Independent school sporting highlights 2016-17
Steve Wright picks out some highlights from a hugely successful sporting year for the independent school sector
2016–17 has been an incredibly fruitful sporting year for many of the UK’s independent schools – not least for Kent College. Kent College’s Acrobatic Gymnastics U11s were crowned British Champions 2017, having demonstrated outstanding performances in their Acrobatic Group. In other news, Year 6 pupil Izzie Mercer took gold at the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) Swimming Gala – setting a new competition record time for her age group in the process. The event is the largest annual Prep School Swimming Gala in the UK, with 1,500 swimmers from 200 schools entering the qualifying galas. Izzie came first in the Girls U11 25-metre Butterfly, posting a time of 14.23 seconds in the final.
Julie Lodrick, Kent College’s Headmistress, commented: “We have invested a lot in our sports facilities and teaching, enabling us to nurture young sporting talent. We were thrilled to open our new astro pitch last October and, together with the two sports halls, indoor swimming pool and fitness suite, we are extremely well-equipped for a whole range of sport. These recent triumphs will inspire other students to participate in a variety of sports and follow the successful examples set by their peers.”
Onto the ski slopes and, during last winter’s ski season, Woldingham School’s Sophie Foster won four international medals for Great Britain – the best medals haul for a British skier at international races for many years. Sophie achieved a top 15 finish at the annual Topolino races (better known as the Children’s Olympics) in a competition of nearly 500 skiers from over 40 nations. Moreover, she was also crowned Double British Champion, having won both the Slalom and Super G at the British Championships in Tignes. Sophie is now ranked GB number one at U14 in all three of her disciplines.
Fellow Woldingham pupil Charlotte Alexander, meanwhile, breasted the tape first at April’s U15 girls’ Mini London Marathon. She set a course record for her age group with an impressive time of 16:23, and now holds the title of U15 British Road Champion 2017. Charlotte is no stranger to running success, having represented the England Cross Country squad at the Schools International Athletics Championships (SIAB) in March, placing fourth in the U17 event and helping the England team scoop gold.
Woldingham School’s Director of Sport, Caroline Treacy, said: “Charlotte shows how natural talent, combined with dedication and passion can achieve great things and we are extremely proud of her. Sophie, for her part, has skiing talent and commitment in spades – but she is also a fantastic team player and a valued member of the Woldingham sporting community.”
Leweston School, Sherborne hosted the South West Triathlon Championships this spring – and saw unprecedented successes for its own pupils. The event was a qualifier for the European Championships, taking place Setubal, Portugal from July 14–16. Ten Leweston pupils gained selection for the GB team across five age groups – an outstanding achievement for a relatively small school.
Three of the team have also been selected for the GB Biathle team – including Year 6 pupil Darcy Dryden, who currently holds an astonishing three National titles in her age group: National All-Schools Junior Pistol Shooting Champion, National Pony Club Triathlon Champion and National Modern Tetrathlon. Leweston was awarded Pentathlon Academy status last year and competes across Biathle, Triathle, Biathlon, Triathlon, Tetrathlon and Pentathlon as well as the individual disciplines.
Derby High School
Among the year’s other individual triumphs, Derby High School pupil Sarah Briggs is celebrating after being selected by three top athletes to receive a prestigious sporting scholarship award. Cyclist Sarah was presented with a Squadkit Scholarship by Olympic hockey player Chloe Rogers during a special school assembly. Sarah was selected for the award by Chloe and fellow Olympic hockey player Hollie Webb, as well as former Scotland rugby international Jason White. The scholarship is yet another success for the teenager, who recently secured the U15s National Hill Climbing Champion title. Sarah has also been selected to ride for the East Midlands team for a U16 tour of Scotland: her next goal is selection for the Olympic Development Academy.
St Helen & St Katharine School
There have been some outstanding team and individual successes to celebrate this year at St Helen & St Katharine School, Abingdon. SHSK’s U12A netball team were crowned champions in the School Sport Magazine National Cup, while its U15Bs became National Schools Lacrosse Champions. Individual successes included Fiona Bunn, who qualified for the GBU20 team at this year’s Junior World Orienteering championships in Finland; and Hanna Brant, who will represent Great Britain in the World and European sailing championships this summer.
“Outstanding teams and individuals emerge when the culture of PE and sport encourages every student to participate and develop their skills in an enjoyable and purposeful atmosphere,” reflected Sarah Wilson, SHSK’s Director of PE and Sport. “Competitive achievement at a range of levels is one very significant measure of success, and these students are an inspiration to us all!”
St Martha’s School
London’s St Martha’s School swept the board at the ISA North London Athletics Championship in May, with pupils taking home an incredible 11 gold, four silver and four bronze medals. The gold medal winners went on to represent North London at the ISA National Finals in June. “At St Martha’s we believe strongly in promoting a ‘sport for all’ philosophy – fostering positive and confident attitudes towards health and fitness,” explained Head Matthew Burke. “Having been heavily involved in the Youth Sport Trust Girls’ Active Programme and the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, we are dedicated to developing our students’ skills, confidence and spirit of fair play.”
