Students with special needs from Brooksbank School in Calderdale have been crowned the first Panathlon Northern Divisional champions.
Representing Yorkshire, Brooksbank saw off competition from Gateshead and Tees Valley in the multi-sport competition for children with disabilities and special educational needs, held at the Energise Centre in York on Wednesday.
Competing in events such as boccia, table cricket, polybat, new-age kurling and field athletics, Yorkshire proved to be emphatic winners, finishing with 58 points, eight points ahead of Tees Valley – represented by Springwell School from Hartlepool – and 22 ahead of Gateshead, represented by Cedars School.
Brooksbank (supported by Yorkshire Sport) had already battled through local and regional qualifying rounds to reach this inaugural elite-level competition for the crème de la crème of young disabled athletes across the North of England.
Sarah Pearce, Brooksbank’s Learning Support Officer, commented: “I am absolutely elated for the children. I can’t put it into words how happy they are. We are champions of the North! That sounds absolutely amazing.
“I thought we’d do well, but I didn’t think we’d do this well. We’ve come through two rounds to get this far, so this is as big as it gets. It means so much to them.
“Some of our kids don’t join mainstream sport because they haven’t got the confidence, so to come to a big competition like this gives their self-esteem such a boost.
“The chance to do something competitive is very rare for most of them, so this just gives them such a great opportunity.
“We feel really lucky and privileged just to take part, let alone win the whole thing! To meet a Paralympian is just the icing on the cake; it’s so inspirational.”
The Paralympian in question was Rik Waddon, the double Paralympic silver medallist in C3 road cycling.
Having missed out on qualifying for the Rio Games due to a quirk of the British selection system, he is now focusing on ending his career with a long-cherished gold at Tokyo in 2020.
He said: “This is a great opportunity for these children. When I was at school, nothing like this existed.
“At school one day the teacher put on a video of the Tour de France. I went home and asked my mum and dad to buy me a bike, and that decision affected the course of the rest of my life.
“Hopefully, this opportunity to get involved in competitive sport might lead to one of these children looking back in 10 years’ time and remembering where their own journey began.
“This well help their development so much, not only in sport, but socially and academically. It has a massive impact.”
As he put his gold medal around his neck, Brooksbank student Jordan Calder, 15, said: “This is my third Panathlon event. It gives us the chance to meet new people and have loads of fun with friends, and also make new friends from other schools.
“We are all really good at working together as a team and cheering each other on.”
The first-ever Panathlon North Divisional Final was made possible by the support of St James’s Place Foundation.