Report – Paul Bearman and Carolyne Johnston
Sportshall actually goes back as far as 1976 and the annual regional and national championships were established in1984. Apparently individuals in the club dabbled in it in those early years but there was no county organisation to run it properly.
In 1995, along with the club’s former Chairman Dave Wright, who was also Stratford Councils Sports Development Officer and Zoe and Eddie Parsons from Specialising in Sport, I was asked to get involved with forming the Warwickshire Sportshall League and I became its Chair.
I had no idea what Sporthall Athletics was but soon found out and immediately saw the huge benefits of introducing our young athlete’s to it as a fundamental part of our winter indoor training and competition programme, to compliment cross county (albeit that was still in its infant stages until Paul Hawkins got it properly organised a few years later).
For the uninitiated Sportshall is an indoor form of track and field for young athletes and it could be construed as the junior athletics equivalent of Rugby 7’s or Cricket’s T20…..fast and furious. It provides a safe and warm environment for young athletes to run and use specialist equipment to train during the cold and dark winter months.
The programme focusses on fitness, mobility, flexibility and multi-skill development that in fact helps to provide a grounding for all sports.
It is totally inclusive and, apart from encouraging young people to improve their fitness etc. it also promotes friendship, team spirit and most importantly having lots of fun.
In the early years we took 7 to 10 athletes to the inaugural Warwickshire League matches, including Paul H’s boys Malcolm and Neil and my daughter Lauren and they were regularly “slaughtered” every month by the other bigger teams.
As the club grew over the years so did our team and by introducing the concept into our training and gradually buying/borrowing the specialist equipment so did our success, whereby for the past umpteen years pre Covid Stratford were county champions.
Sportshall UK National Final
Over the years literally 100’s of our young athletes have competed in the Warwickshire league and have represented Warwickshire in the Regional and National championships with a lot of team and individual success. Previous Sportshall U15 champions have included Morgan Lake, Mark Lewis-Francis and Kelly Sotherton and Andrew Pozzi only missed out on being champion by a mere tenth of a second!
Last month, the combined talents of the Under 13 and 15 boys from Rugby & Northampton AC and Stratford AC formed the Warwickshire county team and both won the regional event. At the weekend the teams and their families decamped to Stoke for the National final against other county teams from the length and breadth of the UK which is a big step up in the quality of the opposition.
Carolyne and I were designated as team managers with Carolyne looking after the U13s and me the U15’s ,which is a re run of carrying out those roles many times before.
The Under 15 team competition is an “All-rounder” concept that includes a run, throw and jump and involvement in relays. Stratford athletes in the 7 man squad included Seb Hillard, Sam McKenzie and Keenan Stratford with, I think it’s fair to say, the whole team having mixed fortunes in their individual events but they held their own against some superb and stiff competition and the team finished 6th overall.
Their highlight came in the 4 x 2 lap relay which is a test of pure speed, a very sharp technique on the reversaboards and above all team work. The team only finished 3rd in their heat but still qualified in the top 6 teams.
The final was run at a blistering pace but after a slowish, start with Keenan on the 3rd leg and Sam on the last leg, they reeled the other teams in but were just pipped for first place by a strong Surrey team.
Our Under 13 boys came away adorned with medals of all colours! The team of 10 was made up with 6 of our Stratford boys, Will Hovell, Aran Cooper, Elfric Mckenzie, Arthur Mansbridge, Joel Ledgard, and Sam Plumb along with 4 from Rugby. Between them, they dominated the track events winning medals in all of the relays.
The event kicked off with the Obstacle Relay, an exciting start to the afternoon. Elfric, Joel, Sam & Charlie (Rugby) were keen to show their rivals their competitive spirit and finished overall 2nd with silver medals.
Whilst the girls teams were on the track it was time for the boys to compete in the field. Two boys were selected to compete in each of the events, Standing Long Jump, Standing Triple Jump, Vertical Jump, Speed Bounce and Shot. The results were a mixed bag but Joel’s performance was outstanding in the 15cm high Speed bounce to become the UK champion with an incredible 85 bounces in 30 seconds.
With the exception of the 4 Lap and 8 Lap Paarlauf (a relay for two runners, with one running whilst the other rests and is like a team version of a fartlek session), the relays were heats followed by finals.
The track seemed to be where our strength was as the boys successfully secured their spots in all of the finals with amazing results. 4 x 1 relay – Arthur, Sam, Sonny(R) and Charlie (R) silver medals. 8 lap Paarlauf, a tactical relay which was run well by Will and Aran giving them bronze medal position.
Elfric and Joel stepped up the pace in the 6 lap relay to fight for joint silver medals with the county of Avon. The final event for the U13 boys was the 4 x 2 relay. What a superb race this was, slick baton changes and excellent technique on the reversaboards by Arthur and the 3 rugby boys, giving them a clear win and gold medals to finish their day.
It was a tense time when the final placings were being announced after fighting for every point possible. It was a very commendable and well deserved 2nd place for our Warwickshire boys with Surrey winning the 2023 UK final.
With medals jangling around their necks it was a good way to finish an exciting event and finish the winter competitions with a flourish and something to be very proud of in years to come, representing their county in the 2023 UK Sportshall final.