Tyne and Wear Falcons soared to victory in the North East Panathlon Multisports finals when the clear winners bagged 50 points – four ahead of the Tyne and Wear Magpies.
Gold medals were taken home from Gateshead International Stadium by the squad, made up of pupils from Sir Charles Parsons School and Hedleys Percy Hedley School in Newcastle, that included three powerchair competitors.
Danny Watson, 14, Hedleys Percy Hedley School, who was garlanded with gold and silver medals after coming second in the powerchair slalom, said: “It feels amazing to take home gold in the final. It is down to good teamwork. On a personal level, I feel proud because I have never won much before; I always seem to come second. Now we are the champions.”
His team-mate Natasha Finn, 13, of Sir Charles Parsons School, said: “I wanted to make sure our team won. I want to come back.”
Learning support assistant Emma Hutchinson, from Sir Charles Parsons, said: “It’s been a great learning experience and to take home the top title is fantastic. It has been amazing to see our pupils become competitive and work as a team. We are pleased to have the chance to compete again in the North of England finals and will definitely have another go when the local heats start again.”
The Falcons will regroup to represent the North East in the North of England finals against Yorkshire and Merseyside later in the year.
Silver medallists Tyne and Wear Magpies from Thorp Academy and Gibside School in Newcastle won 46 points. The games including new age kurling, polybat, table cricket, boccia and field athletics are adapted to suit all abilities and disabilities.
Among those competing was keen visually impaired sportsman Michael Buchan, 14, of Thorp Academy. He said: “I think Panathlon is a great idea, as disability sport needs to be promoted more like this. A lot of disabled people don’t consider competitive sport.
“I have found some of the games today suit me very well. It is easy for me to do the new age kurling – someone claps to tell me what to do. Running is good too but I can’t do the table cricket. Panathlon has given me the opportunity to play sports other than football.
“I am blind and have one of the lowest levels of sight and compete in B1 Level 3 football. There are 14 of us who play football in a team and if we get to Level 5 we will be playing for England.”
His teaching assistant Melanie Hutton said: “I bring children here every year as it is important for them to strive and compete in these events.”
Magpies team-mates from Gibside Primary SEN School in Newcastle fielded a side with children as young as seven. PE coordinator Scott Tyler said it was great for the youngsters to have a go. He said: “They are all learning new activities today as the competition is suited to all levels. It’s also about gaining social skills with pupils of all ages.”
Gibside pupil Laighton, 11, said: “We are trying really hard to win a trophy. I beat my own distance at the standing jump every time I did it.”
Bronze winners with 38 points were the Cleveland and Redcar side represented by Freebrough Academy in Brotton, a secondary academy for children with multiple disabilities.
School sports coordinator Ailsa Bell, said: “We were delighted to qualify to come here and this time we have a different team of children to give more of them the opportunity to experience Panathlon. The boys all want to win and the girls are gaining confidence and self esteem. The environment is conducive so they feel comfortable, which enables them to perform to their best.”
Pupil Maddison, 11, said: “It’s not about the winning, it’s the taking part. But we still want to win of course.” Joel, 12, added: “I’m not usually allowed to run at school but here I can. It’s fantastic and much better than being at school.”
It was a double first for pupils from Hexham Academy representing their county who scored 34 points. It was the first time they had taken part in Panathlon and the first time for any school in Northumberland.
Teacher Janice Murtough said: “We didn’t know what to expect, but the children are really enjoying it. They haven’t played polybat or table cricket before, so it is wonderful to have new experiences. We’d love to take part in Panathlon again. We are remote so it is not always easy to travel, but we will find a way.”
The children gave a big thumbs-up and high fives after winning the table cricket. Pupil Cassie, 11, said: “This is the best day I have ever had.” And Nathan said: “This so great.”
Young leaders and volunteers were provided by Thorp Academy, John Spence Community High School and Gateshead College. Liam Waugh, 17, who is studying Level 3 Diploma in Sport said leading gives great experience and is a challenge. “I want to become a teacher so this is perfect for me. It is worth every minute I am here and worth getting up early in the morning for.”
Panathlon chief operating officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “It’s great having representation from the North East here today. We thank Gateshead Council for ongoing support, enabling us to gain a foothold and continuing to grow across the region. They have been instrumental in establishing contacts with new schools and year-on-year the numbers and the standards continue to grow.”
Councillor John McElroy, Gateshead’s Cabinet member for Culture, Sport and Leisure, said: “This is a fantastic sporting event for young people, and hosting at Gateshead International Stadium, where many high profile major events have taken place, can only help to inspire these young people to continue to be physically active and pursue their future sporting ambitions.”
A gallery of images is available here.