Pupils with disabilities and special needs from Calderdale were crowned champions of the north for the third year in a row at the Panathlon Divisional Multisport Final in York.
The competition saw pupils from Brooksbank School and Brighouse High join forces to take on rivals from York and Teesside, who had all battled through regional qualifying competitions to be there.
Panathlon is the charity that gives over 17,500 young disabled people per year the opportunity to take part in competitive sport. Their multisport competitions involve disciplines such as table cricket, polybat, boccia, new age kurling and athletics races.
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Calderdale are Panathlon’s reigning West Yorkshire, Yorkshire and North of England champions, although their victory on Thursday was not as emphatic as in previous competitions. They pipped Joseph Rowntree School of York into second by just four points.
It was a landmark day for 15-year-old Brooksbank School student Thomas Green, as he represented Calderdale for the final time in Panathlon competition. He must now focus solely on studying for his GCSE exams in the summer term.
Thomas had his left leg amputated 18 months ago due to an intensely painful venous malformation behind his knee which caused severe arthritis.
The sport-mad student had always watched his two brothers play rugby but, before he discovered Panathlon, had few chances to take part in competitive sport. Twenty operations to fix his painful leg proved unsuccessful and he was advised to have an amputation.
He hit the headlines before his operation when his parents threw him a ‘leg leaving party’ in March 2016, baking a leg-shaped cake and hiring an Elvis impersonator. The story made the local and national newspapers and Thomas appeared on BBC Breakfast and ITV Calendar.
Although his operation didn’t take place until several months later, it has proved to be the making of him. With Panathlon acting as a sporting launchpad, he has since gone on to complete numerous self-set physical challenges and now takes part in competitive wheelchair racing and wheelchair rugby. Only last month, he was part of the Halifax team who narrowly lost to Leeds Rhinos 54-44 in the Wheelchair Rugby Grand Final.
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Thomas, who has won several Panathlon West Yorkshire and Yorkshire titles along with three Northern Divisional gold medals, reflected: “It’s been great and it has got me into other sports outside of school. I’ve really loved it.”
His teacher at Brooksbank School, Sarah Pearce, added: “He wouldn’t have achieved any of what he has done with Panathlon. That’s where it all started for Tom. Panathlon is the reason Tom is the confident, ambitious boy we now know and love. We have worked to remove all the barriers in front of him and Panathlon has played a massive part in helping us do that.”
While Thomas bade Panathlon farewell, 12-year-old Billy-Joe Mackerill, also of the winning Calderdale team, was just getting started. He paid tribute to his PE teacher at Brighouse High School, Di Kirby, for putting on so many extra-curricular sports clubs for disabled pupils.
“Miss Kirby is a very nice lady and she provides a lot of different things to help all the children,” said Billy, who has been able to practise boccia, new age kurling and polybat at school before making his Panathlon debut.
“I’m feeling the pressure of being champions, but not too much!” he added.
On hand to present medals and trophies and provide an inspiring example to the young competitors was Great Britain wheelchair racer Nathan Maguire, who was proudly displaying his one gold and three bronze medals from August’s European Championships in Berlin.
”I love coming along and seeing what are potentially the next generation of Paralympians here. The next medal winners for Great Britain are in this room, hopefully,” he said.
“Today is about competing but also helping them to find their best event and they’ll only do that by trying as many different sports as possible. This gives them that opportunity and it’s priceless.”