When the whole school is doing something altogether

For a couple of weeks preceding the event, the mood around the school has been electric with the crackling anticipation of this, the greatest sporting event of the year. Groups of students from both Endeavour and Resolution houses alike could be seen huddled together in corners or sheltering in empty rooms whispering in excited tones, sizing up their competition and devising tactics to confirm victory. With lockdown having denied us a sports day last year there was so much riding on it this year and every student in the school knew it and, to greater or lesser extents, fell prey to the  dream of the immutable and eternal glory that Fyling Hall Sports Day 2021 could bestow.  

Since time immemorial has ‘Resolution’ been crowned victor of these games – would that trend continue and further cement that house as the house of sporting excellence, of Heracles of Hermes and of Nike or was there to be a changing of the guard? Had Endeavour house captains called upon their charges to say ‘Enough is enough! No more shall we suffer the indignity of defeat at the hands of lesser men and women’? Only time would tell but Head boy and Resolution House talisman ‘Kian the Indefatigable’ was confident at retaining glory in this his final year at Fyling Hall. 

By lesson three, the atmosphere had reached fever pitch as, after lunch, students and staff alike trooped down to the games fields each adorned and bedecked in their house colours: blue for Endeavour, red for Resolution. 

In the calm before the storm, as staff proceeded to their allocated judging positions to check and double check the equipment Mr. Coates sat all pupils down on the athletics field to reiterate the rules, procedures and expectations; you could have heard a pin drop such was the focus and concentration of each Fyling Hall competitor when as one they rose and with an almost primal, war-like cheer they marched off to their first event. 

The Richardson twins dominated many of the year 10 boys’ events for Resolution; each of them checking in just a shade under 7 foot combined with their natural athleticism made them fierce competitors indeed but a plucky display from Endeavour’s Sonny, their class-fellow turned mortal enemy for the day saw to it that they were harried and pushed at every turn, throw, sprint and jump. The year 10 girls’ competition was no less courageously fought as Endeavour house struggled to contain the truly remarkable Marie. This reincarnation of Atalanta was everywhere at once moving from track to field and back again seemingly without even breaking sweat and it was no surprise to any of us lucky to have witnessed such a performance that records on this day would be broken.  

A huge cheer from the running track prompted me to look up from my duties at the shotput arena just in time to see a blur of iridescent red hair streak past me which I discovered to have been Endeavour House’s Neve in year 9 bolting cheetah-like through her second lap of the 800m to the rapturous adulation of the spectating hoards. In the year 9 boys’ events the competition was equally well contended but with the towering form of Oscar who had decided to forego his trademark facemask for the afternoon, Endeavour House struggled to get a foothold and indeed Oscar went on to break the second Fyling Hall school record of the day. And in year 8, the blond head of Theo ran around the track so quickly it made one feel dizzy just to watch him. 

Of course, in events like this eyes are often turned to the victorious but Fyling Hall is not just about the fastest, the strongest or the highest – it never has been and some of the loudest cheers (and tear streaked eyes) came watching those of our number who refused to give up:  to Lex in year 9 who cuts a devastating shape on the rugger pitch but is not such a fan of athletics, to Josh and Ulyana in year 12 who competed because they understand that being part of a team is so much more than ‘who is the best at this or that’  and to Isabelle in year 7 who simply does not have the words “I can’t” or “I quit” in her vocabulary – the whole of Fyling Hall was with them on those gruelling runs and they each have our love, our thanks and our respect. 

By the end of the afternoon the scores were close with only the relays left to run. The whole school assembled with bated breath and after years 7-10 had run theirs and the scores standing too close to call, it was clear that it would be the seniors who would decide the fate of kings (and queens, obviously). The house captains Kian and Rory stood only metres apart – each looking into the eyes of the other, looking for weakness, looking for fear; in that moment nothing was said – there was complete silence across the field as though every man, woman and child there instinctively knew and understood the solemnity, appreciated the gravitas of the moment, of that moment…and then it was over. The house captains walked to their respective stations as Mr. Coates officiator, trainer and organiser nodded his silent approval. 

The gun was fired. Connie and Beau set off at lightning pace – never before had a friendship been tested so fiercely. The first change was difficult to see but what was clear was that one of the batons had been dropped but which team had dropped it? And then, to the resounding cheers of Endeavour House, Jae came sprinting for all he was worth towards the second station – Resolution had faltered. Artists, in years to come, may speak wistfully about capturing the look of ferocious determination on Jae’s face as he pounded ever closer to the next change but never could they hope to even come close; this was his moment – he knew it and he seized it and with a swift change and with Luca hoving into view over his shoulder, he passed the baton on to Endeavour House’s powerhouse – their not-so-secret weapon Liv who ran like a woman possessed and in that moment one of Fyling Hall’s finest athletes drew all eyes as she lengthened the lead over Resolution before, at the final stage, handing over to Rory who would let nothing come between him and victory. Kian tried. Some say he closed the gap but to many that was simply wishful thinking. Either way, Endeavour House had ended on a high and it was the matter of a moment for the ever-gallant Kian to walk up to Rory and shake him firmly by the hand; the stakes had never been higher, and Endeavour House had not been found wanting and both House captains knew it. But was it enough? Was this final win enough to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? 

Nobody spoke. Mrs Banks, with her customary coolness, calmness and exactitude calculated the results and then, only when they had been checked and double checked did she make her way to the announcer’s desk. 

The cheer that rent the air as Endeavour House was crowned champion was unlike anything that has been heard this many a year – indeed, there are unconfirmed reports that it registered on the Richter scale and yet the members of Endeavour House would not be silenced. The reign of tyranny from Resolution House was finally over. Endeavour House had fought, and Endeavour House had won. 

The King is dead. Long live the king. 

Signs of jubilation and of commiseration were visible across the land from Ms Gilmour’s barely perceptible fist pump to Mrs Milner throwing down her clipboard in disgust and trampling it into the long jump sand pit; emotions ran high but whether winner or loser, Endeavour or Resolution, all students walked back up to the school as one – arm in arm each reliving their favourite part of this magnificent day. 

So, another day, another sports day, right? Well…not really.  

“Why not?” I hear you ask and here I want to break from my hitherto traditional hyperbole and bluster and give a genuine reason…but I don’t know that I can – it’s a feeling; it’s a real feeling that sports day here is just a bit different, but I don’t know that I can articulate why or how. We have some amazing athletes, and we have those who compete but feel their talents lie elsewhere; we have magnanimous winners and gallant losers…but so do most schools. So, again, the question remains unanswered. And here I feel I must turn to the words of Liv in year 12 whom I encountered shortly after she had finished her 800m run and who had, if you can credit it, a huge smile across her face –  

“What?” I asked. 

“I just love this.” she said, beaming “Everyone’s so happy and I love it when the whole school is doing something altogether.” 

And I think that’s right. I think that that is what makes our sports day different from most of the others up and down the land; of course we want to win, and we all try our best to do so but at Fyling Hall, whether you’re a red or a blue, an Endeavour or a Resolution, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you broke a record and came first or if you had the whole school cheering you on as you trundle in last – everybody is with you. Everybody is with you. 

Chris Thomas, Head of English