Pupils and staff are reaping the benefits of more lenient Covid-19 regulations as they are able to progress through our competitive pathway and travel long distances to regional competitions.

Two schools from Cumbria showed their relish for competition by entering last Thursday’s (March 24) Panathlon North West Regional Boccia Finals at Greenbank Sports Academy in Liverpool – requiring round trips of 172 and 230 miles respectively. 

For St Martin’s and St Mary’s School in Windermere, who only joined the ‘Panathlon family’ this term, it was a trip well worth making. 

“We went to a Panathlon ten-pin bowling event in Morecambe and absolutely loved it,” said the school’s PE coordinator Carol Quill. “We got to see a side to the children that we’d never seen before. We wish we had been involved forever – and now we are trying to make up for lost time! 

“In Morecambe, we saw a relaxed approach to the sport, the enjoyment and the support they gave each other, helping each other find the right technique and solutions. It was brilliant that other children who would normally take over weren’t there to interfere. It’s great for them to compete without the anxiety of trying to match others.” 

St Martin’s and St Mary’s are now planning to host a Panathlon swimming gala in their outdoor pool in the summer term and are going to start a SEND breakfast sports club using Panathlon sports. 

“This has opened my eyes to an area of our teaching that we really need to look at,” said Carol. “We have a team of six players here today, but we’ve got over 70 back at school who are desperate for this kind of opportunity. 

“I now want to get some of the boccia equipment and get our cluster of Windermere schools together for a competition.” 

“Sport is really important to us at our school. It allows the children to keep fit and healthy, push themselves and get a release from being inside the classroom. All that becomes even more important for children who don’t feel like they can be part of a team or who don’t have access to sports where they feel relaxed and not stressed. That’s why Panathlon fulfils such a vital role.” 

Staff and pupils from William Howard School left at 6am in order to get to Liverpool for the North West Boccia Regional Finals. Inevitably, they were first team to arrive! 

“We wouldn’t have even considered missing this,” said teacher Tracey Croucher. “We won here two years ago but missed out on the nationals due to Covid. In preparation for today we have been doing extra practice after school. 

“Throughout the lockdowns we have tried to keep sporting competition going and Panathlon have helped us enormously with their Virtual Programme. Some pupils have even played at home on their own. 

“Panathlon has been the only provider offering boccia competitions this year and without them we would have had no outlet for all the practice we’ve put in. This is such a wonderful opportunity for them.” 

Although pupils from Woodchurch High School on The Wirral had far less distance to travel to reach the Liverpool venue, the event marked an important milestone in overcoming fears about Covid. 

“At the start of the year, we were dead anxious about taking some of our children who have cerebral palsy out and about to play sports,” explained Robert McBride, teaching assistant in the school’s PE department. 

“But since we have taken part in Panathlons, they go back into their PE lessons at school and they are thriving. They join in with the mainstream pupils. It has been absolutely brilliant for them. They fit in seamlessly and they don’t worry about integrating any more. 

“They wouldn’t have a massive amount of opportunities if it weren’t for Panathlon. We’ve done boccia, multisport, table cricket, powerchair, physical disability football… It opens up a whole new sporting world for them. It has been massive for these kids.” 

Tony Waymouth, Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, said: “Part of re-establishing our competitive pathway of external events was to broaden pupils’ horizons and ambitions again after being cocooned during the pandemic. Today has shown how intangible rewards like spending time together in a minibus forges different relationships, changes routines and opens up new worlds for these children. We’re delighted they have shown trust, passion and willingness to come so far in order to take part.”