St Michael’s CofE Primary School pupils were given an emotional Guard of Honour from fellow pupils after returning from our Greater Manchester 10-pin bowling final with gold medals.

The pupils from Bolton finished first out of 25 teams who had all qualified through local Panathlon competitions. They and other regional winners and runners-up will now progress into our North West Primary 10-Pin Final next term.

Speaking after the event, St Michael’s Teaching Assistant Elizabeth McGrath said the team would be “kings of the school” when they arrived the next morning.

“As soon as we get back, everyone will be coming up to them and wanting to know how they got on,” she said. “It will be something very special that they will remember when they leave for high school.”

And so it proved the following morning – with the six team members receiving a heroes’ welcome worthy of Olympic gold medallists. Fellow pupils lined the stairs, clapping and cheering loudly as the victorious young Panathletes lapped up the applause and showed off the trophy and their medals.

“Competitions like this mean every child goes to high school having represented the school at a proper competitive event,” said Miss McGrath. “Friendly sports festivals are fun, but life is competitive and you’ve got to give them something to strive for – that’s what we expect from them in their academic work, after all.

“These sports events, where they can look forward to it, work hard and get to that next level in something that is tailored for them, they’re immense. The variety of sports is excellent and they’re all accessible for children to do well in. It just opens new doors for them.”

Nine-year-old Alexis (pictured above, far right) was the star player for second-placed St Ambrose Primary from Manchester. She had only bowled once before (in the Panathlon local qualifier), yet top-scored across the whole competition with 120.

“It feels overwhelming,” she said. “I’ve never represented school before. It’s good being part of a team and we’ve all helped each other.”

St Ambrose Head Teacher Mrs Waterworth added: “Panathlon has been an amazing opportunity to excel in activities these pupils can’t do on a day-to-day basis. We’re proud of the journey every single one of them has been on so far. The teamwork and encouragement have been exceptional.”

St. James’s (Daisy Hill) Primary from Westhoughton have taken part in Panathlon boccia, multiskill and 10-pin competitions. For them, our competitive pathway of local, county then regional finals is highly motivating for pupils.

Steven Gregory, St James’s Special Needs Assistant, said: “They are fully aware of the pathway and have been talking a lot about getting to the final – it helps build that competitiveness and they enjoy the idea of striving for the next level of tournament.

“Other children at school are excited for them – and a little bit jealous, to be honest with you!”

He added: “Some of these children may not necessarily succeed in other aspects around school, but here they get to thrive and show sporting abilities that aren’t necessarily curriculum-based. To stand up in front of the whole school and show off what they’ve achieved it’s really great for their confidence.”

St James’s pupil Serena, 10 (pictured above), said: “I like it because I have a lot of fun. I loved the last bowling event with Panathlon. I have put my medal somewhere really precious – but I’m not telling you where as it’s a secret!”

Lime Tree Primary from Sale brought an entirely different team from the one which participated in the local qualifier – and none had ever been 10-pin bowling before. Some pupils are autistic, so they showed them a ‘social story’ video of what the day would consist of, so they were prepared for the new experience. The head teacher also briefed them before they left.

“The children here don’t really take part in activities, so this has been great for them,” said Lime Tree’s SEN Learning Support Assistant, Miss Taylor. “It gives them a real sense of pride and builds their resilience.”

Ten-year-old Eva commented: “Making it into the school team made me feel really surprised. Getting a spare was my favourite moment. I’m going to put my medal in my memory box.”

For Dan Richards, Teaching Assistant at Park Road Primary in Trafford, Panathlon competitions have had a noticeable effect on pupils back in the school environment.

“It really brings them out of their shell,” he said. “A lot of these children don’t get involved in sport very often at all, but this makes them want to contribute in other sporting lessons and teams.

“In the classroom, they are much more confident coming to the front, speaking to the rest of class about what they did and show off their certificates and medals. Going back to school and telling the other children how hard they’ve tried and how they’ve represented the school, is just brilliant.”

Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “This event is a great example of how our competitive pathway encourages schools to strive for the next level of achievement. It gives pupils with special needs heightened visibility in their schools.”

Many thanks to GM Moving and School Games Organisers across Greater Manchester for their support with Panathlon’s county finals and helping us build our competitive pathway.