A mini-paralympics, for secondary students with special needs, fostered fun, friendship and a fantastic team spirt for everyone involved. Now in their fifth year as hosts of the Panathlon Challenge, Richmond School and Sixth Form College staff and students were delighted to welcome three teams from Mowbray School, in Bedale, and Spring Hill School, in Ripon.

A team of 18 Richmond Sixth Form Year 12 and 13 young leaders were instrumental in the smooth running of the activities, supporting event organiser and leader Val French, on behalf of the North Yorkshire Inclusive Sports Partnership.  Panathlon’s ethos has a focus on fair play and friendship and the initiative is a valuable tool to develop interaction and confidence through sport. The young leaders demonstrated great personal skills and self-assurance, working closely with the participants to help them with the various sports, including boccia, table cricket, polybat and kurling, as well as field athletics, such as slalom and precision bean bag throwing. Being age-appropriate role models the visiting students were comfortable in their company and really engaged with the young leaders.

Comments Val French, North Yorkshire Lead for Panathlon in the North Yorkshire Inclusive Sports Partnership:  “Panathlon in North Yorkshire has gone from strength to strength over the last five years, with all four areas of our huge county now engaged in competing for their place in the North Yorkshire School Games Level 3 County Finals. In the past, schools have just been happy to take part but there is now a real buzz amongst the young people and the staff in the knowledge that they now have a clear pathway for these young people to progress in this very inclusive competition. Whilst ensuring the young people have fun taking part, we are also seeing a great improvement in their levels of skill and understanding of the activities. This is the third time Richmond’s young sports leaders have run the event and they now show great leadership skills and maturity in supporting these young people to be the best they can be. We are indebted to Richmond School for the use of their sports hall and Panathlon and their sponsors for providing all the medals, trophies and certificates.”

The competition was incredibly close, but it was Spring Hill School who came out on top and will continue to the County round in July and potentially to the National final later in the year. Over 8,000 secondary-age students, with a range of abilities, will have the opportunity to compete in various locations across the UK this year.

The event was also a wonderful opportunity for Chelsea Cockings, a Year 12 student at Mowbray School, who worked as a young leader. This was an enormous confidence booster for Chelsea.  Chelsea said: “I really enjoyed the event.  Working with the sports leaders was great because I got to interact with people of the same age.  I gained a lot of confidence from helping others and was made to feel really important by the sports leaders and staff.”

Chelsea enjoyed working alongside Emily Treweek, a Year 12 student at Richmond Sixth Form College.  Emily said: “Leading the Panathlon event is hugely rewarding and an experience I feel privileged to have. It can be very challenging, and at times fairly intense because the students display behaviours that you’re not used to but you just have to throw yourself into it to benefit both yourself and the students who attend. Some of the visiting students were non-verbal but despite this barrier they didn’t fail to communicate through their facial expressions and actions that are unique to them which was incredibly moving to see. During this event, I had the privilege of working alongside Chelsea, a Year 12 student from Mowbray. It was hugely beneficial for me to work with a student who understood the needs of each child and was able to help me to understand how to deal with some of the behaviours the students showed, as it meant I felt able to work closer with the students.”

The Panathlon Challenge is specifically designed so every child can take part, inspiring young people with special needs to build their confidence through competitive sport as a means of social and personal development. It develops essential skills that are transferable, such as motivation and teamwork, skills that spread further than sport that will be skills for life with long-lasting benefits.

Lynsey Carruthers, School Games Organiser and PE teacher, concluded: “The sixth form CTEC sport leaders led the second Panathlon disability sport event with maturity and skill. The leaders worked with primary school age pupils back in November whereas this time the focus was on leading secondary school age pupils. This event challenges our leaders and makes them think about inclusion. How can they make sure that every child attending can access their sporting event and have fun whilst doing so? It is yet another step on their leadership journey and demonstrated the progress that many of the students have made from last time. They were creative in their ideas and confident in their delivery, resulting in yet another fantastic event.”

For further information on the Panathlon Challenge visit www.panathlon.com