Racing realities

Jun 18th, 2010 | By | Category: Personal Columns

A lifetime first today – a win in a race: first place in the men’s egg and spoon race at the primary school sports.  Entry was necessitated by the person who had phoned the mobile ringing off seconds before the race was due to start and a stern voice declaring, ‘Reverend Ian, you’re taking part in this race’.  Had there been a choice of events, the sack race would have been preferable; but a thirteen stone bulk inside a sack might quickly have torn a hole in the hessian.

Watching the children’s races, the sack race brought memories of school sports forty years ago.  No-one had equipment beyond black plimsolls; athletics was done in whatever one stood up in.  A sand pit provided the venue for the high jump and the long jump; running was simply a matter of starting at one point in the field and finishing at another; there were no markings on the grass.  An ability to sprint only emerged in the final term at the school; up until then the name went down for the sack race at the school sports; an event for duffers, all the serious competitors being kept for entry to proper races.  But the sack race brought the only ever moment of individual success in all the years at school.  In the Langport Area School Sports in the summer term of 1972, coming in third meant taking home a deep red certificate; a certificate that would now be framed and hanging prominently on the wall if it still existed, for it was the nearest thing ever to actually winning anything.

There seemed always a great cruelty about sports in those days; if you were not athletic, you could quickly become a butt of criticism and even ridicule.  Perhaps education was like that in those days, perhaps making fun of kids was considered reasonable.  Remembering the lyrics of Pink Floyd’s 1979 album The Wall, maybe cynicism, sarcasm and, sometimes, downright bullying were the order of the day.

Intervening when a young boy shouted ‘losers’ at those who had not done so well in one of the children’s races, I spoke at the medals presentation about there being no ‘losers’’; about the school being like a team, and everyone playing for the team to ensure everyone succeeded.

Looking back those forty years, and looking at the years in between, maybe the boy was closer to the truth than my old liberal ideals of co-operation and mutual support.  Maybe the losers and winners in the long game are apparent on primary school sports days.  Maybe being in the sack race was a metaphor of things to come!

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  1. Today after school rounders was cancelled – no reason given – but I suspect it was to facilitate even more skipping. The school is big into skipping. Great. But all traces of running around team sports are being progressively erased.
    Which is a shame.
    Meanwhile more boys are withdrawn from the school as their parents search for a more sporty environment, and the girl:boy ratio skews ever further.
    All that “all shall have prizes” can go a bit far, I feel.

  2. Memories came flooding back there Ian, the sloping Ham school field…….I remember Les Brooks being a very fast sprinter……I can remember being in the relay races. I think the winners/losers thing back in the 60s/70s toughened me up for the real world after leaving school……

  3. I had a horrible time in school sports, but it was much more to do with being a social misfit than with being inherently bad at sport. Still, maybe that underlines even more that the sack race is a metaphor of things to come…

  4. An ability to run faster or jump higher than the next child is NO indicator of what they will do in adult life. At school all those thousands of years ago I was reasonably good at rowing and rugby,academically ……enough said

  5. Like others Ian, memories of being absolutely useless at track and field events came flooding back – for me it was 50 years ago. I couldn’t sprint, I couldn’t jump, high or long, I couldn’t throw a cricket ball any distance, or indeed bowl (deformed thumb), I had to use both hands to return a back-hand stroke in tennis. Social ineptitude only added to my lack of self esteem.
    For one glorious moment I found fame in winning the sack race, the only time I ever came first in anything I ever did. No wonder I struggle with the idea of “being good enough”.

    I love your blogs, I love your honesty, I love the way you write, I love the way you see things to write about in the simple everyday things of life.

    Thank you for your prayers last Sunday, it was a wonderful day- we in Dublin were sorry that we could not have been in Abbeyleix.

  6. Abbeyleix went wonderfully well – the beautiful location and weather creating the mood of a glorious garden party.

    The only glitch in the liturgy was yours truly, being the most junior cleric, leading a line of clergy into a pew in the nave instead of going up to the chancel. I was never any good at the ceremonial stuff!

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