62 disabled schoolchildren from seven English counties have competed at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, birthplace of the Paralympic Games, in a special double edition of the Panathlon Challenge.
In side-by-side events – one for returning teams and another for debutants – Berkshire won gold for the second consecutive year, while a dramatic finish saw Oxfordshire clinch victory in their first ever Panathlon – a ‘mini Paralympics’ for children.
“It’s been a brilliant day. It’s well organised and the kids have had a great time,” said Karen Northfield, teacher at Fitzwaryn School in Wantage, whose students formed the small Oxfordshire team with some help from The Village School in Brent, East London.
“What a fantastic day. We’ve had other kids join us, so they’ve made new friends too. The kids can’t wait to get back now and show the parents and staff all their medals,” Northfield added.
Level with Northamptonshire after the day’s first five events – boccia, table cricket, polybat, kurling and athletics field events – Oxfordshire clinched the trophy by winning the final event of the day, the athletics relay races. East Hertfordshire and Berkshire – who provided two teams – also took part.
In the battle of the returning sides, students from Arbour Vale School in Slough won a convincing victory for Berkshire over teams from Wiltshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire.
Kevin Hughes, Inclusion Lead at Arbour Vale School, said: “It’s been phenomenal. The team have absolutely loved it. For us, Panathlon is about giving the opportunity to students to compete in a range of sports. To be able to come here with kids with a range of disabilities, from severe learning difficulties to physical impairments, is absolutely magnificent and something we really appreciate.”
Panathlon provides multi-sport competition for over 3,000 disabled children each year. Over 200 schools are involved in 2013, with 15,000 active hours of sport provided to disabled children. Initially focussed across London and the south-east, the charity is now branching out to provide sport to hundreds more kids across the country through events like that at Stoke Mandeville, run in association with the English Federation of Disability Sports (EFDS), of which Panathlon is a member.
EFDS chairman Charles Reed said: “Panathlon are doing a fabulous job and we are just delighted to be working with them and seeing the benefits that it brings. Their events are always very inspirational, great fun and they send a lot of people away with big smiles on their faces. It’s been a great day.
“The English Federation of Disability Sports is charged with increasing participation at grassroots level and events like this can only be a very positive part of that strategy. We are very keen to keep working with Panathlon to see how we can spread the good work that has already been achieved.”
Panathlon founder Ashley Iceton said: “It’s great to be back at Stoke Mandeville for our second event at the home of the Paralympics and other fantastic day, with 162 disabled children taking part. We’re also thrilled to welcome more new teams and new counties into the Panathlon fold, meaning that even more children get the opportunity to take part in competitive sport. All of the teams should be very proud of their performances and we look forward to seeing them all back here next year.”