Sport gets off to a flying start

After-school sports clubs, aimed at senior primary pupils, will later this month launch the first phase of the council's pioneering sports development strategy.

Between 4pm and 6pm, Monday to Thursday, primary 6 and 7 pupils will be invited to sample four selected sports under the eye of sports-trained teachers and coaches. By next April, after-school programmes will be running at all six sports centres, linked to the council's six secondaries.

Welshman Eamon John, principal officer for sport and a rugby enthusiast, explained: "We are looking to develop instructional satellite centres in each area. Children may be invited along on Monday nights for badminton and we are looking to run the same sport on the same night at all the centres. This will allow for inter-area competition.

"But our first aim is just to allow the children the chance to play. We will work on skill development and then we will look into school teams and club teams."

Taking part, however, will not be free of charge. Like most "extras" these days pupils will have to pay around Pounds 1 or Pounds 1.50 for the two-hour session of instruction.

The programmes will act as the seed of the sports development strategy, designed to strengthen the participation base of the four chosen sports: badminton, volleyball, hockey and football. The other two target sports of swimming and rugby already have nascent local structures and will attract a different emphasis.

Mr John believes there is a huge gap in participation levels. Facilities in East Lothian are good, unlike some other parts of the country, but the organisation and coaching has so far been missing. The Pounds 200,000 annual bill for the sports development project will aim to rectify that.

The controlling Labour group identified sport as a priority by recasting budgets in the merged education and leisure and recreation departments and producing funds to employ a seven-strong team of high-calibre sports officers, headed by Mr John. Based at Meadowmill Sports Centre in Prestonpans, the team, since it began last month, has been visiting schools, raising awareness and setting up the after-school clubs.

Four of the six officers are teachers and all have impressive sports records. Christine Black (badminton) has 56 Scottish caps and is a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist; Walter Borthwick (football) played for St Mirren, St Johnstone, Dunfermline and Morton as well as being coach at Dunfermline, Arbroath and Hearts. He was lately the Scottish Football Association community development officer in south-east Scotland.

Lizzie Sturrock (hockey) was a national league division player, captain of the north district and joint co-ordinator of a hockey initiative in the Highlands; Margaret Anne Fleming (volleyball) has been international captain at junior and senior levels and has won all domestic trophies. She is currently men's team assistant coach; Eddie Pollock (rugby) is a former captain of Stirling County and director of rugby at Grangemouth; and Alan Rapley (swimming) was captain of the men's team at the Atlanta Olympics.

Swimming will focus largely on secondary pupils and aim to increase standards. "There is a need to increase pool time for development squads," Mr John pointed out.

Learning to swim appears to be less of a problem, although a learn to swim programme will bolster existing strategies in primary. Rugby will concentrate on the buoyant club structure with mini-rugby feeding into school and club teams. All six secondaries currently play inter-school rugby and East Lothian has had nine age-group internationalists in the past two years.

Meanwhile, educational developments - daily primary physical education, the offer of six core sports for 10 to 14-year-olds, and the nurturing of talented youngsters - are being examined by a sports and education advisory group, which includes headteachers and teacher union representatives. But the first steps in an ambitious programme are likely to be on the badminton court after school.

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