A look at the results of ESAA alumni in Tokyo gives an immediate indication of the impact of ESAA competitions in the late twentieth century. As in 1964, the high jump provided an immediate taste of senior competition for an ESAA graduate, with Steve Smith starting the process that would lead to world and Olympic bronze medals within 5 years. One of his colleagues in the discipline, Geoff Parsons, had set the senior British record at the English Schools’ championships in 1983, although he would represent Scotland in the Commonwealth Games.
The 1990s would see a great deal of success in hurdles for British athletes. In Tokyo there were silver medals for the 1986 ESAA champion in the sprint hurdles, Tony Jarrett, and over one lap for Sally Gunnell, who would dominate the event for the next few years. Gunnell followed in the tradition of Tokyo champions Packer and Rand in winning ESAA gold medals in different disciplines, in her case long jump and sprint hurdles.
What of the next generation? The 1991 ESAA championships at Stoke-on-Trent identified a bumper crop of talent, including multiple winners Donna Fraser and Katharine Merry. Future internationals included Paula Radcliffe and Darren Campbell, as well as Hylton, Maduaka, Grindley, Quarrie, Allahgreen, Curbishley, Reilly, Buckfield, Hollman, Edwards, Gatrell and Holroyd. Sprinter Allan Condon would move on to bobsleigh, a popular career path for ESAA alumni, and the results of the triple jump show a particularly rich crop of talent. Commonwealth champions Julian Golley, who would become one of Britain’s longest-serving athletes, and Larry Achike won their respective age-groups, with Achike defeating future Premier League footballer Michael Duberry.
To work alongside so many legends and greats of English Schools’ AA who have done so much to develop our sport in schools, in competitions, in officiating and even globally shows just how important the ESAA is to the development of and the health of athletics in England. When you talk to former and current GB athletes or to school age athletes a measure of their success is what they did at the Schools. Our more than 3000 members of our Facebook page tell us regularly that the Schools Championships were the best events of their development and taught them so much for later years about the sport and about life.
The English Schools’, its varied Championships and Cups are more than just a name, a Committee or a series of events that are annually staged, some since 1925. It is the custodian of dreams and memories; it is the pinnacle for so many young people within our sport; it is the place where passions can be developed and the love for our sport begins. The future of athletics globally is being discussed by the powers at World Athletics but for our young people the hope and dream of going to “the Schools” is still as strong as ever. The English Schools Committee has allowed thousands upon thousands of children to have the opportunity to take part in our varied events – we have given them the opportunity to have their dream … their Olympics.
For me the English Schools’ is more than a name; it is a belief in what is possible and a place where friends are made for life.
ESAA General Committee 2020