been subjected to earlier.

Not that he was eager to leave his family. Gunawardhana, 20, sees them once a year and said he cherishes their time together. He grew up in Colombo and learned to play tennis there from his father at age 7, eventually making the Davis Cup team.

"I get homesick when I first get back here," he said. "But once I get rolling, a lot of school work, there's little time for me to think about it."

Maybe that's just as well, given the political climate at home.

For 13 years, the Liberation Tigers have been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka. More than 37,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Most of the fighting is about 150 miles outside of Colombo, and Gunawardhana said his relatives aren't affected directly. "But with terrorism, there's always the possibility of car bombs going off, suicide bombers coming in," he said. "Within the last five years, there have been probably 15 bombs in the capital that have killed about 3,000 people. I'm pretty worried."

Miscellaneous

UMBC's sprint relay team of Shaketa Nichols, Erica Davis, Joanna Benzing and Meredith Benzing set a school record with a time of 1: 57.63 at the Spider Relays in Richmond, Va., earlier this month. . . . Coppin State senior Twana Allen, who placed fifth in the 800 at the NCAA Championships, was named to the All-East Indoor Track and Field Team by Eastern Track magazine. . . . Washington College's baseball team is off to one of its best starts, winning 16 of its first 20 games through Saturday. The Shoremen are seeking their first Centennial Conference title.

Pub Date: 4/16/96

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