Tormead School has also seen gymnastic success this year, with triumph in three major UK schools gymnastics championships.
In March’s ISGA Championship, Tormead faced the double challenge of defending its title as ISGA Champions – and hosting the event, which ran over three days with over 400 gymnasts aged 7–18 competing from 27 schools.
“These three spectacular days of gymnastics saw a great combination of sportsmanship and fun,” recalled Tormead’s Director of Sport Michelle O’Brien. “We were delighted to retain our title, taking five out of six of the team titles and winning the overall 2017 ISGA School Championship for the third time.”
The following weekend, at the British Milano Championships in Stoke, Tormead’s gymnasts qualified in all four available age levels categories – and all four teams made a podium appearance, with the U11s taking gold. Then, in May, Tormead’s U11 and U14 teams were back at Stoke for the British Floor and Vault Championships – and triumphed again, with both teams winning their age category. “We are immensely proud of our success: it is a rare achievement to win so many national titles year on year,” said Michelle. “We achieve this with homegrown talent and all gymnasts training at school – only two of our top girls train with a club.”
The Red Maids’ School
The U13 hockey team at The Red Maids’ School, Bristol held-off stiff competition to win the Independent School Hockey Cup, which had seen schools competing in knock-out rounds since October 2016. Red Maids’ path through the qualifying rounds saw them score an astonishing 27 goals without reply. In the semi-final, against tougher opposition, Red Maids’ beat Newcastle Royal Grammar School with a decisive 5-1 win – only to go one better in the final, beating The Grange School, Cheshire by an emphatic 6-1 scoreline. Perhaps unsurprisingly, three of the girls (Issy Byett, Ciara McGinn and Saskia Laurence) have been selected to attend the U15 Regional Performance Centre Assessment Day. Saskia – the youngest squad member – also won Player of the Tournament.
Claire Maggs, Red Maids’ Director of Sport, said, “The girls have shown such commitment and maturity in their preparation for this final. I am delighted to see their hard work pay off and to bring the U13 National Championship title back to Bristol. As a department we aim to provide sporting excellence. We have specialist hockey coaches who provide high-level coaching and work closely with the England Hockey Player Pathway to fully extend our performance players. This result demonstrates our commitment to and success in developing sport for girls.”
Cranleigh School is establishing itself as one of the country’s foremost co-ed sporting schools. Among this year’s triumphs was the 1st VII rugby side’s second successive victory at the Rossyln Park national rugby sevens. In January, meanwhile, Cranleigh’s U16 and U18 girls’ indoor hockey sides both became national runners-up – and the U18 boys team followed this up by winning the St George’s sixes competition the following month. The U14 boys’ side also became national outdoor runners up in April.
St George’s School
2016–17 has also been a sporting year to be proud of at St George’s School, Windsor Castle. Back in November, St George’s U13 footballers qualified for the National Finals of the IAPS Soccer Sixes after finishing in the top four of a very strong field of 25 schools in the Southern Heats – quite an achievement for their debut entry to this tournament. It was then over to the U11 Girls who took part in the IAPS Central Qualifier at Queen Anne’s School, Caversham. In a typically fiercely contested qualifier, the girls rose to the occasion to finish fifth out of 40 schools and qualify for the National Finals in Basildon.
Best of all, in October, St George’s U11 boys took part in the Independent Schools Football Associations (ISFA) regional qualifier, qualifying for the national finals as runners-up. Things were to get even better, though: after a gruelling group stage and some thrilling knock-out games, St George’s team ran out tournament winners with a 2-0 win over Whitgift in the final. In addition to the three national teams, St George’s have had eight fencers competing in the IAPS nationals at Millfield, eight rowers competing in the National Junior Indoor Rowing Championships and sent representatives to the IAPS swimming national finals in Crawley.
One of the year’s most stunning achievements is surely that by the tennis players of Queenswood School, who can now call themselves the third best team in the world. Queenswood’s tennis stars travelled to this year’s ISF World Schools Tennis Championships in Recife, Brazil, where they picked up the bronze medal for England. The girls qualified, along with 10 other teams from around the world, after winning the Aberdare Cup, the UK’s national schools competition, for an impressive 27th time last July.
In the group stages of the finals themselves, Queenswood beat China and Italy in two very close-fought encounters, and knocked out hosts Brazil with a 5-0 victory. The quarter final against a very strong Belgian team was won 4-1 by Queenswood, setting up a meeting with the Germans in the semi-final.
Unfortunately, by this stage in the gruelling competition the team had picked up a number of injuries, and Germany proved too strong and experienced an opposition. The bronze-medal play-off against Italy was a nail-biter, with the teams all square after four matches and the contest decided by a tie-break – won by Queenswood.
Director of Tennis Catherine Sluter was ecstatic with the result: “We had realistically been hoping for a top-eight finish. This was a really young team, and they hugely exceeded expectations, losing just once in the entire tournament. There are really exciting prospects for the future of tennis at Queenswood.”
Congratulations to the team – and to the many, many other teams and individuals who achieved memorable sporting successes this year.