After years of coming close to the title, Harrow have finally been crowned London champions in the Panathlon Challenge – the ‘mini Paralympics’ for children.
By claiming the 2013 crown, the pupils from Shaftesbury, Kingsley High and Whitmore Schools became the first Harrow team to win the London Panathlon title, which is contested by teams from all 32 London boroughs and involved two qualifying heats before the final at the Westway Sports Centre.
The victorious Harrow team, who have finished in second and third place in the last two years, received the trophy from triple Paralympic medallist and Panathlon ambassador Liz Johnson.
“It’s fantastic. I can’t believe it.” said Laura Ball, a teaching assistant at Shaftesbury School and one of the team supervisors.
“I’m so proud of the team. They have all loved the day, they’ve worked so hard and they’ve been so well behaved. The social interaction has been amazing and they’ve been cheering on all the other teams as well. It’s just been such a lovely day.”
The Harrow students, winners of the West London region, claimed gold in three of the day’s seven events – boccia, table cricket and athletics relay races – and silver in the other four to edge out Newham and defending champions Croydon. First-time finalists Enfield and Islington finished fourth and fifth respectively.
Over 125 schools from across London have been involved in Panathlon in 2013, with 12,500 active hours of sport provided to disabled youngsters.
“Panathlon opens up sport to so many different areas,” said Ball. “If Panathlon wasn’t around, there are one or two schools who would get together and have a competition, but the kids wouldn’t get the same interaction as they do here.
“I think things like Panathlon should be done more often. It really helps the kids. They realise that there are other children like them, that they can actually be involved in all sorts of sports and activities, that they can enjoy themselves and there’s no pressure on them to win.”
Having presented the team with their trophy, Team GB star Johnson said: “It was great to have a new team win the event this year. That shows teams that, wherever they finish, they can come back next year and try again. It’s been a great day. The kids loved it and it was so competitive.
“Panathlon allows people who would never be able to access sport to do so. I think sport can teach you so much and empower you in other walks of life and everyone deserves that right.”
Johnson’s passion about the positive power of sport was understandably shared by many people at the Panathlon final, including the triumphant Harrow team and their staff.
“The children can learn a lot from sport,” added Ball. “The turn-taking, the social interaction, cheering on others, even just the experience of being involved in an event like this and not just watching it on television, it gives them a sense of well-being and a sense of worth, almost.
“They are good at something, they are being encouraged to do something and their smiling faces say it all. They love it and I love it to. We’ll definitely be back next year.”