Great Arley School, from Lancashire, added U14 North of England Swimming Final success to their National U14 crown at Ponds Forge in Sheffield on Wednesday.
Pupils from the Thornton Cleveleys school racked up 78 points to deny defending champions Park Community Academy, from Blackpool, who were second with 64. Northfield School, from Teesside, took home the bronze medal with 59.
Merefield School, from Merseyside, were also successful in the Treasure Hunt, each winning sets of Ducks for Change – kindly donated by the DM Thomas Foundation for Young People.
Great Arley – a school for students with learning and behavioural difficulties – triumphed after decisive victories in the 25m freestyle, as well as the backstroke and raft race.
Deputy Head Teacher Babs Rowley was keen to stress how much the victory meant to all her students.
“This is one of the most important things for our children,” she said. “They live near the sea, so we like them all to swim and to achieve their very best, as well as raising their self-esteem and confidence.
“The children back at school can see what they are achieving and it instils into them that they can do it as well.
“It’s not just straight swimming for most of it. It has also got lots of fun games and it has got that crucial team element in it, which is great for our children, as they can socialise and work together as a team.”
Great Arley PE teacher Mike Spence added: “It means a great deal for the kids at the moment, because we are the reigning National champions and we want to retain our title.
“But the kids absolutely love it. We were at school at 7.15am this morning to set off at half past, so it is a long day, but a great day.
“We do a little bit of training before we come down and they all absolutely love getting out of lessons for it!
“Who knows, hopefully we can retain our title and do it for two years in a row. That would be great.”
Great Arley pupil Ethan Whitehead was delighted with his school’s victory, saying: “It feels pretty great! I enjoyed the raft race and I loved that you had to swim across and keep everything on board.
“It was fun, but also a nervous game at the same time. I won’t be taking this medal off and might even sleep with it on tonight!”
Team-mate Edward Wallis added: “It feels great to win today. I had to push myself and keep my confidence up.
“In the Nationals we will need to try our hardest and just hope that we win. My parents are going to be very happy and I will be putting this medal on my bedroom wall when I get home.”
Fellow Great Arley pupil Lewis Duerden said: “I swam as fast as I could to try and reach my targets. It feels really good. The medal will be going somewhere special in my house.
“We will really need to focus in the National Finals. I am going to have to swim as fast as a shark!”
Silver medallists Park Community Academy will also be at the National Finals in London.
PE Co-ordinator Stuart Johnson was eager to point out how important Panathlon events are for his school.
“I think, as a school, this event certainly raises the profile of swimming and it is nice to have success, but what is really nice is that it encourages other kids to want to take it up.
“We have a lot more children wanting to come to the after-school clubs and wanting to swim. For me, that really is what it is all about – getting kids in the pool and encouraging them to participate in sport.
“Panathlon over the last few years has certainly become a high-profile event. Everything Panathlon stands for in terms of sportsmanship, encouraging participation and the competition element are all values that we very much want to instil into our kids, and it fits into our school ethos.”
Team leaders from Year 8 at Northfield School and Sports College in Stockton-on-Tees helped the youngsters compete in the various swimming events throughout the day.
Ailsa Comley, Head of Girls’ PE at Northfield School, said: “Events like this really bring out the leadership qualities in them and they really enjoy it.
“The organisation, teamwork and camaraderie all come out and it brings a different side to many of our students. They are very good leaders and this has been the perfect opportunity for them to do that.”
Thanks to St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation and the DM Thomas Foundation for Young People for their support throughout the event.
1. Great Arley
4. Doncaster Deaf
8. St Catherine’s