The energy of 100 primary pupils filled a Liverpool sports club with cacophony. It was a wet Friday evening and the children from 10 school in Liverpool and Cheshire were participating in an international event.
Using a three-way telephone link, Liverpool councillor Frank Doherty counted down to start and in Liverpool, Cardiff and Toronto, 300 nine, 10 and 11-year-olds simultaneously began the Giant Decathlon. The twist was that each team consisted of 30 pupils - 10 from each country. So the Liverpool red team members, for example, had fellow members in Wales and Canada. They had never met each other, but were competing together as an international team.
The Giant Decathlon was based around tried and tested events, developed as part of the Sportshall Athletics initiative. Billed as an international cross-community challenge, this was the first time that schools in different countries had been involved and it is considered the pilot for many more worldwide events.
If the energy and excitement in the sports hall was anything to go by, the pupils endorsed the scheme. Although there was fierce competition, the pupils were striving for personal goals rather than competing against each other. The instigator of the event is George Bunner MBE, an authority in children's athletics, and the programme now has 33 participating countries around the world. "It covers a wide range of skills - like balance, which has been neglected, and also hand-eye co-ordination. And it is all fun for children to do," he says.
Lorraine Ellison, a teacher from Frodsham Church of England Primary School, says the decathlon was a brilliant event, with pupils excited at the opportunity to participate. She recognised its potential to create international links: "We will email pupils in the other schools, as we now have something in common."
The technology used to make the event possible included a direct computer link for speedy communication of individual and team scores. A live video link would also allow pupils to see their team colleagues across the world and it is hoped that sponsorship will make this possible.
Pupils clearly loved participating in events such as the "bull-nosed" javelin, which involved hurling a foam-rubber object across the sports hall and the standing long jump. There was also a vertical jump, a shuttle run, a target throw, and speed bounce. George says the scheme encourages physical activity in the young. "At the end of it every child has a personal score. We will be able to tell the average fitness for a team, a school or city." Liverpool schools are in line with this way of thinking, with 90 involved in the Sportshall Athletics programme, and the local council is clearly committed to sports.
Frank Doherty, sports development officer for the city, says the event has the potential to include schools in 20 or 30 cities. "With large-screen video links it could be wonderful. The event is fun, it involves all pupils and encourages healthy lifestyles."
The whole event was about personal achievement. Sheila Heaven from Our Lady's Bishop Eton Catholic Primary School says the Sportshall activities have been an exciting new venture that have proved excellent for children's fitness. Her pupils included Jessica Kerrigan, who, in just 20 seconds, managed 60 bounces in the speed-bounce event. This was not only her personal best but a new record. George brought her to the centre of the hall to announce this to the schools and although Jessica was smiling she was so exhausted she could hardly walk.
Sportshall Associates Ltd
Tel: 01606 350845