Lucas Vezza was one of many pupils with inspirational stories of achievement at Panathlon’s North West Regional 10-Pin Bowling Finals in Bolton.
The 14-year-old pupil at Hyde High School in Tameside (pictured above with Panathlon Ambassador James Dixon) went home with a treasured gold medal around his neck after his team won our regional final for mainstream schools at Bolton Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday (8 February).
All 10 schools in the mainstream final battled their way through qualifying rounds last term – and so had nine others who competed concurrently in our north-west final for special schools, won by Park Community Academy from Blackpool.
Lucas, who has cerebral palsy, has led fundraising campaigns including challenging footballers to play him one-handed at FIFA 22. The Manchester United season ticket-holder was over the moon to win a second 10-pin gold, having won our Greater Manchester qualifier in November.
“This feels amazing because I was told I would never walk, talk or even eat – and look at me now, winning the north west final! I’ll be hanging my medal on the wall with my other Panathlon medals.”
At the prospect of being re-presented with his medal in front of the whole school in assembly on Friday, he said: “It will be embarrassing but I’ll also be proud!”
Our special schools champions, Park Community Academy, featured Daniel Wood, who had previously not engaged with PE at school. But through Panathlon’s 10-pin bowling programme, the 14-year-old has discovered a passion.
“It’s all he’s talked about for the last three weeks,” said Park Academy’s PE Coordinator, Stuart Johnson. “He hasn’t previously engaged with PE but the bowling has really given him a boost. He is a great example of what Panathlon can do.”
“The virtual provision was above and beyond – Panathlon picked the ball up nationwide while everyone else just stopped. Virtual Panathlon has enabled us to get back to face-to-face competition very quickly because we’ve been practising at this level of competition throughout the last two years in school.
“Kids have got out of so many good habits during that period – for example, they now find it incredibly difficult to sit through a 50-minute assembly – but Panathlon gave us continuity on the sport side of things – and we’ve proved again today how important that has been.”
Spring Brook Upper School from Oldham may have finished outside the medal positions in the special schools final, but the event was a vital part of each pupil’s individual learning journey.
Several of their pupils have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and lessons learned at Panathlon competitions contribute towards their specific targets.
Teacher Becky Crossley explained: “This class was chosen specifically for Panathlon as most of these pupils are on a Pathway to Community Living, which sets targets for how they interact with others.
“As they have SEMH [social, emotional and mental health] needs, it’s a big deal that they are out of school and interacting with others. Because it’s such as enjoyable activity, they almost forget that they’re learning. They have been celebrating with the team on the next lane when they get a strike, which clearly shows they have it within them to be kind, share others’ success and tolerate losing.
“We’ve used Panathlon as a ‘carrot’ to motivate them in school. We keep reminding them of behavioural expectations in order to be on the team – and back at school we remind them of the behaviour and sportsmanship we see when they’re here, to reinforce that they can do it in other scenarios too.”
Eleven-year-old Georgia from St Mary’s Catholic Academy in Blackpool was another shining example of Panathlon bringing out the best in competitors.
She said: “My favourite bit has been the teamwork. I think my mum and dad will be really proud of me because they’ll know I’ve been working really hard and I’ve been a friend to everybody in the team.
“Being here means we can be winners! It makes me feel really happy and proud that we’ve made it to the top level [i.e. the regional final]. I’m going to put my medal on my windowsill so I can stare at it.”
Just two lanes down was the team from North Cestrian School in Trafford. Their Higher Level Teaching Assistant, Aileen James, reflected: “When we won the county 10-pin final, it was the first time these children had ever been on the school minibus.
“When we took part in the first event it seemed like a fun thing to do, but winning made them extremely excited about competing at a higher level. The confidence they got from walking around school with their medals was amazing. It boosts their self-esteem so much because these pupils don’t get to experience this sort of thing very often.”
Mrs James also revealed that one team member had been tasked in English class with making a speech about a time when he had experienced success, and had chosen winning the Greater Manchester 10-pin bowling final.
Pupils from Samuel Laycock School in Tameside went home with bronze medals in the special schools final. Fifteen-year-old Nelson Taylor said: “Going up to get the trophies and medals makes me nervous because I’m standing in front of everyone, but it makes me really proud as well.”
Panathlon medals are displayed at the school’s reception, and PE teaching assistant Jackie Eaton revealed: “It gives them a special feeling as they walk past the trophies every day, so they always come in with a positive attitude. They have been absolutely buzzing for this all week. They love having the school badge on their chest. It’s a massive, massive confidence boost.”
Tony Waymouth, Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “This event in Bolton shows once again how pupils are thriving through our competitive pathway of local, county and regional competitions. It’s also great to see children highlighting teamwork, which is a massive (and sometimes overlooked) part of their development.”
Many thanks to our wonderful partners Bolton Wanderers in the Community and our funders St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation.