It was another record-breaking year of growth, new milestones and sporting achievements for Panathlon in 2017/18 with almost 18,000 young people benefiting from our competitions.
The 17,970 young people with disabilities and/or special educational needs who we engaged in the last academic year marked a 36% rise from 13,150 in 2016/17. It also puts us ahead of schedule in hitting our target of reaching 20,000 young people by 2020.
Last year’s significant leap encompasses more competitions across more counties than ever before, with the number of competing schools breaking through the 1,000 mark.
There was also a key addition last year to our competitive pathway – which is what differentiates Panathlon from traditional ‘come and try’ sporting activities for disabled people.
Last year we added our first ever National Finals to the calendar, completing the aspirational route from local events into County, Regional and Divisional Finals that is a key part of what makes Panathlon so attractive to our young competitors.
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The three new blue riband National Final events (for U14s, U19s and deaf students) all took place at the prestigious Aquatics Centre and saw Moor House School & College, Great Arley and Great Baddow crowned our inaugural national champions.
As well as strengthening our offering across our competing counties, Panathlon expanded provision for young people in new areas including West Sussex, Bristol and Cornwall. Our strategic plan is to provide events for young people in every county in England by 2020.
While the statistics tell one side of our continued success, the impact of our competitions, coaching and training days on young people’s confidence, self-esteem, sporting ability, social skills, teamwork and wellbeing is the most important outcome of all.
“There’s no doubt about it, Panathlon has given me a better future,” said one participant, 15-year-old Matthew Key, at our London Multisport Final at the Copper Box Arena in June. Previously uninterested in sport and disruptive in PE classes due to behavioural issues linked to his autism, Panathlon competitions sparked Matthew’s interest and motivated him to take up boxing. “It is honestly Panathlon that lit that fire in me,” he reflected.
Of the hundreds of inspiring stories we heard last year, another involved our Birmingham Outstanding Achievement award winner, nine-year-old Mitchell Regan. “The difference Panathlon made to Mitchell’s self-esteem and belief was astronomical,” said his teacher Dawn Gosling. “On returning to school with his medal he told everyone who would listen that it was the best day of his life.”
Head teachers and staff have told us of the ‘ripple effect’ that participating in Panathlon has on their schools. This year we have trained and equipped staff to run their own lunchtime and after-school ‘Panathlon clubs’ for disabled and special needs pupils.
“Panathlon has really has enriched and enhanced our curriculum,” said Sherwood Park School’s Deputy Headteacher Sue Fergusson. “It has had a truly major impact on our school and thanks to our Panathlon club that impact lasts throughout the whole of the school year.
We could not have staged our record 397 competitions last year without our trained Young Leaders who officiate at our multisport, swimming, boccia and football events and support our Panathletes. They totalled 3,931 in 2017/18 – a huge increase on 2,190 the previous year.
Being a Young Leader has “immense all-round value” for young people, said Paul Reed from Sir Herbert Leon Academy, whose pupils have helped at events for several years. “It teaches them to treat people with disabilities normally, rather than differently,” added Phil Dawes, Director of Sport at Burnt Mill Academy.
Panathlon Ambassador Liz Johnson, (pictured right) the former Paralympic gold medallist, commented: “Panathlon’s continued growth is awe-inspiring to be part of. At every competition I attend, I see young people’s lives changed for the better through the chance to engage in competitive sport that many of them have never received before.
“The addition of three first-ever National Finals is another huge step forward. They are the final stage in what was already a very strong competitive pathway. Representing your school and helping your team-mates progress from small local events all the way up to stellar Divisional and National Finals at prestigious venues is a huge motivator for young people and what makes Panathlon unique.”