Teachers and students praised the ‘level playing field’ Panathlon provide for deaf students as Knightsfield School defended their National U18 Deaf Swimming title at the London 2012 Aquatics Centre.

Knightsfield, from Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, soared to victory with 76 points, eclipsing nearest rivals Heathfields Rays (63) and Suffolk Seals (60) to claim gold medals in this event for the second successive year.

Seven teams converged on the prestigious London 2012 venue and Knightsfield Deputy Head Danny Bidwell revealed he was feeling the pressure to retain their crown – especially after putting in several weeks’ training at their local pool.

“I was warned I wouldn’t be allowed back in the school if we didn’t win it again! I’ve been under a lot of pressure today so I’m relieved – and proud of course!” he said.

“We’ve been practising hard and we have our own selection process to give our children that competitive element. I come from a mainstream background where we take for granted having a list of fixtures against other schools every term. That doesn’t happen so much in the special schools world, so for Panathlon to provide that competition for them is really important.

“The message we try to give our students is, embrace your deafness and your disability because it will provide you with opportunities that you might not have otherwise. This is a prime example of that because how many students gets the chance to swim in a place like this?”

AsliFor other competitors, the sense of a level playing field that comes from a shared disability was what came through from the day’s experience. Asli (pictured), an 11-year-old competitor from Great Baddow School in Chelmsford, who finished fourth, expressed it perfectly.

“I feel like it’s really fair because everyone is deaf and when the person at the end of the start line says ‘Go!’ everyone can see them and we can all react at the same time.

“I feel really grateful that my teachers brought me here today because I really enjoy swimming and doing it here is a dream come true. I’ve been to Panathlon lots of times and the races are really entertaining and fun.”

Sam Wheeler, Communication Support Worker at Great Baddow, added: “That real sense of fairness is a massive thing for deaf children. Sometimes when they go to a mainstream competition they do think, ‘that’s not fair’.

“For them to socialise with other deaf children as well as get that competitive element is fantastic, because they all feel on a level playing field and there are no barriers for them. For an 11-year-old like Asli to identify that is something that Panathlon should really be proud of.”

Clinton Osonda, a 15-year-old student from Oak Lodge School in Edgware, concurred with Asli’s thoughts.

“I’ve been to lots of hearing events and competitions and it’s nice today to come to a deaf event so thank you, I’ve really enjoyed myself,” he said. “It’s really good that you guys do deaf competitions now. It doesn’t matter if you come first, second, third or last…we all have a good time together. We’re all here, we’re all deaf and it makes us feel part of a community.”

Heathlands School, from St Albans, finished runners-up to Knightsfield for the second year in a row, but PE teacher Sean Priestley wasn’t downhearted.

“It’s just an enjoyable experience for them to be here and have an awareness of how to communicate with each other,” he commented. “It gives them the opportunity to enjoy what sport is all about – being able to demonstrate your talents, compete and enjoy yourself.

“We’ve been coming to these events for many years. Students know they’re on the calendar and it’s really, really important to them. We’d bring a coach load if we could!”

Suffolk Seals (a team made up of students from Priory School, Thornton Community College, Stowmarket High School and West Suffolk College) finished in bronze medal position, with Suffolk Otters (consisting of less able pupils from Priory) coming seventh.

Angie Shaw, Information Manager at Priory School, said: “We’ve brought two teams with very different abilities today and Panathlon has been able to adapt to the needs of both brilliantly.

“We’ve got able swimmers who get a bit of independence and they have the confidence to get on with it and do their thing. Then we’ve got lower-ability kids and the way they’ve adapted the rules helps them achieve their potential too. There’s great flexibility and it means we can bring kids who wouldn’t necessarily make our main squad. We have absolutely loved it.”

The day’s excellent Young Leaders were provided by William Edwards School in Grays, Essex.

Many thanks to our swimming sponsors Pentland Brands and the Ovingdean Hall Foundation, sponsors of our deaf events. Thanks also to GLL, St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation and the Jack Petchey Foundation.

Pentland Brands
Ovingdean Hall Foundation