At the chalkface: Sports Day

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

Sports Day: The inevitable dropping of the baton, the mad dash for the first 20 metres of 1,500 metre race and the subsequent knackered perambulation, the long jumps and high jumps of less than two feet...

For those few schools fortunate enough to still have playing fields – not having had them flogged off to some adventure capitalist, Gym and Health Centre or an Organic Juice Bar Emporium – a rare treat might well be in store.

Sports day.

It rivals the school play as the highlight of the year. The whole school is enthusiastically involved, the performers are fabulously erratic and there is an atmosphere of generous good cheer.

All human life is here.

There’s the serious stuff of course, well-honed athletes performing wondrous, graceful things. Moreover, it’s often a chance for the not always academic to shine, for Dave Mania to hurl a javelin an enormous distance, for Ronald Crumlin to zoom through the 100 metres in under 11 seconds.

But that’s not what sports day is really about. It’s more an end-of-year picnic or party.

Anything too fervent goes against the spirit of the occasion.

Like the occasional overzealous PE teacher, like the management team taking the egg and spoon race as if it is a “performance-related activity”, or like the head insisting on opening proceedings by running an exhibition lap. Solo. Why? Who knows? Probably something to do with being a role-model. Probably something to do with being a prize pillock.

The whole school was condemned to witness a vision in Lycra prancing along like a show pony for the full 400 metres. It took an eternity. Most pupils suffered in baffled silence.

But what I like about sports day is the mixed ability of it all, the sheer fun and the little victories of the not so honed athletes, for whom a diet of crisps, cola, dog burgers, Snickers, the odd drug and extreme sloth rather keeps them off the pace.

They have a comic laissez-faire approach, which the crowd relish.

Things like the inevitable dropping of the baton, the mad dash for the first 20 metres of 1,500 metre race and the subsequent knackered perambulation, the long jumps and high jumps of less than two feet, Decibelle not beginning the triple until her mascara is securely in place, and the diminutive Dillywig, his tiny legs in flapping shorts, running the last leg for our relay team with an 80-metre lead, hotly pursued by the school champion, and winning in photo finish. What thrills! I had a moist eye.

And, finally, the staff mixed relays – the English department team, other worldly intellectuals all, coming in a dignified and quite spectacular last.

Sports day is not, for once, about wretched “excellence”. It really is about taking part.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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