Children with special needs in Cumbria were immediate converts after their first Panathlon experience this week – and are now hungry for more.

Workington Academy, Richard Rose Morton and Richard Rose Central Academy got their first taste of our inclusive sport provision at a ten-pin bowling competition at Hollybowl Bowl in Carlisle on Tuesday (February 8) and can now look forward to getting their teeth into our packed calendar of competitions in the county over the rest of the academic year.

An Xtend competition in Carlisle in March will form part of a calendar of Xtend and Primary multisport events which will serve as qualifiers for County Finals in Penrith in May, run in partnership with Active Cumbria.

“Our name will be down for everything going on in Cumbria now, don’t you worry about that!” said Louise Allen from Richard Rose Morton in Carlisle after her students left the ten-pin bowling events with medals and beaming smiles.

“This is their first trip out of school in two years because of Covid. They have now crossed that line of going out and have not had to worry about whether they will be able to fit in or be good enough. They know now they can just have a go at it and everyone is going to be cheering them on. They will be absolutely over the moon to stand up in assembly later this week. They will feel like celebrities!”

Richard Rose Morton is a mainstream school and their SEND students have not previously had many opportunities to represent their school. “You can only have so many school teams and so many times you can take them out, and sadly they tend to focus on those at the top end of the spectrum ability-wise,” said Louise.

“So having something like this where there’s no set ability is so nice. Some of them were really worried as they had never been bowling before and were a bit intimidated by it being a competition. But now they are here, they are all working together as a team and trying to boost each other’s scores. They have been cheering each other on, which can be a difficult concept for them.

“For two years they have been squashed into classrooms, having to conform to all these rules and concentrate for 100-minute lessons. That’s such a long time to keep any child occupied, regardless of what extra needs they have.

“Coming here, without having to ask anything of them, they are all supporting each other; getting the ramps out and telling each other the best way to throw the ball. It is so nice to step back and let them just enjoy it. It’s great to see this different side of them.”

One pupil, 14-year-old Kiara Boileau from the Richard Rose Central Academy team, couldn’t contain her excitement. She made loud growling noises every time she released the ball!

“I’ve had the best time of my life! I can’t believe I was our top scorer!” she said. “The tiger noises were to bring me good luck. I got three spares!”

Teacher Jane Hutton said: “It’s amazing that they are so confident today whereas they are quite quiet at school. It’s such a brilliant experience for them because nobody has been going out. One of our pupils had his jab yesterday and was off school but he was determined not to miss this!”

Pupils Workington Academy also experienced their first Panathlon event. They too will compete at the Xtend competition in March and will hope to qualify for the county final in May.

“This means a lot to these children to come out of school and do something like this, it really does. It makes them smile,” said teacher Nicola Kelly.

Children with SEND at the school have after-school sports clubs and have competed in external boccia and table cricket competitions before. Panathlon will now add to their timetable of inclusive sport.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard about Panathlon but we will definitely be doing the rest that’s on offer,” said Nicola. “They get so much out of a day like today – social and emotional benefits, learning teamwork and coming out of school into society. It’s been much needed.”

Tony Waymouth, Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, commented: “It is terrific to see schools travelling large distances across such a big county to enjoy the thrill of competition. We have many schools who have enjoyed Virtual Panathlon now taking part in face-to-face competitions, which is brilliant to see.”

Panathlon would like to thank Cumbria’s School Games Organisers, Active Cumbria and the Hadfield Trust for their support in staging our competitions in Cumbria.