Birmingham’s Hall Green School retained their West Midlands Regional Panathlon title on Monday at Nechells Community Sports Centre.
Finishing with 52 points, the 2015 champions were triumphant once again, edging out their Birmingham neighbours, Fairfax School, by 10 points. Their victories in boccia, new-age kurling and field athletics proved the difference in a close encounter.
Warwickshire county winners Langley School, from Solihull, were third on 40 and Worcestershire representatives Chadsgrove School in Bromsgrove were fourth with 34.
“We weren’t completely confident as the competition gets tougher every year, but we are absolutely chuffed to bits to have won,” said Shelley Paxton-Gault, Hall Green’s Head of PE. “Defending champions sounds amazing – we need a bigger trophy cabinet at school!
“We’ve trained hard for this, though, so they fully deserve it. We’re really, really pleased. We’ll most certainly be back next year. We won’t let this trophy go that easily!”
Hall Green have competed in Panathlon events for five years and Shelley feels the benefits to the students of taking part are endless.
“As a school, we look for as many opportunities as possible for our children, but there’s simply nothing else as exciting as this. There are individual boccia and kurling events, but this is the one that feels special and means the most.
“It means a lot to the pupils, so they put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform. The minute we get back, they’re asking when the next one is! That progression from local level to regional is important, as it gives them motivation to build and improve for the next stage every time.”
Hall Green student Jamie Bridgeman, 15, said: “What I love about Panathlon is that it gets kids who may normally be shut out of PE, because schools don’t know to do with them, and brings them together and gives them the message that they can do these things. It’s a break from being told ‘You go and do something different in the corner while the rest of us take part.’
“Most people would look at it and say ‘Great, it’s a day off school.’ It’s much more than that for me. It’s a chance to be active, meet new people, try different sports and get my teeth into something that’s really worthwhile, rather than be sat at home watching the television.”
Jamie plays a huge variety of sports – including wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair football, archery, javelin, shot put and racing – is also a talented musician and has just returned from a tour of Spain with his band Recycled Youth.
“Nobody is outcast at Panathlon events,” he added. “Everybody gets that fair chance. Nobody patronises you and lets you have another go if you got it wrong the first time.”
Fellow Hall Green student Rebecca Bates, 15, reflected: “I love trying out all the different sports and competing against other schools. I’ve done Panathlons for five years and I keep my medals in a drawer at home. I have a special drawer just for them!”
Shelley Gault said of Rebecca: “She never misses a training session. She’s my ideal student.”
Two of the day’s standout stars were identical twins Katie and Heidi Sheldon, 13, from Langley School (pictured below right). They were born prematurely and have cerebral palsy.
Katie said: “This is literally the best experience of my life. I love that they have so much to do in one short day. I love everything about it. I love having the chance to come out and represent our school. My favourite event is the kurling.
“I would love to be in the Paralympics as a cyclist. My heroes are Ellie Simmonds and Mo Farah. I’d love to represent my country and show people that, whatever your disability, nothing should ever hold you back.
”We are very competitive as people, especially between ourselves. We’re kind of nice and horrible to each other at the same time!”
Heidi added: “This is my second Panathlon and I like it because I get to meet new people and explore about myself as a person, my strengths and weaknesses. I love boccia.
The twins – who support Birmingham City, sing in a band and have ambitions to appear on Britain’s Got Talent – were already looking forward to returning to Langley School the next day.
“When we get back to school, I can’t wait to show off our medals and brag about what we’ve done,” said Heidi.
Fellow Langley School student Brad Addison, 13, said: “Because most of the children here are in wheelchairs, it gives them inspiration to play sport and know that they’re capable of achieving success.
“I’m really competitive, but I’m also aware that taking part is important and congratulating other teams if they win is a big part of it. Kurling is my favourite event. I am going to treasure my medals for ever!”
Joanna Botley, Langley’s SEN sports co-ordinator, commented: “It’s difficult to describe in words what Panathlon events do for their self-confidence; it’s just amazing. To see the students interacting, team-building and working together is tremendous.
“We have been training really hard for this. We’ve paired the children up from different age groups, which is great because the older students can mentor the younger ones, to give them the opportunity to improve their communication skills.
Julie Wells, teaching assistant at Fairfax School, reflected: “We’ve been doing it a few years now; it’s become a regular outing for us. It’s very important for our students. It’s a great experience to mix with other schools and engage in competition, which is a great life skill to learn. It’s all about winning and losing.
“There’s a great atmosphere. There’s able and disabled children here, and it’s great for them all to come here and get stuck in.
Fairfax student Isiah Joseph, 16, has been competing in Panathlons since primary school. “All my medals are at home on a shelf in my room,” he beams. “I love sport and I love winning even more! I love polybat especially, because I’m the best! Panathlon gives me all kinds of different sports and diverse experiences.”
Chadsgrove School’s Head of PE Carina Taylor said: “Panathlon gives the children the chance to be independent, because they all get the chance to go off into their teams to do the sports that they specialise in. They’re working as a team, developing their communication skills and having fun alongside other children with special needs.
“It’s being part of a team and being competitive, but playing against another team. It’s not necessarily about winning; it’s about taking part in a competitive situation, whether it’s new-age kurling, polybat or another sport. Having a challenge is really important.
Chadsgrove pupil Katie Hands, 11, said: “I love playing games. Boccia is my favourite because I love throwing the balls and I like polybat too. I finished second in the boccia. When I get home, I’m going to hang my medal up on the wall.”
The day’s Young Leaders were supplied by Birmingham Metropolitan College, Stockland Green School and St Edmund Campion Catholic School.
Demi Bagnall, 14, from St Edmund Campion, reflected: “I like to help people who can’t do day-to-day things as we can. You get a great feeling from helping someone and putting a smile on their face.”
Isobel Dodd, 13, who attends Stockland Green, said: “I love helping people, so that if they think they can’t do something, we can help prove to them that they can.”
See link to the gallery of photos here