Robert Rhodes is the P.E. teacher at Clayton Hall Academy, and has written this great tale of chasing medals in their leading sport, which is badminton. Read on to see how they fared…
Clayton has built up a reputation for the sport of Badminton in recent years with numerous district title and County titles, regional titles are now also flowing through the veins of the students and the school has been challenging itself for a while to hunt down a National Title. This isn’t an idle ambition: In the past four years, the school has reached the National finals on two occasions with previous finals placing of 8th and 5th. And we’re there again in the 2016/17 school year. Can we supersede the achievement of previous finals?
The year starts off with me galvanizing the badminton squads, which have been created through a Gifted and Talented program at the school. The best players - boys and girls - from all school year groups practice and come together for sessions every Friday throughout the year. The school year starts with setting objectives, some of which are set very high.
As I explained to the students, the aim for the whole group was to get a team to the National Finals and two teams to the Regional Finals - and come back with a medal. The students bought into this concept and a seed is sown. All year long the students are motivated by their goals, not just individually, but including the goals of the entire group. Excitingly, as each event passes we meet our objectives and goals; the students continue to progress and achieve; and finally, earlier this year (2017) we get the U16 boys into the National Finals, to be held in Milton Keynes in May.
So, for the third time in four years the school is competing at the highest level of schools’ badminton. Previous attempts at the final have seen varying results but 5th place is the closest we’ve come to a medal. But this year the team was hungrier than ever, and all the players were keen to do better than last year. The event is represented by nine areas across the country, so getting to the final requires teams to win District, County and Regional Rounds to make the National Finals.
The morning session went well with Clayton (unseeded) against Bedford Grammar and St Olaves Grammar from Kent, regarded as one of the top academic Grammar schools in the Country. Topping their mini-group of three schools to progress – at long last - to the medal playoffs in the afternoon, Clayton would be in great company against reigning champions Tapton from Sheffield and Reading Boarding school who were last year KS3 boys winners and a regular attendee to the finals. The afternoon matches between all the three schools were won narrowly by the same score-line - 3-2 - but Clayton sadly were on the wrong side of their two 3-2 results and had to settle for 3rd place whilst Reading edged out Tapton in a thrilling finale to the finals, to secure the gold medal.
Izaak Fairclough, one of the playing members of the squad called it, correctly predicting we would get a medal and that it would be a bronze, and the whole team were delighted to be in amongst the medals. Our number one player Alfie James was at his third finals - and also had to share his birthday with the occasion.
I am always hugely impressed with the effort of our teams on the day. For me it’s an accumulation of hard work from the players both at school and out of school: their time, commitment and energy given to the sport over the years are a reflection of the achievement they earned this May - and I couldn't wish it on a nicer bunch of players, they have been a pleasure to watch grow and develop as individuals. And of course, it doesn't stop here: each time we come back to these finals we get better and better, and our biggest ambition is to take a title one day. So, it’s great that this bunch of players have set a huge bench mark now for future teams to aspire to. Playing against grammar schools and boarding schools, I’m really proud that this ordinary high school is going out there and holding its own on the biggest stage there is in schools badminton.
There are several reasons we are where we are in badminton, and it’s not just about the experience they have at school. Local badminton coach Ken Steele puts in a huge amount of effort with the teams; and it’s the involvement this set of players have had with local men’s teams which has given them such a good fighting chance against the best in the country.
A final word of thanks to our kit sponsor Potteries-based e-models for very generously providing shirts for the entire squad, and supporting us through the year.
I’ll close with some words from Alfie’s mum, (extract of an email she sent to our Headteacher):
“This is a wonderful reflection on Clayton Hall but namely your students and their PE teacher Mr Rhodes who has put in the extra time and commitment to help this team achieve. As a parent of a child who has represented the school three times in this competition, it is amazing for him to have progressed each time and to be a winning medallist and part of an excellent team who have put Clayton Hall Academy's name out there on the National stage. We are extremely proud as parents.
For this team it was their final year and what a way to finish! Alfie James, James Duffy, David Smith, James Yearsley, Izaak Fairclough: I hope that you can congratulate them all for their achievement and the manner in which they achieved it.