School of Champions

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English Schools’ Athletic Association Championships

Image credit: Job King

It was 2.45pm on a wet and very windy afternoon in September.  In south London, 450 young athletes ignored the weather and prepared to compete in the biggest competition of their lives.  They had just marched into the Crystal Palace stadium behind the band of the Royal Regiment of Artillery in a Grand Parade, at an event which was described as a ‘Junior Olympiad’. 

Image credit: Job King

It was not only the young athletes who achieved success on 19 September, 1925.  The organising committee and county officials could reflect on their own achievements.  At the beginning of June 1925, no national association for schools’ athletics existed and the only county associations were Middlesex and London.  Yet over one summer, teachers from 13 counties organised the first ever national schools’ championships at one of the most prestigious venues in the country. 

95 years later, the English Schools’ Athletic Association Championships have allowed thousands of competitors, officials, and volunteers to test their skills and have witnessed the first steps on the road to success of 14 Olympic champions and 355 medallists in major championships – and that’s just in athletics.  In 2019, over 1700 athletes from 46 counties took part in 101 events in just 2 days.  Covid-19 has caused the Championships to be suspended for only the second time in their history in 2020 but, undeterred, a virtual competition ran over 10-11 July.

If you can still love what you do when you are cold, hungry, and wet-through, you have clearly found something that burns deep inside.

Ken Burkett
ESAA General Committee member 2020

This exhibition tells the stories not only of the famous names whose international success started at the English Schools’ Athletic Championships  but of the people who make the championships happen.  The Olympic and international success of great champions like Daley Thompson and Jessica Ennis-Hill is the top of a pyramid of competitions, organised by teachers and volunteers, which starts at your school’s sports day.

Daley Thompson and Jessica Ennis
Image credit: Mark Shearman MBE – Athletics Images

These Championships are a mini Olympics, virtually the same as any senior championships but with smaller athletes! It was, and always will be, very important for these reasons for the development of our future senior stars.”

Katharine Merry
Olympic medallist

Athletics commentator
ESAA champion 

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