16-year-old David Ejinkonye was named as Panathlon’s Young Leader of the Year in November 2014.
The teenager, from Canning Town, received the prestigious honour at the Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Awards, held in the Olympic Gallery at John Lewis Stratford City.
David collected his award from triple-Paralympic medallist Liz Johnson, having been selected from a shortlist of three outstanding Panathlon Young Leaders, taken from more than 1,000 to act as sports officials for Panathlon competitions.
“It’s amazing,” said David, a former student of St Paul’s Academy in the London borough of Greenwich. “I would have been very happy just to make the top three, because that would still have been a great achievement, but to win it is a big surprise.”
Over 400 schools across England took part in Panathlon’s 84 ‘mini Paralympic’ competitions in 2013/14, each of them overseen by a team of Panathlon Young Leaders.
David, who now attends Harris Academy Beckenham, qualified as a Young Leader in December 2013, when Panathlon ran a training course at St Paul’s Academy, one of 13 held across the capital last year.
The newly-qualified Young Leaders then put their skills into practice officiating in the first round of the South London Panathlon, held at St Paul’s in February.
Having been selected to officiate boccia – a Paralympic target sport similar to petanque – David initiated a tournament for his PE class to gain a greater command and appreciation of the sport, although convincing a group of football-mad teenage boys to try an unusual new sport had its challenges.
“Getting the lads to play another mainstream sport would have been hard, but getting them to play boccia was a lot harder,” explained David. “You have to demonstrate the game to them first and then get them involved. You have to make sure they actually play the game, start enjoying it and start thinking about it, mentally and physically.”
A sports leader at St Paul’s Academy for the past four years, David is the lead pupil basketball coach and has helped to promote the sport within the school. He helped to establish a new Key Stage Three team and ran a coaching masterclass for prospective new coaches from his year group. David is also a successful peer mentor and, outside of school, helps to train his local basketball club’s youth team.
Paul O’Donohue, PE teacher at St Paul’s Academy, said: “David is a very humble and inspirational figure. To have the courage to lead his class in a sport that wasn’t mainstream was simply fantastic. When you’ve got a group of young lads that just want to play football, it’s always great to have a youngster that can challenge them and say ‘let’s do something different’. David can do that because he has got a rapport with his peers that can get the most of them. Once they were challenged, they thought ‘right let’s give this a go’, they stepped up and were able to do it.”
Panathlon held multi-sport competitions in all 32 London boroughs and 20 counties across England in 2013/14. Greenwich was represented by pupils from Charlton Park Academy, who won a series of local heats to compete in the London Plate Final at the Copper Box Arena in the Olympic Park.
Panathlon events feature a range of sports which use specialist adaptive equipment, allowing children with a range of impairments to take part, including severe physical disabilities and severe learning difficulties.
“Sport is really important because it allows people to express themselves,” said David. “Some people like to do it through music. Some people like to do it through sport. Disability shouldn’t hold you back. If you want to play sport you should be able to do it to the best of your ability and not be held back in any way.”
Paul O’Donohue added: “David fits the type of characteristics that we try and develop at St Paul’s Academy. We have an inclusive ethos as a school. Once pupils see that there are other sports out there that maybe everyone can’t access, then they want to give them a chance.”
Find out more about the other award winners at the sixth Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Awards, including the winner of the title award, 16-year-old Faizan Bidiwala from Ilford.