Barking and Dagenham pupils rise to Panathlon challenge

PUBLISHED: 08:14 06 July 2017 | UPDATED: 08:14 06 July 2017

Pupils face the camera at the Panathlon Challenge London Primary Final at the Copper Box Arena (pic Andrew Fosker/Seconds Left Images 2017)

Pupils face the camera at the Panathlon Challenge London Primary Final at the Copper Box Arena (pic Andrew Fosker/Seconds Left Images 2017)

Andrew Fosker / Seconds Left Images 2017

Warren School and William Bellamy compete at Copper Box

Pupils with disabilities and special needs from Barking and Dagenham took part in the Panathlon London and South East Primary Finals at the Olympic Park.

Youngsters from 21 schools across the south east of England all had to progress through regional qualifiers to reach Wednesday’s season-ending finale at the Copper Box Arena, home of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Pupils competed over many different disciplines, including boccia, football, new-age kurling, polybat, table cricket and running races.

The Warren School finished in second place in the London Finals, with their near-neighbours from Barking and Dagenham, William Bellamy School, finishing in fourth place.

Donna Rose, PE co-ordinator at William Bellamy, said: “Panathlon is unique and that’s why we’ve been so committed to it for so many years. Straight away we see the change in the children’s behaviour, happiness and self-esteem. From the minute they start they are giddy with excitement.

“Quite a lot of pupils who started with Panathlon have gone on to join after-school clubs and represent the school in boccia competitions. It really does make an impact and changes them once they get back to school.

“The competitive element to it is so important. There were some children who were very nervous about going out of school, but after the train journey, walking towards the Olympic Park they spotted the Copper Box and they just become excited and forgot their nerves.

“Our plan is for them to do a presentation and celebration of the day when they return to school.”

Panathlon is a charity that gives over 10,000 youngsters every year the opportunity to participate in competitive sport that they are so often otherwise denied.

The competition, like all of Panathlon’s primary-age events, was made possible by the funding of the Wembley National Stadium Trust, whose chief executive Stewart Goshawk was in attendance to hand out medals and trophies.

He was able to reflect how far Primary Panathlon had come since his Trust began funding the programme four years ago, saying: “From our point of view this has been a tremendous partnership and a truly rewarding experience.

“Getting out and seeing the students having the most fantastic time is a testament to all the work that goes into it, and the skills that the children learn here will have a knock-on effect back in the classroom.

“When we started looking for a charity to support in 2013 what we were looking for were organisations that were doing something special in disability sport and that had the potential to grow. We couldn’t have picked anyone better than Panathlon.”

Helping with prize-giving was Panathlon Ambassador Jonathan Coggan, who has competed in four Paralympic Games as a member of the GB wheelchair rugby team, and has just returned from Germany, having retained the European Championship title by beating Sweden.

He said: “I don’t think these children get the opportunity anywhere else. To come to a prestigious venue like this must be such a buzz for them. Holding it here shows how strong Primary Panathlon is becoming and kids are coming from so far away because they know how worthwhile it is for them.”

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