Exams are over and the summer holidays are in sight, that means only one thing… English Schools time!
Last week the English Schools Track and Field Championships returned to Birmingham for the 92nd edition as the next generation of British Champions ran, jumped and threw in the footsteps of their Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games heroes at the Alexander Stadium.
English Schools isn’t just a check point in the calendar for the current aspiring athletes, it is a prestigious championships which has supported Olympic champions on their way to greatness from the likes of Daley Thompson to Jessica Ennis-Hill and Keely Hodgkinson.
We spoke to some of English Schools past and present to see what makes this championships so special.
Inspiring the next generation
As with every championships, it would not be able to happen without a dedicated team of volunteers many with their own experiences and wisdom ready to share, as Shropshire Team Manager and Telford AC athlete Phil Nicholls explained:
“This is my first year as a team coach, but I competed in 6 English Schools as an athlete. I was lucky and ran for England and Great Britain in the 5000m, so I enjoy being able to pass on my experiences to the athletes I am supporting.
“English Schools is massive, it is known as the mini-Olympics and I think that is true. If you have experienced a major championships and then look to English Schools, it is a true reflection. For the young athletes, it is allowing them a taster of that next step and it prepares them to have a warm-up area, call room, sitting opposite your competition whilst you wait.
“You will see athletes here who excel, and you will see athletes who don’t run, jump or throw as well as they hope but it is about the experience and the athletes need to realise that. You learn mistakes here and also how to handle them.”
All about the experience
Holding the championships within the Alexander Stadium certainly adds to the grandeur of the championships as England Athletics’ National Youth Development Lead, Scott Grace explained:
“You look at the stadium today and it is really special for children to be able to experience competition in this arena. Getting to grips with a championships is an important factor, but it is also about the personal confidence you get from competing here. I always tell my athletes that you get used to training and competing in a certain environment and you should always stretch and challenge yourself. The English Schools is the ultimate target for school children interested in athletics and to get here is such an achievement.
“A lot of children start athletics in schools and then hopefully transition into clubs but we’re always keen to support grassroots athletics and that starts right here."
A part of the team
For many athletes, travelling with your county to English Schools may be a first taster of being part of a team. For previous Suffolk representative Cameron Bailey, being part of the team and supporting younger athletes was his favourite memory from the Games.
“My favourite memory was from 2019 when I made the final for the first time. You are representing your county and you have your whole team behind you. I was Team Captain that year and I felt like I was really involved in the team experience. I was the link between the team managers and the athletes and had to give a speech the night before the competition to hype everyone up and get them ready to compete.”
A taster of a summer of athletics action
The summer track and field season is long, with English Schools sitting fairly early, and lots of exciting international competitions still to come across the age groups, from the Para World Championships in Paris to the Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago and the under-20 Europeans in Israel.
Success on the international stage is not something shot putter Cleo Agyepong is new to, after achieving European U18 gold in 2021.
“English Schools was my first county vest and I was able to win the competition in the 5th round back in 2019. It was in the previous Alexander Stadium before the refurb so I was really happy to come back, win this year and relive that moment again.”
You can see the full results from the 2023 English Schools Athletics Association Championships here.