Saturday, December 26, 2009

'Scribblings from the Surf' - Devon Life 1/10: North Devon's School Sports

The seventh in a series entitled 'Scribblings from the Surf' for Devon Life. To read the article see the text below or click to enlarge the pictures of the original article below that. To see the whole series, click here.


Barrister and writer Tim Kevan discovers that sport is alive and well in two of North Devon’s schools

With all the chat of the rise of obesity and young people being distracted by computer games, it’s refreshing to hear good news from North Devon schools in relation to sport and particularly outdoor activites which might not be considered mainstream. That is exactly what both Braunton and Kingsley Schools have to offer.

Braunton School
It’s not often you hear about a school which has a national champion and even less common to find one which has produced a host of them in recent years. Perhaps it’s the outdoors life or maybe the fact that so many parents enjoy sport themselves but such is the pedigree of Braunton School and Community College. Most recently this was seen in their domination of the Hunter Billabong British Schools surf contest in 2009 in which they not only regained their team title but even their B team won enough points to put them in third place. Members of the team included pupils and ex-pupils such as Karma Worthington who took the under 18 girls title, Stuart Campbell who won the under 18 boys title and Flora Lawton who won the under-18 girls bodyboard title.

But perhaps most impressive of all are the achievements of 14-year-old Lucy Campbell who not only won the under 16 girls UK pro surf tour in 2009 but also won seven titles at a National Surf Life-Saving competition in the same year. What’s more, Lucy, along with fellow pupil Laura Crane who won the British under 14 title in 2009, will be representing Britain at the 2010 ISA World Junior Surfing Chamionships in New Zealand.

But it’s a school not just defined by its champions in sporting terms. As head teacher Dave Sharratt is keen to point out, it’s about engaging all levels and abilities and helping children to build their confidence. To this end sport pervades much of school life with, for example, pupils having made a surfboard, skateboard and even a board rack as part of their technology course work. Then there are the beach days for the whole school as well as the fact that the school was second in a national competition for the Youth Sport Trust in they designed a circuit for pupils with struggling fitness.

It all reflects a great ethos for the school’s sporting activities and this is reinforced by head of PE Steve Rogers who mentions that rock-climbing is on the curriculum and that he’s even trying to get surfing and life-saving officially recognized in this capacity too. Above all, it’s a community school and involves members of the community at many levels including assistance from the likes local rock-climber Mike Alford and ex-pupil and champion surfer turned trainer Sarah Whiteley.

Kingsley School
Another school with close links to the community is Bideford’s Kingsley School which was formed in 2009 and is the first new independent school in Devon for over 50 years, having been formed out of a merger of Grenville College and Edgehill College. After huge investment over the summer it is now fully integrated on the Northdown Campus, formerly the site of Edgehill College, with classrooms, theatre, sports facilities, boarding houses, a sixth form centre and the Dyslexia Department which has been a jewel in Grenville’s crown for many years.

One of the sports for which the old Grenville College was rightly well-known was rowing and it was fitting that they chose to celebrate the foundation of the new school in October with amongst other things a rowing event with the Bideford Blues Rowing Club at which the guests of honour were two rowing gold medalists in the form of brothers Jonny and Greg Searle. They joined the teachers and pupils for a training run on the river followed by a small ceremony in front of the statue of the school’s namesake Charles Kingsley on Bideford waterfront. Kingsley was a local man, rector, teacher, tutor and most famously author of ‘Westward Ho!’ and ‘The Water Babies’.

After their stint on the river, the two brothers were full of praise for the school with Greg emphasising in particular that it was lovely to see people getting the chance to go rowing outside of the Thames Valley and Jonny Searle specifically mentioning the high standard of the rowing itself. This was high praise indeed and no doubt in large measure due to the school’s rowing coach Tina Robertson who mentioned that last year the ladies under 14 team won at the South Coast Championship and not so long ago the boys under 18 crew held the fastest time at the Exeter Winter Head.

But as with Braunton School’s head teacher, Kingsley’s headmaster Andy Waters is keen to emphasise the inclusive nature of their sporting activities and how they can help to develop the personalities and skills of all involved. Not that rowing is the only activity which is offered outside of the mainstream sports. The school also does judo and gymnastics to extremely high standards and then of course there is once again surfing. P.E. teacher and head of surfing Simon Mathers perhaps best personifies all that is positive about the school, having himself competed in the inaugural Lundy Swim Challenge. He not only teaches surf live-saving and takes the students out surfing at Westward Ho! and the beaches around Bude but also takes them out kayaking, running on the beach and around the cliffs at Abbotsham and climbing at Hartland Point. He also mentions that one of the pupils, James Bunney, is in the Great Britain team for ski paddle as well as the Great Britain squad for triathlon. All in all, it’s another wonderful school of which North Devon can be proud.

So despite all the talk which denigrates education and sport in this country, it’s great to discover that in two schools in particular there is instead much to be celebrated.

Tim Kevan is the author of the comic novel ‘BabyBarista and the Art of War’ (Bloomsbury) and the co-author of ‘Why Lawyers Should Surf’ (with Dr Michelle Tempest).

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